Recently I interviewed a couple who were interested in using my postpartum services to help out after the birth of their first baby.  Following our conversation and agreement that they would indeed like to go ahead, I emailed through my contract.

Stay with me, this is relevant to the title I promise 😊

A few days later I received a reply with a short list of questions/ clarifications of items listed in the contract.  One of their questions was “what is village building?”

It immediately occurred to me that this phrase which I understand so well (now), is likely still completely foreign to many of those I provide support to. Especially someone yet to have a baby and not at all ‘in tune’ with the terminology, Instagram feeds or discussions with the Child Health Nurse around life with a newborn.

And because the phrase does get thrown around a bit, I thought I’d delve in a little to explore just how a postpartum doula and ‘village building’ are linked.

Being a new parent is isolating

Humans are social creatures it is well known. We crave connection and acceptance.  How odd then, that when a baby is born there is a tendency to ‘leave mum alone for a while’ to settle in and figure out how to be a mother.  It is a very intimate and vulnerable time, granted, but certainly not one where it is assumed the new parents should are happy to go it alone.

One of the questions the CHN asked me on day 5 after my first child was born was ‘what sort of support network do you have?’  As my foggy brain struggled to understand her question, I replied ‘ahh, in what way do you mean?’ She followed with, do I know any family members or friends with young children.  Ah yeh, sure, I know plenty.

Did I spend much time with them?

No.

Did I feel I could call them up in tears and ask a dumb-ass question?

No.

I had no experience with caring for babies or young children.  I had no idea how to ask for help.  Society had informed me that this was all very natural and on me to figure out.  Reaffirmed by the lack of further explanation around the topic from the CHN.  So, despite having a baby attached to some part of my body twenty three and a half hours of the day every day, I had never felt more inadequate and alone.

What is needed is a solid support network

Of course, the reason I changed career from environmental advisor (working in mining!) to a postpartum doula was because deep down I knew that my experience of isolation was surely not the way it was supposed to be?  As I watched closely friends and families with children, and I began to speak to them about their experiences, I discovered the stories were all very similar.

I questioned the expectations on me – both my own and that of society – dictating I was now in charge of the entire running of the household as well as the life of my child.  And I should be doing it all with a beaming smile on my face. 

Really?

No, it isn’t supposed to be this way.

Turns out, humans, as social creatures, learn a lot from watching others.  And the same is true of nursing babies and raising children.  It is true that it takes a village to raise a child, but that village is the village that rallies behind mum.  Mum is biologically built to focus on the survival of her babies, not maintaining a pristine home and #alltheotherthings.

Support comes in many forms

So… building your village.  What does it mean? 

Firstly, a short list of what village building is NOT:

  • it isn’t just a tonne of information
  • it isn’t other people’s opinions, no matter how well intentioned
  • it isn’t visitors who come over just to hold your baby, despite you really not wanting them to
  • it isn’t a montage of beautiful Instagram images posted daily
  • it isn’t putting your needs behind those of everyone else around you

Finding your circle of support takes preparation and time.  Life is going to change dramatically and will be a learning curve once baby arrives.  Key to navigating these early days and weeks will be learning to accept the change of pace and asking for help.  Paid support in the form of food delivery services, a cleaner, a dog walker, a food train organised among friends and family…even simply asking visitors to bring a meal rather than gifts for the baby.  What will also be important is surrounding yourself with others who will lift you up, rather than bring you down with comments that make you question and doubt yourself. The new family I will be supporting understand the help I can provide from a tangible perspective.  Not so obvious yet is the real value of a postpartum doula – to gently guide new parents, particularly mum, to find her feet in this new role, bringing comfort and confidence; lots of emotional support, encouragement, cups of tea, foot rubs, and circling the living room with bub in the pram so mum can take a break and do something just for her.  The very things the ‘village’ from our ancestors’ days would have done.