Who uses a doula, midwife, and postpartum help?
Barefoot hippies? Hollywood divas?
Yes, and millions of everyday, hardworking people around the world who have decided either through their cultural heritage or personal research that for them, a natural childbirth and postpartum care with the support of a midwife, doula, and other services makes for the healthiest, safest, and happiest ways to give birth to and care for the new spirit in their lives.
Natural childbirth in a hospital, homebirth, and postpartum care have become so uncommon in the U.S. (and increasingly in other countries) that they are now considered by many to be too difficult, unnecessary, or even frivolous.
But, just a glance at the number of women in the U.S. who fail to have a natural childbirth (when that’s what they intended), fail to breastfeed (even when they wanted to and tried), and who suffer from mild to severe postpartum depression offers a clear indication that the now standard, mechanical template of childbirth and postpartum care is gravely inadequate.
And it’s not that millions of women wouldn’t want a natural childbirth or magical postpartum time of healing and bonding.
It’s that a great majority have no idea what hospital protocol they’re up against when they enter Labor & Delivery, or what kind of postpartum care is considered standard and necessary in countries around the world (and that women experiencing loss—miscarriage or stillbirth—also have postpartum leave and care).
Countless women go into labor having said for nine months, “I want a natural childbirth.” And they mean it. But then what happens?
Here’s a look at just a few of the standard procedures upon entering the hospital:
- When you enter the hospital, you will either be placed in a wheelchair or you will walk to a labor room. The routine is being hooked up to an IV, one or several monitors, denied food and even beverages (other than ice chips, which in many cultures are considered something to avoid in labor). Depending on how “progressive” the hospital and staff are, you will be allowed or encouraged to walk around and work different labor positions to encourage the baby into the correct position and allow labor to progress, or you will simply be advised to stay flat on your back—which is considered by many in the birthing world to be one of the most painful and least effective ways to labor.
- Around the time you start experiencing stronger contractions and the pain sensations are increasing, hospital staff [strangers] will appear at your door encouraging the use of drugs.
- You will be checked periodically by doctors, residents, and/or nurses and student nurses [more strangers]. When you’re dilated far enough, they will move you to the delivery room where your doctor, or a stand-in if he or she has been called away to more pressing matters, will stay with you as the baby and the placenta are born.
This is all assuming that you’re not put on additional drugs to speed labor (if in their estimation you’re taking too long). While 24 hours or longer is a common length of time for a mother to labor—especially with her first baby—many hospitals encourage drugs to speed the process if it passes 12 hours.
It is also assuming that nothing has happened to encourage the doctor to perform a cesarean section (now at 30-50% of deliveries in the States, varying by doctor and hospital).
- All in all, as Jennifer Block states in her book Pushed: The Painful Truth About Modern Childbirth and Maternity Care, a mother—even in a “routine” birth in a hospital—may have “up to 16 different tubes, drugs, or attachments.”
- After the baby and placenta are born, they are both taken away in most instances. The baby to be washed (unnecessary and considered by many to be stressful for the newborn who’d rather be on her mother’s chest and latching!), weighed, measured, and treated with various pharmaceutical products.
The placenta will be taken to an incinerator.
Postpartum care? Women are sent home from the hospital with a few formula samples and a diaper bag.
That’s how we care for new families?
The most sacred rite of passage has become cold, mechanical and offensive.
Fortunately, the pendulum is swinging back.
Many new parents are discovering the mind/body/spirit benefits of hiring various support/services to help them on their journey either at home or in the hospital.
There are many (and increasing numbers of) people who serve new mothers in pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum, and I wrote about several—doulas, midwives, postpartum doulas, maids, cooks, and nannies—in my book New Mother. Since publication and through interaction with readers, I’ve discovered even more services.
For example, a service called Best Fed Babies offers breastfeeding support with a certified lactation consultant 24/7 via phone or Skype to mothers anywhere in the world. I would have loved to call them when I woke one morning at 3:00 AM with a plugged duct—and how many of us have similar questions or issues in the early days and wee hours of nursing!
Mother’s Concierge services are another wonderful and flexible source of help. One company called Pampered Mamas in Baltimore, Maryland offers in-home pre/post natal massage; nap Nannie; in-home baby proofing consultations and much more.
A company in Los Angeles, CA called MotherBees doesn’t just deliver any old regular meal to postpartum mothers, but combines traditional postpartum foods with locally sourced seasonal ingredients. Replenishing and restorative foods—at your door!
In our modern culture with nuclear families living in isolation, many new parents lack knowledge of what will happen during childbirth, what procedures they can accept or decline (in the hospital), what they’ll need postpartum, or what is available to support them.
Just knowing the names and types of services will help mom and dads-to-be to research better and find exactly what they need to create their childbirth vision.
Ora na azu nwa, or It takes a village to raise a child, is a Nigerian Igbo proverb made popular by Hillary Rodham Clinton’s book published in 1996. Birthing and raising healthy happy children does require support, but we don’t live in villages.
However, we can create our village—hopefully with the support of nuclear and extended family members and long-time friends, and also with the help of people trained, experienced, and specializing in mother and baby care. With so many different services available, everyone can find the perfect fit for their needs, budget and desire.
May you be surrounded by love and support, and may you experience abundant peace and joy on your blessed journey of motherhood! (Written by Allie Chee)