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I Hated My Postpartum Doula (But Here’s How You Can Love Yours)

That first morning at home after leaving the hospital is something no new mother will ever forget. Your body feels like a freight train has passed through it, sleep is nonexistent, and, if you’re lucky, maybe you can eke out a few grunts that manage to communicate your level of physical wretchedness. Then comes the realization that, OMG, there is now a little person (probably not) sleeping in a crib, in my house. And I’ve got to take care of it. And that’s when the fear, hormones, anxiety and every other possible emotion start flooding into your already-overflowing brain.

You need help. Lots of it. By someone who actually knows what they’re doing.

Enter the postpartum doula, the angel of mercy hired to quell your fears about all things “new mom.” She’ll be your shoulder to cry on, a gentle hand as you master this whole breastfeeding thing, and an all-around support system. At least that’s what a postpartum doula should be. I wouldn’t know.

Postpartum doulas can be life-savers to overwhelmed new parents. But I had to learn the hard way that if you don’t do your due diligence, you could end up with someone who adds to your stress, rather than lessens it. I will be the first to admit that I made some serious mistakes during the hiring process, which now allows me to impart these helpful tips for finding your dream doula.

Do as I say, not as I did.

Don’t be afraid to vet potential doulas — and ask plenty of questions.

If anything, saving money is the best incentive for doing your homework and not hiring the first doula you meet. My husband and I forked over a hefty, non-refundable sum in advance to guarantee four visits (and retainer availability; more on that later) from our doula. But we let her go after the second visit because she was having such a negative effect on my mental health that we were willing to take the financial loss rather than suffer two more days with her in our home.

I feel if I had spent more time getting to know our doula, then I would’ve discovered before signing that check that this was not the right fit. She was extremely judgmental; within minutes of entering my apartment for her first visit, my doula offered not comfort, but a barrage of criticisms. She berated me for not holding my baby at all times, she was openly critical of my pediatrician, and she loudly proclaimed that “all hospitals are horrible.” Given how emotionally and physically fragile I was during those first few days as a new mother, these were the last things I needed to hear.

Establish doula duties and parental expectations before baby arrives.

Don’t figure this out when you’re an exhausted bundle of nerves. Because I failed to discuss this topic beforehand, there was a major discrepancy between myself and the doula as to what constituted “light housework,” which was listed in her contract as one of her duties. Unfortunately, this catch-all term could mean any number of things, making it extra important to define what the doula will and will not do. My doula balked at any request to do house chores, announcing, “I don’t do scrubbing” when I asked her if she could touch up the bathroom. (In my mind, “touch up” meant wiping down the sink and mirror, not scouring the bathtub.) She also refused to vacuum the (small) rug in the baby’s room, instead offering to take a picture of me and my newborn daughter. I needed the rug vacuumed a lot more than I needed a photo of my sleep-deprived, pajama-clad self and my colicky baby.

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Image: GoodStudio/Shutterstock. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows. GoodStudio/Shutterstock. Design: Ashley Britton/SheKnows.

Check their digital footprint/reviews.

It’s not necessarily a good sign if a doula barely registers on the internet. If there were available online testimonials for the doula I hired, then perhaps I would’ve known before agreeing to a business relationship with her that she had a tendency to cancel appointments at the last minute without giving a reason, apology or replacement for the day. Or that she wouldn’t even be available until several days after my baby was born (despite being paid a retainer to ensure this wouldn’t happen). You are paying someone to provide a service for you, and if this person isn’t going to make you a priority, then it’s not the right pairing. If a doula doesn’t have a website with testimonials or isn’t present on a doula review site, then you need to ask for references — and contact those references. If she can’t provide references, or if the people you call don’t sound 100% enthusiastic, move on and look elsewhere.

Ask if a trial run is an option.

It’s no wonder my husband and I went with our doula after a brief phone interview and a subsequent in-person Starbucks meeting: She was selling herself as a commodity, so naturally we only saw her positive side. She was kind, supportive and made the initial meetings all about us. Her demeanor changed the second she started working in our home. In retrospect, this is why client testimonials are so important — and why, if someone doesn’t have reviews available, it could be a red flag.

Check her certifications.

I’d also recommend making sure that any potential doulas are certified through a reputable organization such as DONA International or CAPPA. But the most important thing to remember during this process is this: You and your baby come first. The doula is there to help you, and if she doesn’t know exactly what your needs are, then it’s more likely that you’re going to end up disappointed. So don’t hesitate to speak up and tell your prospective doulas what you’re specifically looking for in a helper. If you don’t want to hear criticism, be it constructive or not, then you need to say so before signing an agreement. If you want a doula who is going to do housework, make sure she’s amenable to the chores you have in mind.

Hiring a postpartum doula may be a painstaking experience, but it will be well worth it if it means eliminating just one layer of postpartum stress.

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