I recently had the opportunity to read The Gentle Art of Newborn Family Care: A Guide for Doulas and Caregivers, by Salle Webber.
While this book is written for postpartum doulas, it occurred to me as I read it that the doula model has lot to teach us about how we could better support one another when it comes to infant feeding.
Here’s how: The role of the doula is to support the mother, thereby supporting the whole family. This means helping with everything from breastfeeding, to caring for siblings, to housework – things we might also ask of our sisters, mothers, and friends. But there is one very special requirement of doulas which we don’t explicity demand of other helpers in our lives: doulas strive to do it all without judgement.
Salle Webber explains:
With love in her heart, the doula strives to support all members of the family, regardless of whether she would personally make the same choices they’ve made. We recognize that this is the beginning of a journey of many years, with choices to be made every day, and we continually work to support the development of parental self confidence.
You may recall the credo of Best for Babes: “ALL moms deserve to make a truly informed feeding decision and to be cheered on, coached and celebrated without pressure, judgment or guilt.”
Because infant feeding has been a source of contention for decades (between companies and governments, between mothers and medical professionals, and sometimes among mothers ourselves), it’s an area that is ripe for judgement. Whether it’s true or not, breastfeeding supporters are often characterized as judgmental, most recently given the derisive nickname “lechistas” in the book Breasts. And of course there is plenty of judgement coming from the opposite direction, causing mothers to feel shame for nursing in public or continuing to breastfeed beyond infancy.
So, what’s the approach of the doula in supporting mothers, irrespective of their choices? What is the opposite of judging?
The art of being a doula lies in a compassionate and nurturing heart, a willingness to serve others, love of family life and babies, and a healthy respect for the work of the home. If I find myself looking disagreeably at a bathtub that needs cleaning before new mom uses it, I bring myself back to recalling my purpose: to serve the highest good of this woman and her family. This is holy work. We are laying the foundation of this family’s life with this precious new addition. We can help to bring harmony, calm, humor, and rest.
We do our best to be compassionate and without judgment at all times, knowing that everyone means well. We are all on the same side; we all desire the well-being of the new family.
I’ll be the first to tell you that questions of judgment can distract us from the focusing on the Booby Traps which prevent us from meeting our breastfeeding goals. It would be irresponsible to ignore the fact that many womens’ “choices” are constrained by these barriers, and there certainly are times when it’s appropriate to help mothers counter them.
But it was refreshing to take a step back and think about what real support looks like. And what it looks like, from a doula’s perspective, is a recognition of the mother in all of us who is doing the best she can.
Or, as a the bumper sticker of a local mother support organization in my area puts it: “We’re all in this together.”