Friday, 7 November 2008

Doula dilemma

Having dinner at a friend’s house the other night – let’s call her High Flying City Girl - she revealed that after several years of trying, she’s finally pregnant. I was naturally delighted for her.

There will, of course, have to be a few changes to HFCG’s life when baby is born. She already knows that her fabulous Docklands townhouse, with its minimalist décor, acres of glass and long, dramatically steep staircase, will be hopelessly unsuitable for children. And that her five-star spa holidays in the Maldives with her Hedge Fund Hubby will inevitably be curtailed for a little bit, as will their regular dinners at Nobu and weekends at little designer hotels in the country.

But there is one thing HFCG won’t have to cut down on – her beauty sleep.

“Of course, I’m going to hire a doula for after the baby’s born,” she announced, sounding as if no woman in their right mind would not – and in her world, this is probably true. Hedge Fund Hubby was all for it (well, he wouldn’t want to be getting up in the night for moral support, would he? Let alone have to put up with a frazzled and knackered wife.)

Now I might well have been naïve, but when I had Littleboy 1, I hadn’t even heard of maternity nurses, doulas or whatever else you choose to call them. I was therefore amazed when, after the first few befuddled weeks of looking after a new baby, learning to breastfeed, recovering from a C-section and getting by on virtually zero sleep, I bumped into a neighbour, who had also just given birth. Her husband’s work (another hedge fund, funnily enough) had actually paid for her to have a maternity nurse for the first few weeks, to help with breastfeeding, getting up in the night and general baby care.

I was both incredulous and unbelievably envious – although I definitely wanted to feed Littleboy 1 myself, I did find it hard at first and at that point would have killed for some nice, experienced maternal-looking person to give me some advice and support.

A few years later, and it seems half of Nappy Valley employs some kind of maternity nurse after giving birth. I once bumped into an acquaintance from the playground, who had recently had a second child, and she looked dreadful. I asked her whether she was OK. “Oh, I’m having an awful time,” she said. “The maternity nurse is off on holiday this week, so I’m having to get up in the night AND look after the baby all day.”

Sounds familiar to me, I thought – after all wasn’t that what I did for the seven months or so until Littleboy 1 slept through? Isn’t that what most normal mothers do? After all, Littleboy 1 and I got through the sleepless nights (albeit with me ending up with severe insomnia, panic attacks and a health visitor convinced I had postnatal depression). And the second time round, it wasn’t nearly so difficult.

But at the same time, I was thinking: well, if I had the cash, maybe I would have done the same? So I wonder; are we just shielding ourselves from the reality of motherhood by outsourcing the hard work to someone else? Or perhaps, in these days when mothers, maiden aunts and other helpful matronly types aren’t living round the corner (or in my case, aren’t around at all) paying out for someone to help with a newborn is a no-brainer?

24 comments:

Iota said...

I do wonder. I'm with you here - I just don't know what to think. Yes, I could really have done with more help, and yes, these days we don't have mothers round the corner, etc etc. BUT I'm not convinced you can short-cut your way through parenting. Part of me thinks there is something good in feeling that pain, in having to cope, in being that all-necessary One in a little person's life. Then I think "that's ridiculous, that's like having a tooth pulled without anaesthetic because that's what my great-granny would have had to do". But 'outsourcing the hard work' as you put it, does paly along with the myth that we all entertain before we have children, that we will be in control and cope and that being a parent is easy. If the myth doesn't crumble when you have your demanding newborn, it surely must at some point. Perhaps the short sharp shock approach saves heartache later!

I guess there are no right answers. Certainly having someone around relieves the stress (although might it be a bit irritating to have someone around in your house and personal space so much at such an emotional time?), and if you can afford it, it seems sensible.

I think I've just repeated what you said in the post.

The word verification is swine.

Millennium Housewife said...

When I had my first my mum moved in on week nights for the first 6 weeks to help out, we lived in a flat in Putney and had up until this time been enjoying the bachelor life that only London can offer. The best thing she did though was to leave me to do the nights, and all the breast feeding (obviously) but took her for a two hour walk every day so I could sleep. My point is that we had a very difficult child and endured 4 years of No Sleep Whatsoever subsequent to this. So unless you're going to hire a nanny who will go through this with you (and only the Queen could afford that) it's best to learn to get on with it. Yes the first few weeks are awful, but they allow you to acclimatise (abruptly and hideously) to what having a child really means. And you're right, second child is so much easier, simply because you learned those lessons. By taking on someone who will help in those 'difficult weeks' you delay the learning process.
Oh dear, all this sounds a bit serious, quick MH, say something flippant...er.. MH

Tara said...

I absolutely love the idea of a doula, someone experienced to take the pressure of you and to hold your hand and guide you.

But now I've had two babies I'm kind of glad I did it all on my own. It was me who cuddled them in the middle of the night, who rocked them when they just wanted body warmth and who held their hair back when they were being sick everywhere.

Sure at the time it feels like you're living the worst nightmare ever and you wonder when you'll ever get a decent nights sleep again and whether vomit does actually wash out of carpet.

But, and this will sound a bit odd I know, I look back on those times quite fondly now. I think it all helped with the bonding process and I feel a connection with those two little people who I gave my all for.

Of course, if I had the cash I would have probably hired one at the drop of the hat and spent their formative years having pedicures done and updating my winter wardrobe . . .

Adventure Mother said...

There are times when we all need help, but I'm not sure about full-time help. We all learn on the job with parenting and the parenting will continue for many years after the doula. Surely that makes it all the more difficult when you go it alone!

http://reluctantmemsahib.wordpress.com said...

Hmmmm. i think the idea of help is attractive. but outsourcing to a stranger. No. I don't think so. At a time when you look a bit shitty, feel shittier and behave, generally, on account of no sleep and sore boobs, like a shit, there is some comfort in knowing there's not a serene woman in the house who might run off with your poor beleagured husband?

That aside, aren't we meant to make use of those early days to bond? Like most new mums i found the lack of sleep in the early days horrendous. But one night, four months into my son's life, as he lay feeding in my arms, occassionaly breaking off to grin up at me, i thought to myself, ''this will be over too soon, these precious midnight moments on our own, and then i will be sad''. And i was. I looked better for it. but i was sad.

The Dotterel said...

No doubt they've already got its name name for some boarding school or other!

Potty Mummy said...

It's a toughie. Living where we do, they are common too, and I can clearly see the attraction of having someone there to do nights so that you can concentrate on being a better mother during the day, especially if you already have one or more children.

Having said that, we muddled through without much help, and I think one of the best things to come out of those long long nights was that Husband was forced to get involved, regularly taking the baby away in the middle of the night, lying with him on the sofa, to give me a couple of hours sleep. Not only did it let me rest, it also meant that they were properly bonding. And yes, he was working crazy banking hours at the time, but whilst it wasn't great for his sleep pattern I know that he valued the chance to spend some quality time just 'being' with our sons. He did this with both of them, and I'm still grateful.

So I suppose what I'm saying is that anything that forces fathers to be involved, especially when they spend most of their day away from their baby, is a good idea.

But for RM - my experience of other people's doula's is that night duty with other people's babies takes it's toll. You don't generally have to worry that your husband will give them a second glance...(!)

Dumdad said...

It's okay if you can afford it, I suppose. But will the hedge fund brigade actually have any money left to pay for doulas or whatnot as the credit crunch bites deeper?

Frankly, I'm pleased that we brought up our two ourselves despite sleepless nights etc but I would have grabbed any help if it had been going!

Hadriana's Treasures said...

Luckily our first one slept OK (ish) and our second didn't want to sleep at all (for the first 18 months). It nearly drove me insane. I think that as long as I/(we) get help before something dangerous happens that is the main thing! The night time interruptions have also helped Dad bond with children which is no bad thing. (PS: Not sure I could cope with a stranger in the house!)

The only darn nuisance of it all is that I cannot sleep with my other half now. His breathing keeps me awake. I think I need to blog about this and ask for some advice...(!)

nappy valley girl said...

Iota - yes, and you put it far more eloquently than me. I still haven't made my mind up WHAT I think. After all, I get other people to clean my house, look after my kids while I am at work etc..... Good word verification, though.

MH - 4 years of no sleep? You must be climbing the walls.....But yes, undoubtedly having it hard at the beginning gets you acclimatised. And please, you can still be flippant!

Tara - yes, we can wear our battle scars with pride....

AM - Maybe part-time help is the way forward?

RM - I hadn't thought about it from that angle - yikes! Good point that you and the others have made about bonding....and you are right, when you get that first grin it all seems worth it.

Dottorel - well, this particular friend went through the same boarding school experience as me, so I doubt it. But you can never predict these things...

PM - Good point about Dads. I had a lot of help from The Doctor, (even if I was absolutely bloody to him at the time, making sure that if I had to get up in the night he darn well knew about it....)

Dumdad - yes, I would have thought the credit crunch would put many doulas out of a job...

HT - yes, you are right, to refuse all help could be dangerous if one is vulnerable...sympathies on the insomnia. I went through it as mentioned when Littleboy 1 was small, and there is nothing more awful. Exhausting oneself with exercise is quite helpful...

Susanna (A Modern Mother) said...

I had loads of help when I had a premie newborn, a 13-month-old and 2 and 1/2 year-old (that is not a typo). Hubby was working full out and my mum was around A LOT.

I a nanny during the week days (I was not working) and a weekend babysitter so me and huby could go out to dinner and see each other at least twice a week.

I wish I had a night nurse as well, because I did not get any sleep for the first eight months...

I remember being addicted to help -- if the nanny was going to miss a day, I would freak out trying to find a replacement.

When we moved back to the UK and "downsized" I ditched the help and it was the best thing I ever did.

Iota is right, you cannot outsource raising your kids!

Wife in Hong Kong said...

I breastfed all four of mine with no help from a maternity nurse or a doula although by the time number four arrived we did get a part time nanny to help with the others during the day. I thought I was doing the Right Thing but in hindsight some extra help might have made me a happier, more rested mother. I did look into having a maternity nurse for No. 4 but was put off when I interviewed a potential candidate who said, Of course, I'll be doing nights. And I thought, No you won't, that's my time alone with Baby. She didn't get the job and nor did anyone else. Having said that, a friend of mine has just had twins aged 40, her first babies. She is maternity nursed up to the eyeballs and I have to say I support her decision. She's in a different place than we were 10 years ago - older and with more money. It's horses for courses I guess, but I don't think anyone should make you feel uncomfortable for doing what suits you best. If you're happy doing it your way, full-time or part-time, breast-feeding or bottle-feeding, with help or without, then it's likely your child will sense that and benefit from it.
I haven't forgotten your tag btw, Nappy Valley, just v short of time, but I will do it, I promise!

Mud in the City said...

I think you have a good point about the lack of a traditional support system these days. We tend to live far away from family - mums, maiden aunts etc and the vast majority of our close friends work. This means the poor new mum really is pretty much on her own muddling through the experience. Would there have been more people available to muck in and help out before?

nappy valley girl said...

Susanna - I can see that it would be only too easy to get addicted to help. But having a premature baby and two toddlers, you must have needed it! Littleboy 2 was also premature, and they are hard work.

Wife in HK - wise words, as you say it is like feeding, the important thing is that the mother is happy and relaxed.

Hi Mud - I imagine that female members of families used to pull together a lot more and help to look after babies. (I've heard that in some cultures it still happens - in Korea apparently the new mother isn't allowed out of bed for weeks...) Today, I think new motherhood can be very isolating.

Expat mum said...

I think you do what you have to do and if you can afford some help, it really helps.
Living here, miles from any family, I used to envy my sibs, when my mother would "pop over" to watch the baby while the Xmas shopping was done or something like that. I have really missed out on that kind of help, but have to say that I haver since wised up and do have help around the house. I wasn't born to be a slave to everyone else!

Nota Bene said...

Doula = Doolally! You only get out what you put in

A Confused Take That Fan said...

Hmmm, I live miles away from in laws and mothers and I missed that dreadfully and still do miss that help. A trip to the dentist alone, yes please! A trip to the supermarket alone, yes sireee! I have had posh friends have maternity nurses, but at some point you have to be left alone to cope with it. Parenthood is not easy and I think it comes as a shock to us all. Especially as we are having babies later, our expectations of ourselves and our children are so high. I still have a terrible sleeper and feel a bit down about it. But she wants mummy or daddy when she wakes up in the night. Not a stranger. And I wouldn't have it any other way. No matter how exhausting it all is.

crunchiemummy said...

Well, I had my own maternity nurse in the way of my good old mum stay with me the first week! I still didn't get any more beauty sleep though as recovering from a c-section and breastfeeding is something only I could do!

Paradise Lost In Translation said...

And of course, even looking radiantly rested, you're still going to be leaking out of every orifice, with sore stitches, wobbly belly, with bits of your body having shuffled round or down, or exchanged places, you can't outsource that. Well, it's a bit late for your friend to do so now....
Nope we can try and control and maintain the (previous) status quo, but something has to give. Junior will remind us one way or another that we're no longe rin charge. And as the song goes "money can't buy you love"

Ladybird World Mother said...

I've had 4 children and had help with the first three. Must say I always felt sheepish when people asked how I was... seemed I wasn't pulling my weight.
Did have number one on my own, though, and my mother thought it would be nice for me to have some help. That was wonderful. Rather maternal, fifty'ish person came and I loved her.
So I got someone for number 2 as well as it had been such a nice experience... it was just wonderful again.
However with number three it was dreadful, she was not a nice person and I hated the fact that she was there with my baby at night. So she went. The relief.
And I would never ever have one again because nothing beats being with your baby in the night, when the rest of the house is sleeping. However tired, I wanted ME to have that job. And I made sure that I had a little help with tea times and washing. And that was it. All in all a much better experience. I so cant wait to hear about your friend when she has the baby. Can you be a tiny fly on the wall???!
Love your blog.

nappy valley girl said...

Expat Mum - I too would have loved a mum to pop over (she died 10 years ago, and my mother in law 8 years ago). And, spoilt as it sounds, I cannot cope without a cleaner...

NB - doula is undoubtedly a silly word isn't it.

CTTF - it's amazing how you can actually enjoy something like a trip to the dentist alone once you have small kids....

Crunchiemummy - you were very lucky to have your mum. However, as you say, there are some things they can't help with...

PLIT - no, you can't outsource the indignities of pregnancy and childbirth. (Although I think my friend is pleased enough to be pregnant not to mind that part!)

Ladybird World - hello, nice to meet you. If I had four kids I think I would definitely need help. I can barely cope with 2. Will certainly update you on what happens!

tartetartan said...

The thought of having help never even crossed my mind when I had my son. I moved to rural France when he was 5 months old, and just got on with it. No family or friends to help me. Looking back I have no idea how I managed. I just did. I can understand that it is not for everyone though!

Suburbia said...

When I had my first I'd have done anything to have help. However I'm glad I did it by myself and you do have to sort it all out by yourself eventually don't you? although I guess if you are wealthy you just exchange the doula for a nanny and then send them off to public school! You'd never know you had them then would you?!!

ella said...

Looking back I'm glad I've done it myself, but at the time I might well have sold my soul for some help.

I don't think I'd ever have a maternity nurse/nanny if I did it again but I'm still holding out for a wonderful house-keepery type person. Or a wife (but perhaps one that is better than I am).