What is a post-natal doula... and why you need one
Naomi Chrisoulakis is a rare human. The accomplished writer and editor spent years penning stories that championed women for the likes of Marie Claire, Women’s Health and Stellar magazine, but after the birth of her own daughter, Margot, she decided to channel that championing into a more practical kind of support… and became a postpartum doula. Now, running her business Cocoon by Naomi she spends her time cooking nourishing, soul-warming food and offering the kind of support that only mums in the throes of first-day hormones can truly appreciate. Holding the baby while you have a shower, taking them for a walk while you nap, listening to the fears, the tears, the… everything. And then she returns home each day to give the same love, care and attention to her own family. See, what I mean? Rare human.
As a new mum myself, one who did have support networks (a very available and willing mother-in-law, a partner at home, friends who had young kids) I know how important this kind of help is. Even just someone asking, “How are you?” is like a lifeboat in those watery, uncertain early stages. Because even with support it’s bloody hard. And hormone-fuelled, and teary, and joyous and sleep-deprived… and you have NFI what you’re doing.
They say “it takes a village to raise a child”, but something I heard recently rings true even more “it takes a village to raise a mother.” And, the problem is for most of us, we’re distinctly lacking a village. We’re too busy “having it all”, smashing through glass ceilings and showing how capable we are, that the communities that were once so important to our own upbringing are largely just a sweet memory of the “olden days”. Instead, it feels we have to choose between the life and career we have built (and worked damn hard for) over the past 15 years… or a village. And though I am forever grateful for the support I did have, this is why I couldn’t help but wish I’d known about post-natal doula’s before I had Yuki. Because, when it comes to motherhood, there’s no such thing as too much support.
This sentiment is perfectly echoed by Naomi herself, and is what partly inspired her to make the switch from glossy mags to crying babies (and mama’s). She says, “I am so lucky that I had the support I did, but what I really needed was an unbiased, regular visitor who was focused on my needs – and put me to bed and feed me! So when friends were having babies, I tried to give them what I needed more of – supportive company, good food, cheerleading. And I loved it.”
Here, Naomi tells The Wayward about the role of a postpartum doula, and why we need them more than ever.
What exactly is a postpartum doula?
“A post-natal doula is simply someone who supports mothers and families as they adjust to life with a new baby. I’m there to fill the cracks: I might take care of some laundry, make sure mama’s eating and drinking well (I bring special postpartum food to my clients to help them recover and rebuild their energy), send her off to get some sleep or have a long how shower while I take care of her baby, prep dinner for that evening, give her a shoulder rub to ease sore muscles, tidy up and put fresh sheets on the bed, play with older children...”
And how is that different to a ‘regular’ doula?
“The modern sense of a doula is a birth attendant – but in fact, the traditional meaning of doula was a woman who came in after the birth. I have nothing to do with labour and delivery – I help with the aftermath when you’ve brought the baby home. It’s a really vulnerable moment for new mothers, and I’m there to help them ease into motherhood rather than be thrown in the deep end without a paddle.”
How did you come across the postpartum doula concept?
“I was living in LA and trying to decide whether we might have a baby in America or come home to Australia. I heard about that support option and thought it sounded lovely - but that I’d probably be able to handle it on my own. HAHAHAHA what an excellent joke! I had Margot back in Australia, where I had family, and didn’t even consider looking for additional support. I remember reading about traditional postpartum care somewhere in the haze of breastfeeding for hours, and thinking that we were getting ripped off in the West. Then I bought The First 40 Days by Heng Ou, who runs a postpartum food delivery service in LA and has Chinese heritage - her description of the Chinese confinement period, and how it could be modernised to our world, made so much sense to me. From there, I looked into training and certification and decided that I wanted to make a shift away from writing and editing and doing work that really helped new mothers.”
How was your own postpartum experience, and how did it influence the career change?
“I think I was a typical first-time mum, in that I spent my pregnancy preparing for birth and not thinking much about what would come after. I definitely focused on what ‘stuff’ I needed and assumed that support would just fall into place. I had a mother who was an ex-midwife – albeit one who really pushes my buttons – and friends around. Besides, I was a capable woman who’d travelled, had a career, thrown parties, negotiated pay rises… I figured I’d cope, even thrive.
I had a difficult birth with Margot and came out feeling like I’d been run over a truck. I remember thinking that this must be how soldiers feel coming out of battle. I had postnatal anxiety from about day four until four months, which waxed and waned but generally left me questioning myself constantly and really not enjoying the whole experience – despite being very much in love with my baby. Friends and family meant well, but I didn’t get the kind of support I really needed. I found myself making tea for people who visited, or feeding my parents the food that had been dropped off by someone else… and doing the washing up after!”
“We’ve forgotten that support and self-care is what will make the biggest difference to our experiences as new mothers.”
How do you think the current system is lacking in support for new Mums?
“If we spent more money on support – like expanding the home visiting program that helped me so much – instead of on crappy stuff like the baby bundles that are being handed out to new mums, I honestly believe we’d lower our shocking rates of postnatal anxiety and depression. And have higher rates of breastfeeding.
We’ve forgotten that support and self-care is what will make the biggest difference to our experiences as new mothers. Baby showers are lovely, but I’d love to see women given vouchers for meal services like mine or for cleaners or massages rather than yet another onesie.”
And finally, is there a time limit on how long you’ll offer care?
“I deliver food to any mama who needs it – no matter how old her kids are! My work focuses on the immediate postpartum period, during the fourth trimester. Having said that, often women who haven’t had good support during that time need more of a hand down the line… I don’t put a limit on it.”
Naomi is a certified post-natal doula and has a Working With Children Check. To book one of her incredible in-home support packages or buy one of her delicious food packages for you (or a mama you know!) click here.
Oh, and p.s: A percentage of Cocoon’s profits are donated to PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia) and Birthing Kit Foundation Australia - so you’re not only helping a new Mum, but also the greater village.