04 Feb No – not a Jeweller, a Doula!
This is a comment that I make on a fairly regular basis following the oft-asked question “what do you do for your job?”. 😀 . The career of a doula is not one that is commonly known here in New Zealand but that is changing as more and more women and families become aware of the need for ‘village support’ both before, during and after the birth of a baby.
The word ‘doula’ originated from the Greek language and could be translated to mean ‘servant woman’. In the 1970’s it was coined by the anthropologist Dana Raphael, in her book ‘The Tender Gift: Breastfeeding’ where she noted that throughout history it has been commonplace for an older female, often a family member to be present in a supportive role during birth and postpartum. Since then it has been commonly used to describe a non-medically trained person that supports a mother both in the birth room and also in the following postpartum weeks and months.
“In my work as a doula, my focus is on the mother. I want to help her to feel comfortable, nourished, relaxed and appreciated; to facilitate a harmonious transition for both mother and child in those most profound first days and weeks after birth. A mother needs someone who cares about how many times the baby woke to nurse in the night, how many diapers were changed, how her breasts are feeling.” ―
Some doulas specialise in birth and I have attended many births myself. However, my passion and focus is on the post-partum period. A time that is, for most women, so profoundly intense and important, yet in Western culture often overlooked and neglected. In my own experience, I was completely blindsided by the birth of an actual BABY at the end of my pregnancy nineteen years ago – who knew that was going to happen!? And after close to fifteen years of working with pregnant and new mothers in the specialist pregnancy spa that I created and in my workshops and and classes, I witnessed first hand how many mothers were suffering from the pressure of feeling that they needed to ‘bounce back’ into their old lives when they themselves had received little or no ‘mothering’ or support. Exhaustion, stress and postpartum mood disorders were rife.
The focus on the newborn baby but the neglect of the postpartum woman is a concept that is alien to many pre-colonial cultures. Historically there has always been a period of time set aside following birth to nurture, nourish and care for the new mother so that she can do the same for her baby. ‘The Sitting Moon’, ‘The Sacred Window’ ‘La Dieta’ – each culture has its own way of describing the postpartum or postnatal* period but the main similarity is that it’s all about the mother. Caring for her, feeding her special foods, celebrating her, massaging her, taking away all previous responsibilities and cares so that she can recover, thrive, fall in love with her newborn baby and produce abundant breastmilk.
When I discovered this and went on to train and qualify as a postpartum doula, I knew that I had come a long way to finding out the secret to transforming the postpartum for a mother and family from stress and exhaustion to peace, joy and satisfaction. Over the past few years, it has been both an honour and a privilege to care for new mothers and families, holding space and caring for them as they travail the path into parenthood with all of its changes, challenges and joys. I encourage the women that I work with to view the postpartum period as a time when they deserve and should expect the highest level of care, love and attention.
In my work as a doula, my average visit might include some or all of the following –
- Sitting down with the pregnant mama and her partner before the birth to talk about planning their postpartum sanctuary. We might discuss how to ‘build their village’ and gather around people to support them, talk about their family values and the things that are important to them as well as more practical aspects such as managing visitors, care for other children, housework, pet care etc and what to expect from their newborn baby.
- Meal planning, shopping and cooking with a focus on nourishing, traditional postpartum foods such as delicious dhals, bone broths, soups and muffins.
- Specialist post-partum massage treatments to soothe and ease the mother’s body following her birth. I will also often use traditional spice paste blends on the abdomen and then tightly bind the belly and perform a ‘mother warming’, applying heat to the belly to bring energy and vitality back to an area that is now seen as cold, spacious and depleted.
- Providing specialist postpartum herbal teas, sitz baths, healing balms and aromatherapy blends to support and heal the mother’s body post birth.
- Light housework. Putting fresh sheets on the bed, serving a delicious lunch, making her space calm, beautiful and peaceful with fresh flowers, scented candles and soft blankets so that all she has to do is to relax with her baby and receive love.
- Listen to her. Allow her to express her joys, her challenges and her fears. Affirm and support her decisions and encourage her to feel confident to try new things and make mistakes as she learns that she is the best mother for her baby and her baby is her best teacher and guide.
- Gentle yoga, meditation and guided relaxations Giving her the time and space to recover from birth, soothe, ease back into and celebrate her new body.
- ‘Mother Honouring’ ceremonies and celebrations including the ‘Closing of the Bones’ – celebrating her transition into motherhood with ritual and joy either just the two of us or with her friends and family joining her.
I feel so very privileged to do this special work. It truly is such a joy to me. I hope that by spreading the word about the importance of caring for new mothers in the way that they need and deserve I can create a ‘Slow Postpartum’ renaissance where our society begins to rediscover the importance of this profound and important time. A time where we have, as a society, the opportunity to bring peace, joy and satisfaction in the life of a new mother. I truly believe that this, in turn, will ripple outwards to her baby, her family, her community and the world – making it a better place for all.
With love Jojo x
PS: * Postpartum and postnatal are both interchangeable terms to describe the weeks after birth. Postpartum is more commonly used in the USA and postnatal in Australia and NZ. However, as postpartum refers to the mother and postnatal to the baby, I use the former in my work with new mothers as it more accurately describes the care that is focused on the woman.
Jojo Hogan is an international postpartum doula & coach and the founder of Slow Postpartum™ – a movement that works to educate and empower society as to the importance of honouring the postpartum ‘sacred window’ and to care for mothers and babies worldwide. To find out more, to have Jojo care for you during your Slow Postpartum or to work with Jojo, visit www.slowpostpartum.com.
Download Jojo’s The Six Secrets to a Slow Postpartum E-Book here.