Guest Post: Shelly Boyce - Who Needs a Postpartum Doula?
This week is brought to you by my best friend and heterosexual life partner, Shelly Boyce. If I wasn't mad that Shelly decided she's a better writer than me, I'd say I was proud. Oh who am I kidding? I'm so proud of this Broad. Shelly's story is the reason I've trained to become The Broad, and am inspired every day to continue the good fight. I'm thankful every day to Shelly that she is bravely sharing her tale with anyone who will listen, and for her kick in my hind quarters to make sure there's one less person in the world going through what she did. If Shelly needed support like this, I promise, you do too:
“I don’t need a postpartum doula,” said pregnant me, confident that I was capable of handling whatever a newborn could throw at me. I had read all the books, taken the classes, and boasted a supportive partner. My cloth diapers were perfectly lined up on the changing table, I could wrap a teddy bear into a Moby in 28 seconds flat, and my breast pump was sanitized and ready to help me fill my freezer to overflowing before my 6-week maternity leave ended. “I got this,” said overly presumptuous, pregnant me.
My labor was textbook perfect, my birth plan was honored, and my baby was healthy. As I held my daughter a few hours after her birth, I was sure that the hard part was over. All I needed was love and breastmilk from there on out.
But the breastmilk didn’t come. My baby cried enough for 3 babies and slept for just minutes at a time. Long story short, healing both physically and emotionally from pregnancy was a complicated and drawn out battle.
In the early weeks of postpartum life, people expected that I might have some needs. Some brought meals, others helped with laundry. The mood shifted, though, somewhere around week 6. Suddenly I was supposed to be ready for the world. I needed to wear pants with buttons and take calls at work without crying. When friends asked me how I was, the correct answer was something about how blissfully happy I was to be a new mom and the magic of breastfeeding. They were uncomfortable, and stopped calling when I was honest about how hard it was to take care of myself on top of juggling everything else.
But what was the everything else? To the world, and even those close to me, I looked like I was rocking this parenting gig. On the inside, I was in a protective, mama bear mode #All.The.Time. Everything felt like a threat pointed directly at me, and I beat myself up for not being able to “get it together” in line with an arbitrary timeline. I wasn’t quite sure what getting it together really meant, but I was certain I hadn’t done it yet. I still ran through all the bad things that might happen each day. What if we had a car accident? What if the baby pooped everywhere? What if she got hungry and my boobs completely stopped working?
I spent a lot of time blaming others for my stress. If they just helped instead of dishing out crappy advice, maybe I’d be together. If they stopped asking me for time commitments when I was in such dire need of sleep, maybe I’d be together. If they knew what it was like to have an intensely needy child like mine, maybe I’d be together. I learned later that the everything else had very little to do with the actions of the people in my life. Instead, it was the anxiety that is so common in new moms but rarely articulated as a normal response to protecting our precious children.
The first year postpartum is mostly a blur of emotions, ranging the entire scale from hopelessness to ecstasy. Now that I’m a few years past that fog I can look back with a little more clarity around why it was so freaking hard. I think about my now toddler, who loves play-doh. If I give her three colors, she will inevitably mix them together, and then try (unsuccessfully) to separate them before I see that it’s about to be the shade knows as Toddler Taupe. Just like you can’t separate mixed play-doh, you can’t separate postpartum needs when you’re in the thick of it. My postpartum needs were the trifecta of physical care, breastfeeding support, and anxiety coaching. That’s clear now, but when I was barely getting through each day, it didn’t feel like a doula could have done anything to pull me from treading water up onto dry land.
When I think back to the happiest memories in that first year, they were the times when my postpartum needs were met. Lucky for me, my best friend is a postpartum doula and she forced her services upon me every time she was able to travel into town. She met my physical needs my filling my freezer with healthy dinners, washing the laundry, cleaning the house, and literally stuffing spoonfuls of food into my mouth when I couldn’t find the wherewithal to do it for myself. She gently suggested new avenues to explore when my doctors failed to figure out why breastfeeding hurt so much. And she listened as I talked through both realistic and unrealistic fears, all the while standing like a body guard at my front door to keep away the well-meaning visitors who kept trying to separate me from the baby when all we needed was skin to skin time as we worked through milk supply and weight gain struggles.
Who needs a postpartum doula? I didn’t think I did, but I did. And so do you. She is as crucial to your postpartum comfort as stool softeners and foods that can be eaten with one hand. Let’s stop trying to just “recover” from birth. With the right support, we can actually have quality of life during those weeks and months, stretching our capacity to perceive life with peaceful, hopeful eyes even when life feels hard. She’s like you’re own personal project manager, the project is your healing, and her timeline is not limited. Whether you need 2 weeks, 2 months, or all the time in the world, there is no expiration date on a postpartum doula with the skills to handle your unique needs.