finding my village
by Julie Bergquist
originally published in The Mops Blog.
Following the birth of my first child, I felt as if I had walked through a veil; one that separated me from my previous life. I was in awe of how different my new life had become. I was in greater awe of the fact that I felt like other young mothers I knew hadn’t helped prepare me for what was transpiring.
I remember thinking, “Why don’t people talk about this?” in regards to the challenges and joys I was experiencing. I wasn’t sure whom to turn to when all was new. My mother traveled to be with my husband and I for the first two weeks of my daughter’s life. She was wonderful and very helpful, but then she left and my husband went back to work. There I was, alone; alone with a newborn.
My daughter had been in the NICU for five days after she was born, and breastfeeding was a mighty challenge. She was delightful when she slept, but many of her waking hours were spent crying. Though I tried to “feed on demand,” as that was what the lactation consultants at the hospital had recommended, I didn’t really understand what that meant as I painstakingly tried to form a semblance of routine with my daughter. I had some understanding of babywearing, but I didn’t know my Ergo had an optional infant insert I could have ordered, and the MOBY wrap entirely freaked me out. There were so many hours of holding my baby with my two bare hands, just so she wouldn’t cry. There were so many hours of lying on the bathroom floor, wasting gallons of water as the tub ran just for the sake of “white noise” as my naked baby somewhat calmed on my bare chest.
I found refuge in a breastfeeding support group, and in a local pregnancy/nursing store. I reached out through text almost daily to the other woman who had newborns in my 12 week birth classes. But there we all were, little islands by ourselves, alone in our own homes, trying to muddle through the new libraries of baby care books we’d invested in, trying to form some sort of predictable routine amidst the chaos. None of us asked for help when we needed it, and we felt ashamed that we weren’t strong enough to figure it out. Dealing with our own regular hunger pains, it seemed easier to not eat enough than to set the baby down and use two hands to prepare something for ourselves.
It was an isolating experience. I was transformed.
And then later, I did it again; but differently. I hired a mother’s helper as I prepared for the birth of my second child. I kept her on for over a year after my son was born. I went to talk therapy to prepare for the change that I knew I would encounter this time. I wore my baby non-stop for the first six months. I trusted myself and my instincts, and I vowed not to read a single book unless I knew it would help. I asked for help from family and friends. I received help. I was empowered.
I want this for every woman as they navigate through their motherhood journey. To witness women and families thrive in support as they transition to life with a newborn, with a new child or those who suffer from pregnancy-related loss is an honor.
Through my two different postpartum experiences, I was empowered to give back, to provide hands-on support for families and wee ones. I felt a calling to be a resource for community options and help direct new families to professionals who can help them thrive during their postpartum season. I want women to be empowered by asking for and receiving help.
And as life-giving as it is, to sit with a postpartum mother, help dry her tears, afford her a nap, assist with feeding her precious babies and prepare healthy and nourishing food for her and her family, I am unable to do this alone. I cannot meet these new families’ needs all on my own. For I too am still a young mother, and my children, though older, don’t demand any less than these sweet families I serve. I am but one piece of a puzzle, one resource, one support within a powerful network of strength.
This is how I found my village.
I work together with a group of talented and beautiful women called postpartum doulas, each possessing unique strengths, talents and gifts. Together, we help fill in the gaps of support for precious families in their times of need. This IS community. This is the life we were intentioned to live; not alone, but surrounded with and by a tribe, a village; each connection strengthening the whole.
And these women strengthen me too. We meet regularly; share our vulnerabilities, our hearts, our dreams; lift each other up, dry each other’s tears, and we are more true, more fulfilled because of it.
This IS life; beautiful, wonderful life. I have found my village. We are in this, together. And together, we are whole.
Q. What is postpartum doula care?
Sanctuary Doulas postpartum doulas are highly trained professionals offering guidance, support, and increased ease for families as they navigate the postpartum period. We create space for rest and recovery following birth and adoption, offer nutritional support through meal preparation, support infant feeding, offer emotional support, and provide education on normal newborn behavior. Postpartum doula support can benefit anyone. The ideal time for postpartum care is during the “fourth trimester” just after birth. Sanctuary Postpartum Doulas care can include day or overnight home visits for up to three months. More details are at Sanctuary Doulas.
Q. What are the benefits of postpartum doula care?
In many cultures, there is abundant support for new families as the transition to life with a newborn can be can be challenging. Often these days, the desired support may be limited as families extend across the country and globe, or the needs exceed the support that is available. While family and friends are an integral part of supporting families through the newborn period, postpartum doulas can add a layer of professional support. Postpartum doulas provide both hands-on support, and timely recommendations for postpartum healing and wellness to improve outcomes: referrals to community mental health providers and programs, lactation and infant feeding specialists/groups, as well as pointing families to other beneficial resources in the local birth and postpartum communities. Caring for a newborn can be a profound change, and research has shown outcomes improve with a network of connections and support. We were never intended to care for a newborn alone. In fact, research on postpartum doula support has found that it increases confidence in parenting, improves breastfeeding success and helps reduce postpartum mood disorders.
Q. What do you want families to know about receiving postpartum care?
Receiving help is empowering! There is no need to go this road alone. Everyone can benefit from having an extra set of loving, knowledgeable, and professional set of hands to support them and their family during the “fourth trimester!”
Q. Why are you called to serve as a postpartum doula?
Following the birth of my second child, I felt called to “give back” by being a part of the birth community. I experienced two very different postpartum experiences following each of my children’s births. After my first child was born, I didn’t know how or even who to receive help from. I hadn’t ever needed help before, and the transition from being self-sufficient to being entirely responsible for the care and wellbeing of a newborn was profound. Following the birth of my second child, my mantra was, “Ask for what I need.” I knew how isolating my first experience had been and I wanted to prevent it from occurring again. This mantra empowered me to ask for help, and of even greater importance, I was able to fully receive without shame or judgement of my own seeming inadequacies. I came to more deeply understand the vital importance of community and support while navigating a profound life change. I was empowered. I want this for every woman: to be empowered, enlivened, and freed-up through receiving support.
Q. What has your experience working with families taught you?
The greatest thing I have learned through working with families during the postpartum period is that we are not intentioned to live life alone. We are meant to come together, to support each other, and lift each other up through challenges. I have loved connecting with families during a time of need. I have loved being a vessel for freedom, for rest, for professional support, and for renewal. We each have gifts to share, and when we find and truly lean into our calling, abundance flows freely.
Q. Within your postpartum doula scope of practice, what are your specialties and passions?
I am passionate about infant feeding. As a certified Speech Language Pathologist practicing since 2006, I am passionate about families feeling educated about infant feeding strategies and options, and especially finding solutions for feeding challenges. Research has shown that in some cases, feeding challenges have been shown to lead to tremendous stress, secondary only to a cancer diagnosis. I feel highly called to support women and families through their feeding journey. I practice without judgement or shame regarding feeding options. There are so many options, and each has the potential to be beautifully empowering and freeing. My first rule for success is “feed the baby.” My hope is that through my practice and support I can lessen potential feeding stressors, and more easily support families in finding solutions for feeding challenges. I also love to cook! Creating simple, beautiful, and healthy dishes for hungry families is a true joy. Nutrition during postpartum healing is of high importance, as we as mamas “cannot pour out of an empty cup.” I love to love on families through supporting their nutritional needs. Cooking is really fun!
Q. Why do you choose to work with Sanctuary Doulas?
Working in community as we support families is ideal. Again, we were never intentioned to be isolated in this life, and I firmly believe that goes for our work-life as well. Each Sanctuary Doula brings unique gifts, talents, and specialties to the families we work with. We also learn so much from each other that we apply to our practices. Furthermore, our families often have needs greater than our individual availability, and by working alongside doula sisters, we are able to more easily fill each family’s needs. I believe that we are modeling “the village” in this capacity as well; we are yet one piece of a powerful network of strength.