Doulas, Stop Trying to Clean the Pool
The mindset that the postpartum doula comes in to wash up some dishes, cuddle the baby, and complete some laundry runs rampant. I see dialogues in online forums with postpartum doulas asking "What should I put on my to-do list when I enter a home?" or "My client isn't giving me a list of tasks and I feel useless". Some will even ask their clients at the beginning of each shift "Can you write down everything you'd like me to complete today? Which chores are most important?", which still puts the mental labor on the new parent to figure out what they need when they, quite frankly, aren't even sure. So much of why we are hired is to walk into that space and anticipate the needs of the person in front of us. But let's back up: are these "task lists" really the first priority? Is this what our main and first focus should be when walking into the home.
No. And here's why...
Look at the new parent. I see a person who is physically recovering from one of the most intense experiences of their life to bring their baby into the world (whether that be a vaginal or cesarean delivery). For many, the drastic changes that come next feels alarming, even alien, as they struggle to get comfortable in their skin. Everything about this experience feels completely unfamiliar and strange, as they leak and bleed and sweat, never feeling wholly comfortable. Their hormonal shifts have them questioning their ability to find patience through the experience as they feel a loss of control.
"Why am I crying?"
"Why do I feel so angry?"
"Why can't I stop feeling anxious about so many things?"
"I'm annoyed by visitors who only care about holding the baby and yet, getting moments of not being constantly touched feels refreshing. But then I feel guilty for thinking that way."
"I have no fucking clue what I'm doing. Why did everyone say this would feel instinctual?"
And then there's the isolation, the loneliness, even when the house is full of guests.
"What about me?" screams the parent, internally. "Why don't they ask how I'm sleeping? Why doesn't anyone care about me? Why won't they look me in the eye and see how much I'm hurting."
Some friends don't totally feel like friends anymore. Some family members feel like a burden. Communication with their partner feels so much harder, mostly stemming from the extreme sleep deprivation. Concerns about their bond with their older children creep in, wondering if they're giving them enough attention. And on top of it all, there is a profound sense of losing a part of themselves, their identity.
"Who am I now?"
For many, they feel like they're drowning; barely treading water and not sure what to do. With each passing day, they struggle to gasp for air in between learning to care for their child and themselves.
In walks the postpartum doula, carrying a smile and a heart for helping. Sensing the overwhelm but not sure where to start the doula asks, "What's on the list for today? Laundry? Dishes?" For some clients, a moment of internal panic ensues thinking "List? What list? Shit. I barely got myself out of bed this morning. I was supposed to link of a list?"
Let's pause here.
I liken this moment to looking in a pool, seeing someone drowning, and asking them "Hey, do you want me to clean the pool right now? Can you walk me through the process and how'd you like it done. Let me know where the skimmer and chlorine is and I can get started." All said while the person in the pool digs harder and harder to keep their mouth and nose above water, gasping for breaths.
The primary focus of the postpartum doula's support is on the recovery and adjustment of the birthing parent. We check in on their mind, their heart, their emotions, their relationships, and their body as it physically recovers from birth. We help them find moments of rest and recognize symptoms and signs that fall outside of the realm of a normal postpartum recovery.
Then, we focus on baby's acclimation to life outside the womb and assist those new parents with knowing what a smooth transition looks like. We facilitate bonding, newborn care, recognizing normal behaviors and step in to answer questions as parents learn more about their baby and their own parenting philosophies. We talk about feeding, sleep, bathing, diapers...
THEN...after the primary and secondary focus is taken care of, we handle anything else that gets in the way of those two things from happening. Dishes. Laundry. Running errands. A quick vacuum. Shopping for a new stroller.
Are completing these tasks unnecessary as a doula? No, of course not. Especially if those incomplete tasks are getting in the way of a parent being able to recover or care for their baby the way they need. Those tasks are important, but they are one small part of the work we do. We do this when we notice the first two categories of focus are at a place of stability or are being inhibited by the incomplete task.
We offer to clean the pool when we realize the things in the pool are keeping that drowning person underwater.
We do the dishes when we see the newly postpartum parent has limited time to catch some sleep after a particularly hard night and the sink is full. We run to the pharmacy to pick up their prescription because staying home to feed baby at that time is more important. We move the laundry along because we know the cloth diapers are getting low and they'll need clean ones for after our shift.
We don't do the dishes when we notice our client is an emotional wreck because of an argument they had with their best friend; a person they deeply love and trust who came over and judgeed their parenting choices. We sit in the sadness with them. We don't hide in the kitchen because the task is easier to manage than the emotions the client is feeling. We help them process the frustration. We spend time affirming their choices and build their confidence in a moment of vulnerability.
In that moment, cleaning the pool can wait.