CORK-BASED Maeve Murray, founder of Newborn.ie, is a DONA (Doulas of North America) trained Postpartum Doula and a mother of two. A Cuidiú-trained breastfeeding counsellor, a sling consultant, and a certified Bebo Mio infant sleep educator, she has helped hundreds of families find calm within the chaos of early parenthood.
So says Dr Oscar Serrallach — Australian doctor, father of three boys, and author of the critically acclaimed The Postnatal Depletion Cure.
Parenting is a learned skill. There is no divine download that allows you to instantly morph into one at the birth of your child. And no copy-and-paste parenting tool that will salvage your sanity when you have an inconsolable baby at 3 in the morning.
Maeve Murray is a postpartum Doula working in Cork and believes the current limit of two weeks’ parental leave is “often just not enough” for families.
“There are profound changes that occur in the mum’s brain during pregnancy that prepare her for the birth”, she says. Moreover, the powerful hormone Oxytocin washes through her during labour, programming her to love and protect her baby once it’s born. But this also leaves her feeling vulnerable and in a heightened state of anxiety.
Partners too need to ring-fence that postnatal time to adjust to and bond with the baby.
“The time after a baby is born is sacred,” she says, “to protect that space for the parents while they are finding their identity as a family. Disrupting this time can have emotional consequences down the line.”
The experience of becoming a mother is not just an event that happens, but is “transformative”, according to Dr Sophie Brock, broadcaster and single mum. It profoundly impacts on her “spiritually, emotionally, relationally and physiologically”. So being truly prepared for it is essential.
In older cultures, new mothers were encouraged to devote the intense emotional period after birth to the process of bonding with their new baby. According to Dr Serrallach, there should be more of an emphasis today on this defunct idea of “confinement” after birth, a state he calls Matrescence.
The current cultural narrative is dominated by the concept of Super Mums, those women who don’t seem to need any help after the birth of their baby, who are applauded for going back to work as soon as possible, and who manage to successfully incorporate the baby into their already very busy lives.
These false goals and cultural expectations are ingrained into western society and don’t allow the mother to heal and fully emerge from the post-natal state of hyper-vigilance and anxiety.
“Our modern society requires this constant productivity,” according to Maeve.
“It doesn’t really value caring work, the unpaid, unseen work that women do. We are the interface between our kids and a broken society. I believe we are at a tipping point and it is going to get bigger.
Part of the cultural shift needs to be around pregnancy and trying to change the idea of managing stress. And a much bigger emphasis needs to be placed on looking after the mother not only in the lead up to the birth, but after birth too.
“Cuidiú (Mother and Baby) coffee mornings gave me a social bubble after my baby was born,” recalls Maeve.
“Crucially for me, they happened nearby, especially as all my friends were living in the city.”
This support structure of sharing stories with other mothers also gave her a sense of reassurance as she saw the “continuum around what was normal behaviour for kids at different ages””
But many mums don’t have this support structure. They suffer sleep deprivation, social isolation and are overwhelmed by self-judgement.
In fact, for many, the stresses inherent in day to day living following the baby’s birth, and their partner’s returning to work, leave mums feeling exhausted, disappointed, and with crippling anxiety. Her default judgement is ‘I’m doing something wrong. I’m a failure’. And the guilt associated with this can be very detrimental to her mental wellbeing.
With a good postnatal plan, that empowers the father and other primary care givers in supporting the mother, Maeve attests mums have more of a chance to nest and bond with their baby and to ultimately recover.
Older cultures honoured and revered motherhood and mothers, and supported them back to well-being. Nowadays, with the spotlight on Super Mums, we need healthier role models to aspire to. We are designed to learn by “sharing stories and being able to absorb knowledge, not through someone telling you what to do, but through modelling and relating it to our own situation,” explains Dr Serrallach.
The idea of older mothers helping and advising younger ones is a viable part of this solution. And exactly the type of “listening, non-judgemental support” that Doula Maeve offers to her families.
“New mothers get a lot of unsolicited advice,” says Maeve. And this can add to their pressure.
“When you are too overwhelmed, it is very difficult to learn or process anything,” she adds.
In the intense period following the baby’s birth, she helps “parents to tap into their own abilities and to find their groove”, she says.
She helps them design a postnatal plan, to establish a meal-train, to plug them into supports that are available, and she draws up a local resource list of practical services like laundry, dog walkers, osteopaths, and lactation consultants, etc.
As a qualified primary school teacher with more than a decade experience in special needs education and resource, combined with her extensive training in key areas of infant care, Maeve acts as a sounding board on everything from bathing the baby, to breast feeding concerns, sleep issues, and mum’s feelings and fears.
She will also cook delicious meals and snacks for the family in order that the mums “have that essential time to rest and fall in love with their baby.” She adds:
“If mothers aren’t supported, then everyone in the family loses out,” concludes Dr Serrallach. “Awareness and support are an imperative.”
“Whether this is your first baby or your sixth, you need rest and nurturing care,” stresses Doula Maeve.
Maeve Murray can be contacted on 087-9819276 or firstname.lastname@example.org