By Hallie Rogers, originally published summer 2015
“There was a child went forth every day;
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became;
And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.”
Having a baby is not an end. A baby is not the last stop of a journey. He or she is not an achievement, and not even a reward. Is pregnancy a journey? Yes. Is birth the last stop of pregnancy? Yes. Do some people seek to have a baby like they seek other goals in life? Of course. Do some people view the birth of said baby as something to achieve? Yes. Certainly, there are high-risk pregnancies and high-risk births that perhaps make a live baby and a live mother the achievement. Certainly, there are women who make their methods of birthing (e.g. drug-free, waterbirth) their sought achievement. And yes, hearing that evocative first cry, seeing those bright eyes, and feeling that slippery warm body on your chest can most definitely feel like a reward.
But is having a baby an end? Nope. It’s a beginning. It’s the closing of one short chapter–pregnancy–and an even shorter chapter–birth–and the opening of the lengthiest and arguably most important chapter: the ex-utero life of an infant, child, and finally, adult.
We all know this life is not always easy. It turns out that the beginning of life also is not always easy. A new baby’s arrival is a joyous event, and there are some families for whom welcoming a new baby is relatively straightforward, without much challenge and with few obstacles. However, most families quickly discover that a new baby usually means at least some level of difficulty, if even for bits of time here and there. Feeding, sleeping, parenting decisions, and adjusting–both expectations and even relationships–all present potential hurdles, even as those first days and weeks race by. The postpartum time, then, is both a golden, fleeting, unique experience, and also unknown, uncharted territory with each new baby.
As a mother, I had a difficult time after the birth of our first baby, and an even harder time in the months after the birth of our second child. I remember thinking, “Sure, birth is no walk in the park, but this. THIS is hard. And it lasts a lot longer than birth does. There needs to be more attention paid to this part. There needs to be more help for this part.” I felt deeply the lack of true postpartum care and support by a medical community where a woman typically doesn’t even see her medical provider until six weeks after delivery. I felt the–perhaps inadvertent but damaging nonetheless–expectations of a society that sees pregnant women as people to be nurtured and celebrated, but postpartum women as people to be returned: returned to their former shape, returned to their former energy levels, returned to their work after a shamefully short “maternity leave.” I felt the cultural ideals that place disproportionate attention on pregnancy and birth and little attention on what happens to that mother (and by default, that baby) after she is no longer the vessel of life. So, what began as a feeling of abandonment of sorts quickly grew into a deep-seated passion and an internal call to making things better for mothers and their families. My vocation to my work as a postpartum doula and a lactation counselor was the most natural kind: it came from my own experiences and grew organically from my heart.
As a postpartum doula and lactation counselor, I seek to provide nurturing and support to the mother, so that she can effectively nurture and support her baby. I am trained to assist mothers as they recover physically (and sometimes emotionally) from childbirth. I provide education, counseling, and assessment for breastfeeding mothers, and I offer evidence-based information to parents regarding their questions about newborn care and parenting. I support the family’s adjustment, including sibling and pet adjustment, and I help families assess themselves for postpartum mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. I also come with a wealth of resources for almost any referrals that a client may need, from house cleaners to pediatricians to dog walkers to mental health professionals. I want every family I work with to have the best possible chance for the best possible postpartum time. The first moment after birth–the first postpartum moment in that family’s existence–means everything has changed. Everything is made new. The parents are beginning to know and be formed by their new little one. The baby is beginning to know and be formed by his or her parents. Then, of course, this expands into every person and creature this baby will encounter along the way, from siblings to relatives to friends, teachers, pets, gardens, and on and on and on. In a world of connections, a fresh baby means a fresh world. A birth is not an end, but the passage into newness. Into beginning.
So, no. A baby isn’t the last stop, or an achievement, or a reward. Those are all things that come at the end of something. A baby is a beginning, and it can be a better beginning.