When I think about the role of postpartum doulas the word matrescence immediately comes to mind. It is a word I came across after the birth of my second daughter in a New York Times article called “The Birth of a Mother” by Alexandra Sacks, MD . Matrescence simply means transition into motherhood but encompasses so much more. Similar to the word “adolescence” it is a time of transition- emotionally, physically, mentally, socially and even environmentally. Everything about that woman’s life is different. Her body is not what it was before. She’s on a hormonal rollercoaster. There has never had so many thoughts swirling in her mind, all somehow linked to an innocent little human she just met. These thoughts run the gamut from overwhelming love, confusion, disdain, awe, and even disbelief. Her friends and family who have also gone through matrescence are sharing stories that she has never heard before and she is being welcomed into a new community. While her friends and family who don’t have children often don’t relate anymore and/or simply disappear. Finally to top it off she has a new “roommate”who needs 24-hour care and nurturing but doesn’t talk. Nothing is the same and everything can be wonderful and terrifying at the same time.
Since the beginning of civilization, traditions have existed to ease the transition into motherhood. Although slightly different from culture to culture the common thread is the new mother being surrounded by a community of knowledgeable and caring women for weeks to months after childbirth. They teach her, nurture her, heal her and most of all provide her with support to become a healthy, strong, confident mother. Fast forward to the 21-st century and you see these long held traditions breaking down with the surge of modern technology, the push for equal rights for women, and rapidly increasing numbers of women having children without skipping a beat in their profession. There are many factors at play, but the result has been a cultural push to have a baby and get back to “normal” as quickly as possible while doing it all by yourself. “I am woman, I can do all and make it look easy” is the motto.
Unfortunately, this is simply not realistic for the majority of women. Many new mothers underestimate the postpartum period as they focus on labor and delivery throughout pregnancy. Then they are hit overnight by the most overwhelming of circumstances without a community of women to back them up. This is an all too common scenario resulting in potentially poorer outcomes for both mothers and babies. Women need support. Women need a village, no matter how small, in the postpartum period. They need reassurance that they are capable. They need to be mothered themselves. They need respite from infant care that they can trust. They need to be able to focus on the developing bond between themselves and their baby, while letting go of their other day-to-day stressors. Postpartum doula’s can fulfill all of these needs and do it with kindness, knowledge, trust, sensitivity, reliability, and flexibility.
When a postpartum doula is present in the first weeks to months after delivery, mothers (and fathers) can focus on bonding with their baby. The doula can assist with reducing the daily stressors by helping with many different tasks including but not limited to meal preparation, basic housekeeping, running errands, breastfeeding support, infant care, education on infant care, respite from infant care, and referring families to community resources for additional support or skilled services such as lactation consultants. In addition to this, doulas provide emotional support to the mother during her matrescence. Often having another person who will listen, offer advice, and hold space with her, can be the difference between feeling constantly overwhelmed and feeling the bliss of new motherhood.
Postpartum doulas work to continue the wonderful traditions of generations of women that have gone before them in the care of new mothers. In the period of matrescence, postpartum doulas hold the mothers hand and guide her toward becoming the mother she envisioned.
If you or someone you know would benefit from postpartum doula support please contact Windward Maternal Wellness today. Our team of certified postpartum doulas are ready to support, educate, and partner with your family as you begin your journey into parenthood with grace, peace, and love.
Hilary Valentine, Owner of Windward Maternal Wellness
I was born and raised in Massachusetts but I have called Oahu my home for the past 14 years. I live with my family in Kailua, including my husband, Jason, my daughters, Victoria and Gwendolyn and my parents, Nanette and Geoff. This blog is intended to shine light on both my work as a women's health occupational therapist and postpartum doula, my personal views on lifestyle topics such as parenting and women's health as well as a resource for education on topics relevant to the clients I serve. I welcome any and all comments and feedback! Mahalo!