One of the things that surprised me the most after becoming a doula was how common postpartum mood disorders are. At least 1 in 7 women experiences some form of postpartum mental health problems. While there are myriad contributing factors, there is one that stands out to me, as a doula, as something we can and should change:
The idea that the sole goal of birth is a healthy baby.
While the health of the baby is certainly one of the highest priorities, the health of the mother should be equally important.
So often I hear women open up and share their experience– sometimes frightening or even traumatizing anecdotes– and when all is said and done, there is this apologetic shrug of “Oh well; what’s done is done. At least my baby is fine. That’s all that matters, right?”
The way you birth matters.
Your mental wellness matters.
Your safety and peace matter.
It goes without saying that we should prioritize the health of our babies. But one of the biggest reasons I became a doula is because birth can be (and should be!) far better than something one simply survives. Birth can be incredible. It can be empowering. It can be transcendent. And no, I don’t believe that you have to give birth at home, in a birth tub, devoid of all medications in order to achieve this. Any style of birth can be this way with the right tools. What are the right tools, in my opinion? Well, I’m so glad you asked!
- A supportive team. One made of people who can care for all of your needs (not just the medical ones, because birth is so much more than a medical event), who listen to and respect you.
- A thorough education. Do you know why certain procedures should be done, and when? Do you know the benefits, risks and alternatives to the medication or procedure you are facing? Do you understand your options and rights? A woman who understands the way her body works, and how to gain accurate information when she wants and needs it is a woman who can navigate her own birth. Armed with information, fear subsides, and the perception of pain is actually minimized. She is free to act, and not only to be acted upon.
- A postpartum system of care. This might mean your mom, staying with you for a few days or a couple weeks to help you get your bearings (and wrangle the other kids, if you’ve got them). It might be freezer meals or girl’s nights out. It might be a support group or simply the company of someone who’s been there, who can offer you a listening ear. It could be a postpartum doula, who helps around the house, and holds your baby so you can take a shower or a nap.
Even with all the best birth teams, education and support systems in place, birth can be unpredictable. But with this safety net, your experience can be a positive one, and your physical, mental and emotional healing can be vastly expedited. Preparation is crucial, but so is flexibility. So prepare all you can. Learn all you can. Surround yourself with those who will support your needs, because at the end of the day, there are two people who will experience your birth first-hand (you and your baby), and you both deserve to come away from it strong, secure and healthy.