The labor and delivery of a baby typically lasts between 8 and 24 hours, depending on a variety of factors. To the birthing mother, it may seem longer; emotionally, it’s one of the high points of most mothers’ lives. But really, the birth of a baby is actually only a tiny, tiny fraction of the whole experience of a baby. When we say someone is “having a baby” we often have clear pictures of pregnant bellies, baby showers, and maybe even a tiny infant swaddled in his mother’s arms as she glows down at him, basking in her post-birth endorphins. Somewhere around the time when the new parents bring their bundle of joy home, the picture gets fuzzier. Many of us really don’t know what to imagine as we ponder what life with a baby is really like in the first few weeks or months. We’ve heard snippets about it here and there: lots of feeding, not much sleeping (for the parents), a big adjustment… The fact is, most first-time parents really don’t know what to expect, or they think they do and then find it’s different than they thought it would be. For first-time parents, the experience of a baby is uncharted territory. Even for parents who already have older children at home, each new baby brings a fresh dynamic to the family. The experience of a baby, therefore, is always a new one. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a guide for this uncharted territory? If parenthood is one of the most important journeys of your entire life, wouldn’t it be great if you had your very own Sherpa to accompany you as you set out into Baby Land? Well, you can. You need to get yourself a postpartum doula.
Sherpas are an ethnic group from the most mountainous region of Nepal, high in the Himalayas. The term Sherpa today, however, “refers to almost any guide, climbing supporter, or porter hired for mountaineering expeditions in the Himalayas, regardless of their ethnicity.” (Wikipedia) Usually, Sherpas are hired by mountaineers to help the mountaineers achieve their goal, because Sherpas are recognized for their expertise and experience at very high altitudes in their local terrain. They are immeasurably valuable to the mountain climbers who hire them, though the Sherpas themselves often don’t receive credit for successful expeditions. They are typically the background, the support, and the invisible key to the summit. It’s the mountaineers who receive recognition for reaching the tops of the mountains, often with merely a mention of the “team” that helped them get there.
This is similar to how postpartum doulas function with the families we serve. Postpartum doulas aren’t about receiving credit or recognition. We are about providing support to your expedition into parenting. If, at the end of the day, you feel like you did an amazing job parenting your new baby/babies and taking care of yourself and your family, then we have done our job. It’s your journey and your summit, not ours. We guide: we are trained to offer you the latest, evidence-based information regarding newborn care, breastfeeding and bottle-feeding, physical recovery, emotional well-being, and family/sibling adjustment. We can also help partners, older siblings, and grandparents learn how to “mother the mother” to facilitate her recovery and the baby’s well-being. We support: studies show that breastfeeding success rates increase and postpartum depression rates decrease with nonjudgmental, knowledgable support. Postpartum doulas support a family’s first weeks with a new baby so the stage is set for a better first year–and beyond. We offer support and encouragement so that you can parent your baby the way youchoose. This is your expedition; Sherpas empower the mountaineer–they don’t climb the mountain for them. Doulas are the same. Like Home Depot says, “You can do it. We can help.” We porter: like a Sherpa carries gear and supplies, we help you “carry” your home along as you learn your way through Baby Land. Laundry, dishes, meals, and pet care are all heavy loads that new parents often have trouble keeping up with. Postpartum doulas provide that tangible, practical help so you can keep your eyes on the prize: bonding with your baby, resting and recovering, and enjoying your new normal as you gain confidence.
So, once you’ve thought about your labor and delivery, which is a matter of hours, think about your postpartum time, which is a matter of months. A baby has to be born in order for parenthood to exist. Birth serves parenthood. If your birthing experience deserves a doula, don’t you think your postpartum time does, too?
Hallie Rogers is a certified postpartum doula and a certified lactation counselor. She owns and manages Better Beginnings, LLC, which provides postpartum doula and lactation support to families in the Twin Cities area. Her passion is serving women as they become mothers, and serving families as they grow. In her spare time, she enjoys running, travel, reading, and spending time outside (including, yes, trekking up mountains).