*My training organization, ProDoula, challenged us to write a blog post titled “If Only I Had a Doula…”. For me, it was when I exclusively pumped for my baby for a year. Here’s why.*
If you’ve ever breastfed your baby, you know how demanding and time-consuming it can be. Having a tiny person dependent on you for nourishment can seem like an endless life of putting off your own needs in favor of hers, giving your body over to someone else when all you want is solitude, and always having wet spots on your shirt. (Oh, the wet spots!) Of course it’s fulfilling, but that doesn’t change the fact that you are no longer an independent person. No longer capable of heading out the door at a moment’s notice to hang out with friends, no longer able to bathe whenever you feel like you need to.
I breastfed my baby, but unlike most breastfeeding moms, I did it with a pump and bottles. In many ways it’s similar to nursing, but it’s also a very, very different experience.
A baby is sweet, cuddly, and smells amazing. There is actual scientific proof that smelling a baby’s head releases the feel-good hormone dopamine, which helps with bonding. Nursing stimulates the release of oxytocin, the love hormone. So all the time spent with a baby at the breast does have some huge upsides. But imagine the baby in this situation being replaced with a machine. An annoying little machine that often requires the user to be plugged into a wall for 15-30 minutes at a time. It doesn’t smell as good as a baby, and it doesn’t smile at you when you do something silly. That changes things. Oh, how it changes things.
I exclusively pumped for my daughter because she was unable to nurse, due to a birth defect. It was a no-brainer decision for me and I was incredibly grateful to be able to pump milk to feed her. The days (and nights) were endless….hooking up to a machine every 2 hours for the first few months, on top of all the care already required of a new baby. Some days it got to me. I would cry because it hurt sometimes, and I couldn’t always hold my baby while I pumped. It was hard to keep perspective on the hard days.
I had amazing support from my partner, our family, and my close friends. They would encourage me that I was making a great choice for our baby and would help me with washing all the little parts at the end of the day. But none of them had been in my place before. In fact, I hadn’t met a single person in real life who had exclusively pumped. It left me feeling pretty isolated.
They did their best to help me through it, but most of the time that amounted to trying to solve my issues with suggestions in routine, or quitting pumping altogether. They recognized that it was taking a toll on me and our family, but none of us had the resources to understand the real underlying problem: I was also suffering from postpartum depression.
If only I had a doula during this time.
She would have simply listened to how I was feeling, without putting her own emotions and biases into the equation.
She would have validated my reasoning for why I wanted to continue pumping milk for my baby, without telling me I should consider stopping because I couldn’t handle it.
She would have told me I wasn’t alone, despite the loneliness I felt.
She would have, through her extensive training in recognizing the signs of PMAD (Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders), been able to point me to a qualified therapist to help me work through my depression.
She would have supported me through any decision I made, and offered a kind heart and patience to help me figure out the solutions on my own.
I will always be grateful to my family for the love they showed me during that difficult time. And I know they supported me the best they could. But sometimes we need someone without bias, someone to show us we are vibrant and capable of making the best choices for our family. Sometimes we need someone to tell us, wholeheartedly, that what we feel is important and valid.
Sometimes we just need a doula.