Salle Webber Interview: Advice for Doulas, Caregivers or Anyone Helping a Family After Childbirth
Pregnancy & Babies

Salle Webber Interview: Advice for Doulas, Caregivers or Anyone Helping a Family After Childbirth

Salle Webber, has been a doula for over 24 years, she’s the author of the book THE GENTLE ART OF NEWBORN CARE: A Guide for Postpartum Doulas and Caregivers. She spoke with CareGuide and provided great advice for doulas, newborn care specialist and mothers. Believe it or not, doulas play an integral role in preventing or minimizing postpartum depression. She also spoke on fathers and some of the mixed feelings they experience after childbirth.

If you’re a doula or parent to be, you need to read or listen to this.

Interview with Salle Webber

Salle Webber, has been a doula for over 24 years, she's the author of the book THE GENTLE ART OF NEWBORN CARE

by Clarke Illmatical

Listen to the Audio Version of the Interview with Salle Webber

You’ve been working as a doula since 1988? How did you get into the profession?

“My children were young, I was at home. My friend who worked for our local midwives in their office, she suggested that I would be very good for that work. She had people asking her at the office, who they could find to help them after they gave birth. She said that she always thought of me and when she suggested that, a little light bulb went on and I knew that was my perfect job. I really loved being the at home mother.

My youngest was going into kindergarten at the time so I started making myself available. Literally, as soon as I said okay, she started off putting my number out to women who asked and, I got busy right away.

It was good work for me because I was able to tailor it to the needs of my own family and I think that’s really important for doulas because as caregivers, we tend to give a lot of ourselves but it’s really important that we balance the needs with our own families as well…

For a long time, I was the only doula in town, there might have been a couple of others from time to time but, now it’s expanded as we have a lot of doulas working these days.”

Why has there been a developing need for doulas? Holistically, I’ve talked to several child care specialist or newborn care specialist and some of them basically explained that the family units aren’t as connected as they were years ago…

“Very true. A lot of people are moving around the country for jobs or education or for whatever reason and I see a lot of families who are separated by the entire continent from their own families, so they don’t have that onsite support.

Even couples or parents who do have families locally often desire extra help as well because people are incredibly busy these days.

Part of the reason I think that the doula care has become so important is because so many mothers are working right up until they deliver and then they’re back at work, in some cases six weeks, eight to ten weeks or depending but they don’t have the luxury of just being home with their baby until they feel this is the right time to go back to work.

So not only are they pushed, they’re stressed a little bit, they need extra support because they really want to get back on their feet and they want to get routines going and they want to bond with their babies strongly so that when they do have to leave for several hours a day, they know that bond is strong.

We’re not so educated about infant care these days, I see many new parents who have never handled a newborn before they had their own. You think ‘Oh it will come naturally and to a degree it’s true. Newborn babies are a unique type of little being. Just handling their bodies takes a bit of practice to get really comfortable with it.

So many parents are juggling babies and not know how to help that baby soothe. The infant is helpless in so many ways, they can’t lift their head, they can’t get in the position he needs to be to nurse or he’s got a gas bubble or having a really hard time… just so many things, falling asleep, babies need help with all of those things.

For parents to have someone around who is comfortable with newborns and can model for them, behaviors that can be successful it’s so good, because parents are frequently completely inexperienced in that realm.

If they’re having a second or subsequent baby, of course, the need is even greater. They have small children, many of whom have agendas of preschool, teams, and classes going on and they want to keep that child’s agenda going, meanwhile they’re trying to be at home with the new baby and heal and bond.

I think parents today are stretched so thin. It’s not enough to be a parent for a while and get your kids off to a good start, you’re supposed to work, have babies and do it all and it’s very demanding. As much help and support as these new parents can get.

I make naps a big part of my agenda when I’m with a family. I really encourage moms to sleep because that sleep deprivation is so deadly and it’s cumulative and especially if they’re going back to work in a couple of months we want them to take that time and heal as strongly and as thoroughly as they can.

I always tell my moms it’s an investment in their long-term health and vitality to heal well from childbirth before they jump up and move on… and we love to moms to feel like they can do it all but it’s really good to lay back and rest and allow people to care for you for a while, while you recuperate from the long process of pregnancy and delivery and segueing right into breastfeeding and 24-hour care, it’s huge.

I don’t think that we acknowledge in our culture how big it is and how dramatic and how profound… it can be harsh and painful.

I think a doula’s job is to bring harmony into the situation and help everyone have a sense of humor about thing and truly a lot of first time families a lot of what I find is what I wind up doing is modeling just ways of holding and handling the baby so the baby can just settle and fall asleep, which is what babies should do, sleep eat…”

You mentioned the physical support, on your website, you indicated that a doula provides emotional support. What kind of specific ways does a doula do this?

“Giving birth is a dramatic process and often the mother has a lot of emotions, it’s such an unknown, so mothers come out of birth with their own emotions and then they segue into having a newborn to care for and their own bodies to heal, while at the same time their hormonal levels of estrogen and progesterone are dropping dramatically. Stress hormones are increasing. So the mother often spirals into what we might call postpartum blues or a little bit of a sad state and that’s very typical, just to feel weepy and to feel overwhelmed and this can be very challenging for the partner to observe and to know what to do.

With my moms, I try to really assure them that crying is great and crying is fine and we all do it and we should do it, to help them recognize that what’s going on with them is completely natural and that they are supported.

Postpartum blues or a little bit of that is really common but we really want try and avoid full-blown postpartum depression and I feel that what generates that is a lack of support, mixed with physical exhaustion and depletion.

I find that if a mom really feels that her needs are met, people are there who care and understand and that she has a little backup, it really helps to blanket those emotions and helps her to pull herself together.

It’s a hard period to get through but as things start stabilizing another part of that is making sure she’s well fed and getting lots of fluid… the body and the emotions are so married in this moment. Deeply married and then she’s having sleep deprivation. A nap is a very therapeutic thing or finding other ways to help her get more sleep in her 24hrs.

Our support is like sisterhood, it’s like being a good friend and listening ear and having no judgment. Just a lot of compassion, being willing to just sit and let her tell the story or let her not tell her story. Whatever works for her, just being so present and letting her know that my goal is to make her feel well help her to heal and help her to be happy with her baby. Whatever I can bring her, whatever I can do for her, little moments of beauty into her day through simple things we do in the home. Giving her clean sheets all those things. It all contributes to her emotional well-being.”

You feel that postpartum depression can actually be minimized with support from a doula? Or preventing long term depression?

“I do indeed. I’ve seen it over and over in my own practice.

Postpartum blues… it’s a much milder case of feeling weepy, of feeling inadequate, not so sure they’re up to it. Not so sure how in love I am with this crying person; that type of feeling.

Whereas depression, is more severe and requires a lot more attention.

I think the blues are really a result of that hormonal change in the very early days postpartum and I think what we do to help that is, to be there and to just hold her, massage her feet or bring her some hot soup or take the baby into the other room for an hour so she can have a nice long bath or whatever and those kind of things. I think our presence, our attentive presence is very helpful in those situations.

As far as depression goes. There are people who are prone to depression and those are the people who are more likely to succumb to that after giving birth. This can also occur up until a year or more of a child’s life.

Speaking about the postpartum, say the first three months, I’ve worked with moms who’ve told me prenatally are very worried about his because they are prone to depression and they know that that can happen and they’re really trying to thwart it.

In those cases, I just try to be extremely attentive and really pay attention to her schedule. Making sure she’s getting enough care every day so that she’s isn’t feeling alone and isolated a lot in the beginning. I think again, giving attention, giving compassion really meeting the person’s needs, really affirming constantly the things she’s doing in the ways she’s going, give her some rest.

24 hours on with no break is so demanding, there is partners and husbands are helpful to a certain degree but many of them are back at work right away or don’t have the skills either, so someone coming in who really knows how to comfortably keep your baby happy, who knows what you need physically is so willing to give you a nice little nest and make you a cozy space and honor what you’re going through, that can help a woman to bypass that tendency towards depression.”

Have you ever seen instances where husbands feel neglected or jealous after childbirth?

“I do notice the fathers going through a variety of emotions. They definitely feel very instantly deprived of the attention of their partners. That is a reality.

Not only that their wife or partner has become quite a different person. And is really in need of a lot of support. It varies some women are very strong and feel and some women don’t… the husband feels an increased responsibility for the well-being of this woman. As well as this child.

Oh my goodness, now I have two of them who are sitting in bed crying together’. I definitely see a big increase in the husband’s sense of financial responsibility. Some of them want to go back to work with a vengeance.All of a sudden, they really are aware of this new role they have in the world as a provider, for this helpless infant. As well as a woman who at the moment is not able to earn money and needs a lot…

I don’t see much jealousy or envy, I see mixed confused feelings because they too have a tenderness for this baby but it’s easier for a woman to fall in love with this newborn because she’s grown it in her body. They share cells and all that, whereas a husband it’s more of an intellectual process. He knows this is his child, it kind of works its way down into his heart, from his head.

But once a man really holds his little baby and starts to recognize that little tender place in himself, many many men fall deeply in love with their babies as well and then they have that feeling of ‘Where’s my wife?

Nobody is snuggling up to me at night. Nobody asking if they can make my coffee in the morning. Nobody is there for me, the house is a mess…’ They feel that confusion, they want to be that strong provider and yet, their egos are squelched because they’re not getting their needs met as well.

They’re also sleep deprived because the mother is doing all of the feeding, the father’s sleep is general disturbed when the baby wakes up to feed. In many cases, he’ll participate in one way or the other or he just won’t sleep through it. Especially for men who are expected to go back to work really quickly, a lot of men only get one or maybe two weeks off, some men get more which is wonderful. They are stretched very thin.

The man like you said is not the star of the show at this point or the partner, it’s not necessarily a man. The partner is put into a secondary role even though that person has a huge responsibility on his or her shoulders. I wouldn’t call it envy. I’d call it a much more complex emotion of confusion and mixed feelings”

You previously had a magazine column for doulas, and in 2012 you published the book, was the impetus to educate the doulas and give them the education and support that they need to help families?

“By the time I wrote the book, I had been working for quite a few years. I had learned so much from my families. Now when I started working in 88, it was an uncharted territory in a sense. I didn’t recognize that what I was doing was called being a doula, but once I got that title… at first I didn’t really know that. Today there are a number of organizations that are doing training and certifications but when I started my work none of that existed.

So I basically think of myself as being trained for this work by first by my own children and then by the families that hired me in the early years. I just learned from them about what was needed.

In 2001, for about six years I thought postpartum doula training through a local college here and in creating the curriculum, I based that on my experience with the moms and then once I started teaching. I realized that there was a lot more information that they didn’t have that I had assumed they would have coming in, that was kind of a metaphor for the parents as well. Out of all that was born the desire to write a book and write down all the things I felt out of my work that a postpartum doula could and should know or could consider in their work.

We are all different, every doula is completely a reflection of herself and beliefs and passions but, there are some general things that we all need to know and think about, so that’s why I wrote the book and but also recognizing that it’s not only professional doulas that I’m speaking to. I really wanted to address caregivers from the family, from the community, friends and so on.

I’m a big advocate of community-based postpartum care. I’m well aware that a very small percentage of birthing women are going to have a postpartum doula by their side, so I strived to help them recognize how they can engage their families and their communities and their friends.”

For more information and to purchase her books visit: Salle Webber’s Website

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