I wonder if my mother would make a good doula.
How do I know whether to have my mother come visit after the baby is born? She said it’s up to us but she definitely has the idea that it’s just the “thing to do” and that I’ll need her. I just have no idea how to evaluate the pros and cons. Will I need her? Will I need my own space? Will my husband feel butted out of things? How long should she stay if she does? – I Want My Mommy …Or do I?
Dear I Want My Mommy,
It’s hard to know what you’ll need when you don’t know yet what you’ll be going through. New grandmas have surprised many a new mother with their behavior around a new grandchild. A baby can really bring people together; having a common focus can make everything else fade into the background. Hope springs eternal. Everyone can brandish his or her loving, care-giving skills. Age-old feuds can settle in the face of a fresh, uninitiated baby. And that can be really nice. But things can get hectic, too. And issues don’t always fade. They can sometimes take center stage. The newborn period is pretty trying in itself, so you want to avoid situations where the stress factor trumps any support you might get.
Your mother’s comment that it’s just the “thing to do” could be a good sign. Earlier generations of women (before co-parenting, doulas and baby nurses) were expected to go to their mothers for postpartum help. And mothers knew that their job was to provide support rather than just celebrate and pose for pictures (and expect to be fed). Since it’s so hard to predict exact emotional reactions, it may help to evaluate your mother as a potential “employee.” Sounds harsh, but the postpartum helper really does have a job. A little distance can sometimes help you assess:
What accommodations will you have to make for her? Literally, where will she sleep? Do you have ample room for a visitor? Or will she take over the living room? Is there a good hotel nearby? Who will pay, and how will everyone feel about that? It’s nice to have someone in house if they are very helpful. If she’s there first thing in the morning, for example, you may be able to hand off the baby for an hour or two while you sleep in. But a little space can be really valuable when you and your partner will likely be staggering around in various stages of wakefulness and grooming. Everyone has different ideas about cohabitating; think about what will feel comfortable for you.
Is she a self-starter? Will she be self-sufficient when it comes to getting around your house? Obviously the less you have to do in terms of catering to her, the better. If she’s the type who will just quietly do her own laundry (and yours and your baby’s), you’re in good hands. Can she cook? And we don’t mean ‘how’s her b’arnaise?’ We mean can deal in the kitchen – scramble some eggs, heat up a supermarket quiche? Will she ask you where the can opener is, or is she resourceful enough to just find it? A kitchen-controlling mother may by a complete curse when you host your first Seder or Thanksgiving, but for postpartum it can actually work for you. The more chores you can avoid, the better.
What is she like in a crisis? Or more specifically, what is she like when you are sick? Okay, we know that birth is not a “sickness.” But from where we stand, constipation, bleeding, involution cramps, sore nipples, engorged breasts, sleep deprivation, hemorrhoids (and other potential side effects of healing) qualify as something less than well. Many women do find they “want their mommy” at times like this. Is your “mommy” the type who will send you to bed and bring you tea and Advil? Will she tell you to buck up and stop complaining? Or is she the type to fan the flames of any potential hypochondria?
Does she work well with others? Your mother and your husband may be spending some quality time together – eating in the hospital cafeteria, getting groceries, watching TV at night. This could be a nice opportunity for them to bond, but if they actively do not get along, the household tension may build. You could end up feeling torn (and you might be feeling torn enough . . . in the very literal sense). He may also feel extra exhausted keeping up that happy, polite face when he really wants to complain, pass out or even just take in brand new daddy-hood without an audience. You want help for yourself, but if it compromises your partner’s energy, it may not be worth it.
Can she be flexible? Sometimes it helps everyone involved to know that there’s an exit strategy. Can you tactfully say that you’re not sure what you’ll need, so why don’t you come for a couple of days and we’ll see how it goes? Can you buy a flexible ticket?
What are her qualifications? Obviously, she raised her own kid (you). Mother-to-mother advice and support is not only often the best kind, but it can also be confidence-building. You don’t need a PhD in baby-raising to get this right. Mothers know best, and all that. But there are some specifics you may want to think about: Does she have strong beliefs about babies that don’t jibe with yours? Is she going to flip out if you: co-sleep, crib sleep, formula feed, breastfeed? How does she feel about your going back to work in two months? Quitting your job? Your homeopathic pediatrician? Your vegan diet? Test out any questions you can think of well before the baby is born. If you get the sense that she’s hoping talk some sense into you while she provides TLC, you may want to keep the visit very short.
Have a question? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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