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A Postpartum Doula Confession

A little confession from a postpartum doula: sometimes as I feed and comfort your baby in the quiet of the early morning, I silently weep. I gaze upon their sweet face– cradled in my arms and swaddled in a blanket that smells like you – and fat, juicy tears stream down my own.

I used to cry like this, gazing upon my own babies. The rawness of matrescence wrung my heart until it felt like all my blood pushed into my face, eventually turning to water flowing from my eyes. I always assumed it was breastfeeding hormones in the depths of a sleep-deprived postpartum that caused this intensity to rise from my gut.

A cocktail of fear and deep gratitude, immense love and imposter’s syndrome. The epic waves of realizing how powerful I am– behold! This child of mine!-- while simultaneously grappling with the reality that I cannot actually control anything in this world. I cannot protect them, I cannot keep them from the horrors. My tiny, sweet child– this world is not deserving enough for them.

But I’m no longer breastfeeding, and this baby in my arms is not my own. Yet, still, I weep.

The crying is hard to describe, I told a therapist. It’s not like sad-crying, but it’s not happy-crying either; it’s both? It’s a little like that feeling you get at the complicated end of a really good book.

When I gaze upon your sweet infant, I weep because they are so beautiful. All babies are. They’re perfect beings– designed only to grow. They change more in one day than I will for the rest of my life. Their bodies, their minds–it’s a constant flurry of new experiences that would leave us grown-ups reeling under a weighted blanket to emotionally recover. Babies are so brave to face so much of the unknown each day. I weep because your baby reminds me that we are all just babies in bigger bodies. We, too, grew this much, this fast. We can again.

Babies’ innocence is not lost on me either. I weep because they’re perfect–unharmed yet by the world’s harshness, still fresh and full of potential, an amphora to be filled with love and esteem, hope and joyfulness.

I weep for the babies who had difficult journeys earthside, for those babies who were harmed by the world’s harshness in their first few vulnerable hours, cracking their delicate ceramic. For the parents who were failed by the systems that seem intended to care but seek only to control and coerce.

I weep for the babies and their birthing parents who required intensive medical care in their earliest hours.

For the babies who couldn’t be swaddled and held by their loved ones due to incarceration, due to disease or death; due to a myriad of other factors that flashed across my phone’s screen or mind’s memory earlier that shift.

I weep because I know. I know how much you’ve been through to get them here. I know the sickness, the discomfort of pregnancy. The pain of labor and the sharp cut of a scalpel’s edge. As a birth doula, I’ve seen a lot of labors. Even the “easy” ones are very, very hard.

I weep because I know how much you love your baby. I see it in your eyes before you retreat to the bedroom for your precious one-night of sleep. I see it in the way you prepare their bottles and carefully stack diapers next to a changing table. The way you say “text me if you need anything” even though you’re paying me to handle the load for a moment. I see the ways you’ve already changed so much. Your dedication to your child is obvious to me. Your sacrifices are beautiful and the way you love your baby is perfect and it makes me weep when I look at your precious child – the one you grew and birthed after you filled them up with your own blood.

I weep because when I look at your baby, I see you. I see all you’ve already accomplished before growing this precious baby and everything you’re worried about losing by becoming a parent.

I know how much more sacrifice there is to come. I know how hard it is to parent in a society that deeply devalues children and their attentive caregivers. I know how difficult it is to have a successful career and enjoy your family. I know how impossible it all seems to balance. Maybe it is impossible, because I’m yet to figure it out myself. Maybe you’re still on Leave or you’ve just returned to work, and I see the hope in your eyes; “We’ll figure it out; it’ll be different for me,” we all think. But I know. I know it won’t be an easily-won battle.

I weep because I know you have so many hard choices to come. It isn’t simple, navigating lack of affordable housing or childcare, diminished social safety nets, the inaccessibility of adequate health care providers, privatization of school systems, and well – all the violence.

I hear a lot of other birthworkers talking about the loss of “the village” as we once knew it. The aunties and grandmas and cousins who would come by and care for us as we recovered from childbirth and learned how to be a parent. We’ve privatized and individualized our families and we share in this isolation and loneliness.

Often, Grandma wants to help, but can’t. Many grandmothers, aunties, and cousins are punching a 40-hour clock, too. What's more complicated: many of these grandmothers have been waiting decades for “their turn” to enter the workforce or grab a little leisure -- make their own money, have freedom to move throughout the world without a school pick-up time in the back of their heads. Assuming women should spend their golden years completely dedicated to caretaking for their grandchildren is another layer to the misogyny-laden caretaking role that defined Grandma’s entire life. We have got to stop relying upon the uncompensated labor of women to fuel our economy!

I am a professional who fills a support-gap for some, and rounds out this village for others. What I've learned after working with families is that we are all under-resourced parents– we cannot do it all and absolutely nobody is coming to help. Every set of parents I work with deserves more support than they currently receive, even those with financial privilege and large social support networks.

But I see the meals from your sister in the refrigerator, the flowers on the table from your neighbor. I hear about the hand-me-downs and tidbits of advice new parents receive from cousins and childhood friends. The shared celebration of a new life, and the shared grief of knowing how hard and heartbreaking and rewarding and challenging this parenthood gig really is.

I think maybe I weep because I know you’re strong enough to do it. I think the feeling that causes my not-sad, not-happy crying is recognizing the resiliency in humanity. When I look at your child, I see your great-grandparents and your grandchildren, too.

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