Before I began to work with pregnant and birthing women, I trained as a post-partum doula. Supporting new parents in the often confusing early weeks with an infant was something I felt compelled to do.
This was because, after my own child was born, I had experienced how imperative the right support was to my mothering journey. When my baby was young, I was fortunate to be surrounded by a community that helped me understand normal infant behaviour. Meeting a baby’s needs was modelled to me, and this was my normal.
When I was around other people who had babies, or in online groups, I began to notice that many parents were faced with a constant barrage of ‘you’re doing it wrong’. Women were told that if they met their baby’s needs – for instance, keeping baby close, or feeding whenever baby indicated – that they were making terrible mistakes. I saw women filled with doubt and fear.
Comparing the confidence I felt to the distrust so many other women felt made me realise: support matters. Learning what is normal behaviour for a human infant matters. Not only for the baby – but most fundamentally, for the mother.
In our society, we are not often made aware of the wide range of normal infant behaviour. In the noisy world of opinion, I have been lucky to support countless women through that experience of the first months, helping them find their own mothering strength.
‘As a new mum you don't know what to expect. Your baby doesn't come with a manual.’ Clancy said, when her first baby was born. ‘Leisa was one of the few who encouraged and supported me to follow my intuition. Friends and family, while well intentioned, often offered advice that didn't feel right for me … Good support lifted my spirits and encouraged me to keep going, to follow my own philosophies and feelings.’
‘I was bombarded with opinions - in particular sleep and how to not ‘spoil’ my baby,’ said Jenny. ‘I began to feel overwhelmed. I purposely changed the way I interacted with my infant in the presence of others. After feeling deflated and exhausted, I was finally given the advice to follow my instincts. This support fuelled my desire to parent the way that I felt was right in meeting the needs of my baby.’
Babies – and their parents and family situations – are all different. There is rarely one ‘technique’ that will work for all. Yet, one thing that does work, is a parent feeling assured to listen to their instincts. There are plenty of ideas that can help women get through those early weeks and months with a new baby, whilst also meeting their own needs. For instance, one of the greatest investments I made in the early days was a good carrier. I realised I could carry my baby inside the house, as well as outside. This gave me the freedom to go about my normal day – meeting my needs – and still hold my baby – meeting hers.
It is important that women keep their own cup of nurturance full, too. Many women enjoy learning that it is possible to look after themselves whilst also responding to their baby – with neither mother nor baby having to go without. Even in that tiring newborn stage, a mother can be filled with confidence. A baby’s earliest experiences can be that of responsiveness and love, and yet new parents can still feel encouraged and sustained.
All new families deserve that kind of support.
* a version of this article first appeared in the Darwin Homebirth Group newsletter in 2017