You’ve just arrived home with a new baby. Now what?
If there’s something not much talked about when it comes to parenthood, it has to be that hazy time known as post-birth. Whilst plenty are very eager to share their birth story, what happens once baby is born is many’s best-kept-secret.
Dreaming of Baby speaks with Chaya Kasse Valier, a Doula and Author of Second Labor: Mothers Share Post-Birth Stories. Chaya shares tips helping new parents shift the postpartum from ‘survival mode’ to ‘well and thriving’.
Daniela: Good afternoon, Chaya Valier, and welcome to Dreaming of Baby! It’s a pleasure to have you with us today and we’re very much looking forward to our discussion on the post-birth aspect of the exciting journey that is parenthood. I’m aware you have an impressive twelve-year experience as a Doula and have also published a book. Before we start with our discussion, it would be great if you could speak a little about your experience working in this field.
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: Well, firstly, I am blessed to be a mother of five children myself – they range in age from thirteen down to two years old. When our first child was a year old, I started training to be a doula, and have worked as a doula ever since, either by accompanying women during their births or by providing consultation workshops and meetings. It is a very fulfilling role to be in – helping a woman at one of her most important milestones in her life.
What should I expect once my baby is born?
Daniela: Thank you for that impressive overview, Chaya. I understand you are also a writer. Post-birth isn’t talked about much. What led you to write about this?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: You just nailed it when you said, “Post-birth isn’t talked about much!” That is the precise reason I chose to embark on getting mothers to share their post-birth stories for one complete compilation. Birth stories are freely shared, but after that, women are often silent. This compilation breaks the silence.
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: Birth stories are welcome in our culture – but post-birth doesn’t have an official forum. Also, there are many books about postpartum depression in particular – which is crucial – and at the same time, affects about 15% of women. I wanted to address PPD as well as the “silent majority” – the other 85%.
Chaya Valier: “Birth stories are freely shared, but after that, women are often silent.”
Daniela: That is inspiring. As a mom myself, everyone was very willing to share their birth stories but no one really spoke about what life with a newborn entails. To better inform our readers, and also based on your own experience working with other mothers, what can new moms expect post-birth?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: In a nutshell, they can expect to need support. Meals made for them by other family members or friends in the community; someone to hold the baby while they take a shower (of all things)!
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: They might get depressed, and they need to know what’s just “blues” and what might need medication. They can expect to not know how to breastfeed – to need professional guidance, and that it might take two weeks of full-on dedication before it feels natural. They can expect to not necessarily bond with their baby at first – for some women, it can take months. They can expect to not feel connected with their husbands/partners. They can expect to be sleep deprived for a full month and to proceed to deal with baby sleep issues for at least a year, if not more.
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: I think the main point is that women plan for birth, and have a hard time really feeling the realities of post-birth. And not necessarily just for the first child
Daniela: That is certainly a lot, but it also shows how much of a new lifestyle and new experiences a baby brings about. In terms of their own bodily changes, what should moms-to-be be prepared for following the birth of their baby?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: Some women return to their pre-pregnancy bodies within a week. Others never do. Most fall somewhere in between. I like those photographic essays that have gone viral in the last few years showing real mothers’ post-birth bodies.
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: They can know that their husbands will love them in their new selves and they will feel that there is a new kind of sexiness to motherhood-you.
How to prepare for your postpartum
Daniela: Circling back to support – is there anything you suggest that moms-to-be do prior to the birth to prepare for a good support system around them? What would be the role of a doula in this regard?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: Great question. They (or someone else) can make sure to have two weeks’ worth of dinners in the freezer, as well as easy-to-make, healthy snacks to grab at any time (granola bars/fruit/muffins, etc.) They can arrange for either a family member (such as husband and/or mom) to be around for at least two weeks, at her beck and call. They can have someone else organize meals for them via online sites. A birth doula checks in after the birth every few days, and is knowledgeable about possible signs of PPD, but it’s not her role to help out very much after the birth. There is a particular role of the postpartum doula who specifically comes to help out postpartum – that can be a lifesaver. There are also night nurses.
Chaya Valier: “There is a particular role of the postpartum doula who specifically comes to help out postpartum – that can be a lifesaver. There are also night nurses.”
How do I bond with my baby?
Daniela: Thank you for these tips. As you noted earlier, bonding with the baby might not necessarily be something immediate. What would be your advice to a new mom concerned about this?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: That she’s normal. If she is breastfeeding, continue to breastfeed. If not, she doesn’t have to feel that she doesn’t have that bond – simply feed the baby the bottle while holding him/her skin-to-skin on the chest like you would breastfeeding -it’s the chest contact that releases oxytocin – the “love hormone.” And if they do these things and still don’t feel the love – no worries – just keep doing what you need to do, and being with your baby – while getting help and taking breaks – it will come. It might take months, and that’s OK – take it day by day – it will come. Oftentimes it’s at the two-month mark when babies start to smile, or at the four-month mark when they start to play and interact more. A couple of the stories in the book really illustrate this expectation of loving one’s baby from the start, but it wasn’t that way. But eventually, they did love their babies.
Daniela: Thank you for elaborating on this very important subject. In your experience attending women who have just given birth, what is it usually that they are the least prepared for?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: That they might need a lactation consultant. That they will be so tired (despite everyone talking about that in particular, it’s daunting once it happens in reality). That they will have postpartum contractions (aren’t I done with that??) That they won’t have time to take a shower, or cut a carrot. Mostly, that they might need 24-hour help for at least two weeks.
Where’s my independence as a new mom?
Daniela: Summarizing what you’ve just shared with us, there seems to be a profound change in terms of independence too. What would be your advice on this (maybe also from the conversations you’ve had in preparation for your book): how can new moms still find themselves in the haze that is life with a newborn?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: Exactly – so much of it is wondering how, or if they will ever have time to themselves. Make sure to get breaks. To have outlets. To feel it’s OK to zone out on your favorite websites/binge TV shows. You need to make sure to take breaks for yourself. Eventually, it will be time to go back to work/school/whatever projects you do, and then you will get the breaks more routinely. Also though, there’s no one-size-fits all. Some women prefer to be with their babies 24/7; others not.
What is the partner’s role post-birth?
Daniela: What is the role of the partner post-birth? How can they best ensure that they’re giving the right support to the new mom?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: To be a right-hand person, and also to take their own breaks and have others take over. To be aware of any signs of depression – read up on this beforehand. For example, a lot of husbands will know that postpartum crying is normal, but won’t know that incessant crying, negative thoughts, or not wanting to talk to anyone are not normal and might need intervention.
Daniela: Any words of wisdom that you’d always share with new parents home with their new baby?
Chaya Kasse Valier, Writer and Doula: To take it one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time, and that there’s no one-size fits all. Go with your instincts and then get the advice you really want, based on those instincts.
Daniela: Thank you, Chaya, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you, today!