Daily Archives: 2013/02/14

Momblog: Learning to breastfeed, learning to parent

(c) Best for Babes

(c) Best for Babes

So apparently learning to breastfeed and learning to become a parent wasn’t going to be as easy as achieving an empowered birth (read Part 1: How I met my doula).  Despite the fact that I was breastfed myself, despite my readings, despite following several friends in their breastfeeding journeys in the year before my birth, and despite the fact that I knew that this was what I was meant to do, within HOURS of my son’s birth I was booby trapped!  I was hit with ALL the standard in-hospital Breastfeeding Booby Traps and breastfeeding became a challenge rather than a joy.  This was exacerbated by the fact that each maternity nurse had something different to say: you’re feeding too often, no you’re feeding too much; hold him this way, who told you to hold him that way, hold him like this; he’s lost too much weight we must supplement (and horror: you cannot leave until we know he’s gained weight!) [sound familiar?]….  And you know what?  It didn’t take long for that empowering birth to be quickly eclipsed.    Everything I *knew* was cast into doubt by the supposedly *knowledgeable* staff.

It took me a week at home to finally get back on my two feet and realise that all the maternity nurses and even the home visitor were NOT my baby’s mother and it was up to me to make things work.  I ignored everyone’s advice (who wants advice at this point anyway?  Information and support is what I needed, if I wanted advice, I’d ask!) and just tried to listen to my baby.   Thank goodness I had my own old fashioned postpartum doula at home (my mother) so there was no laundry to do, food to buy and prepare, house to clean, etc.  I participated when I wanted to (not because I *had* to) and just enjoyed being a new mother.

Breastfeeding was MUCH easier when I just listened to my baby (and my boobs!), but after two weeks of bad advice, it was like starting over from the beginning.   Then I started going out to a breastfeeding clinic once a week.   It was actually at these clinics that I “got my groove on” so-to-speak.   I had sorta figured everything out (though I wasn’t confident yet that I had) and just being there amongst other mothers, seeing all the different ways they were holding their babies, loving their babies, mothering their babies, solidified things for me.   And, talking to the other mothers and to the on-staff lactation consultants meant I could do what women do best “talk things through” until I found the “solution” that was best for me.  These women, though I haven’t seen them since, became an important “circle of support”.

LLLI for World Breastfeeding Week 2008

All the while, my mother said encouraging things, explained to people around me why saying “if it’s so hard why don’t you just switch to formula” was NOT supportive or helpful (another booby trap), and just generally loved me.  I especially remember her commenting one day something along the lines that she “enjoyed seeing me in this new stage, learning to be a parent”.  My doula visited me at home too and she had only encouraging things to say, which was also a big help.

At 8 weeks postpartum my mother, my son and I boarded a plane to Amman, Jordan, where I was now moving with my newborn.   The hard newborn days were behind me (but not forgotten).  Breastfeeding was going well and feeding on the plane (take-off, landing, and on cue anytime in between) made things OH.SO.EASY.   In the following 10 months in Jordan, breastfeeding was always something I could rely on (blebs, plugged ducts, thrush and all — I knew where to turn for help now and/or what to do when these things happened).   In fact, between the blebs, plugged ducts and occasional feeling of huge rocks on my chest, breastfeeding was straightforward.   I was even able to help new mothers now, with both pregnancy, breastfeeding and babycare information and support, and did so regularly through online fora.  These online mothers were my circle of support in Jordan (I like to think that it’s this time that the majority of my practical training in peer-support and “doula-ing” occurred!).

But life as an expatriate mother was not easy:  Other than the online mothers (thank goodness for them), I was living mostly alone and I when I ventured further than the local store, I was invariably hiding in the car to nurse (for various reasons, including second-hand smoke EVERYWHERE, the need to not show ANY skin whilst feeding, etc.).   Undiagnosed PPD soon set in (alleviated by 4 months back with my parents in the summer of 2008) which came raging back with another move, this time here to Switzerland.  But this time I knew what I needed to be a good mother:  other mothers to talk to, a support network, a tribe of women.   A Circle of Support.  So four months after arriving, our community was born…

How I met MY doula

When I first fell pregnant in the fall of 2006, I had never heard the word “doula”.   I wasn’t even particularly well-versed on the role of a midwife: in North America all you ever really heard about and watched on TV growing up was about OB/GYNs and hospital births (and traumatic ones at that).   So when I went to my family doctor and he asked if I wanted midwifery care or obstetric care, my immediate response was to default to “obstetrician, of course”.

But I always believed in the power and ability of my body to give birth (it’s what the female of any adult mammal is meant to do), so when I started to read literature targetted to mothers-to-be, the word DOULA jumped out at me (the word midwife was still hardly written).   I got online and contacted Birth Roots Doulas, a doula cooperative that was based in my hometown, and a few weeks later I met a doula.   I hired her nearly “on the spot” and also decided to take the two weekend antenatal class that the cooperative was offering.

My doula met with me (and either my mother or my ex-husband) several times during my pregnancy.   She provided literature, answered questions, and got to know me and what I wanted from MY birth.  She answered all the questions that my mother didn’t have answers for, that my OB didn’t have time for, or that I had “spur of the moment” and could write down immediately in an email and pop off for a reply.   All this for a nominal fee really, considering becoming a parent is a LIFE-LONG commitment and how it begins has a huge influence.

In any event, there was a chance that my son’s father would miss the birth, so I knew having a doula there during my labour was potentially a huge need (who wants to labour & birth without support?), and it was also clear that if we/I decided to call her, she would be there supporting both parents-to-be.

Then the big day came..  and boy-oh-boy was I glad I had had my doula for the pregnancy and that she had answered my questions (questions often spurred by the literature I had read hoping for ANSWERS!).  I knew what to expect at the hospital, I knew how to advocate for myself, I knew that I didn’t want an IV or continuous fetal monitoring.  I knew that if I was hungry I could and should eat (you burn over 1000 calories AN hour in active labour!).   And it turned out that I didn’t need her to come support me until after I was fully effaced, 7cm dilated, and only a couple hours away from pushing (at which point she arrived, looked me in the eye and said exactly what I needed to hear and literally minutes later, I felt the urge to push).

I birthed my son in hospital, with a doula by my side.   No interventions, no tearing, immediate skin-to-skin!   How empowering!

I cannot explain exactly what my doula did / did not do.    She worked intuitively.   Doulas in general watch and learn and listen.  They protect the sacred space that is your birth place (whether that is at home, at a birth house/centre, or hospital and with or without interventions).   From that day on, becoming a doula myself was always a possibility…  (though I first had to learn to breastfeed and become a parent!).  You can read that journey “Learning to Breastfeed, Learning to Parent” here.