Most people I knew considered me (and my husband) to be an expert in all things baby/child related because of my education and work experience. Friends and family were very excited for us as we were engaged, planning a wedding and now expecting a baby. But the truth is that we were just like all first-time parents. We were happy, nervous, anxious and unprepared. Even with everything we knew, researched, read and watched about pregnancy and birth, there was still a little grey cloud of unknown hanging over us.
The day my son was born was and still is the happiest day of my life (right next to my two wedding days). I quickly found out that I had no idea what I was doing. Yes, me. The woman that everyone came to for baby product suggestions, parenting advice and last minute babysitting when their sitter cancelled. I was so tired and I wasn't taking care of myself like I should have been. Being a newlywed and new mom was one of the most challenging periods of my life. I definitely could have used a postpartum doula during this time. But eventually, I found my rhythm and decided to go back to work as a nanny after eight months at home with my little guy.
Not four months after returning to work, I begin to have lots of pain. After a few visits to my doctor and a specialist, I was scheduled for surgery. The fibroids I had were growing and starting to push against my other organs. When my son was just 18 months old I had to have a major surgery and I was terrified that something was going to happen to me while I was on the operating table. Again, I could have used a doula to comfort me, listen to me as I cried and secretly planned for my untimely death. And of course while I recovered from surgery. My husband was amazing, just like he was after we had our son.
But when I was at home alone with a toddler and four incisions in my stomach that hurt like bloody hell and he was at work, I needed nothing short of my own mother or a doula.
Shortly after my surgery, I took my son for his 18 month check up. This was the beginning of the end. This was when life smacked me in the face and said I wasn't good enough. The pediatrician suggested getting my son evaluated because he wasn't saying much. At all. My husband and I ultimately decided that we would hold off on getting our son evaluated. We had worked with enough children to know that they all develop at different paces. Instead, we enrolled him in day care to see how much that would help. When our son turned two years old, we saw the pediatrician again and agreed to get him evaluated.
The day my son was evaluated was the hardest day of my life as a mother. I had to sit and listen to someone tell me that my son was not developing like most children. People who had never met my son and spent less than two hours with him before telling me that he was severely delayed. I had to take the words they were telling me and swallow them like a horse pill instead of cry, scream and throw them out of my house.
Over the next several months, I was in a daze. I questioned every decision I had made since giving birth to him. Did I breastfeed him long enough? Should I have not supplemented with formula? Should I have read to him more? Did I hold him or talk to him enough? Truthfully, I was on mommy autopilot. I did all of the necessary things to keep him alive, but I'm not sure I was really present. I'm not sure I was a whole mother, the mother he needed me to be for him. I felt like someone had come into my home and told me that what I was doing as a parent was wrong and that I was hurting my child. I felt like a bad mother.
If I ever needed a doula in my adult life, it was during this time.
Once I started writing about my feelings and opening up to my husband, I decided to be my son's advocate. I was not going to let anyone tell me who my son was and what he should be doing. I was no longer going to let anyone make me feel like I was an inadequate mother. I refused to let my son be categorized, stigmatized and labeled for the rest of his life. By no means was this the end of all of my heartache. There would be many more trials, tribulations, nay-sayers and even a couple of speech therapists that would come and go. But I was and still am determined to be the best mother I can be for my son.
My son will be five years old exactly one month from today. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see how much he has grown. Most days are bittersweet because I remember when he would just laugh and smile. Now he tells me 'no' almost every day and he has more words than I could have imagined at four years old. He is reading and writing and he loves school. While my son still sees a speech therapist once a week, he is ready for Kindergarten and I have no reservations about how he will thrive in school. He is the child I always knew he was in my heart.
I often wonder what I missed out on as a mother during this time. If only I had a doula when my son was diagnosed with a speech delay...
Traditionally, doulas provide care and support for families during labor and the postpartum period. But doulas could be and should be utilized for so much more. If you need non-judgmental, unbiased support for your family, hire a doula.