(Throughout this piece I will be using gendered language as it pertains to "Mother's Instinct". However, not only mothers give birth.)
Since I made the decision to become a postnatal doula, many people have asked "Why do people need a doula?"
Having children is no easy feat. I have none of my own but I have dedicated most of my life to helping raise them. I also have 8 siblings who have 18 children between them. I have come across all sorts of questions:
Why is my baby's poo green?
How long can I keep breast milk?
When will my baby start rolling/sitting/walking?
How do I put up a cotbed?
Where can I socialise with my baby?
How many times should my baby poo/wee/feed?
Am I doing this right?
Why won't they settle?
Does this look normal?
All of these questions are normal and quite typical. I cannot tell you the number of times I have had a panicked parent ask me to inspect their little one's nappy contents!
As a nanny, I have seen so many parents just "crack on" with things. A lot of the time they have no idea what they are doing but they find something that works. Unfortunately, too often I have seen parents who have no idea what they are doing and they are too scared to
ask for help.
One of the most difficult things I have had to deal with is a mother who would quietly weep in the bathroom, her bedroom, any room the baby wasn't in. A mother who couldn't cry in front of anyone. A mother who put her "best face" on whenever she was around others. Showing off her beautiful child to all and sundry, yet in those brief moments alone, she would crumble.
People tell you that parenting is "natural". They say that a woman becoming a mother is "magical" and if she feels anxious or apprehensive then she needn't worry as "mother's instinct" will kick in as soon as the baby is born.
But that's not true is it?
Mother's instinct isn't really real and there is no "magic". Because if it were true, there would be no baby blues, no postnatal depression, no baby pinks.
Gestational hormones prime mothers to respond to stimuli from her infant. She is simply responding to cues. Furthermore, oxytocin (the hormone associated with maternal bonding) spikes in grandparents too. Even non-gestational parents experience a spike in oxytocin.
Even by it's very definition, maternal "instinct" isn't real since instincts are automatic, irresistible behaviours triggered by something in the environment. The behaviours that are often referred to as "instincts" are actually "drives".
Society has created a monster known as "Maternal Instinct" and shuns any mother who doesn't feel it.
Having a doula can be reassuring. Not just for the gestational parent but for the whole family. A doula will not be able to "cure" postnatal depression but studies indicate that a doula can lower the risk of developing it by providing continuous support, praise, reassurance and even a debrief following birth.
There are many different types of doulas. They are available to you at any stage of a pregnancy including during the planning stages, adoption, following an abortion or still birth. Doulas are even available to provide end of life care for terminally ill individuals.
Take a look at this study by M. Bohren et al. which assesses the effects of continuous care on women and their babies compared with "usual" care.
Read further on doulas and the impact they can have here on the Evidence Based Birth website.
For me, becoming a doula is about empowering people to be able to make their own decisions and showing them that they do have the skills to look after their baby, all they need is a little nudge in the right direction. Having watched a number of mothers become crippled by postnatal depression, it is imperative to me that I provide as much support as possible so that others don't have to go through the same.