My parent cohorts in New York take the job of bringing up kids extremely seriously. I respect that. They want to get everything right, so they read furiously and employ experts. What most don't do is ask their mothers to lend a hand.
I can't help but feel that there's something amiss here: a generation of affluent, educated procreators who favor paid-for expertise over the love, support, and advice of their own family. Of course, many new parents do not, for one reason or another, have a close mother, aunt, or sister to call on, and that must be a horrible, lonely situation. I'm not sure I'd have braved making babies without an extended family in the picture.
Undoubtedly, families are hard work. My own mother and I regularly tear chunks off each other like famished pit bulls. Yet when it came to picking a second cheerleader to hold my hand in the delivery room, I knew only she would do. I mentioned this to the other soon-to-be parents in my overpriced Brooklyn birthing classes and they all thought I was crazy. They'd begun interviewing prospective doulas months ago.
Before working out what I thought about this, I had to go home and Google "doula." Whatever they were, I had never heard of them. Literally translated from the ancient Greek, it turns out "doula" means "a woman who serves." These days, it refers to the paid-for women who assist mothers during birth — and sometimes in the weeks afterward. I couldn't understand the appeal, but in my affluent neighborhood, I was firmly in the minority.
As I started to attend regular pregnancy meet-ups organized through a local online parenting forum, I drilled down for details, keen to understand why anyone other than perhaps a single mom with no close friends or family would hire a doula. What was I missing?
The couples I spoke to said they wanted someone in the room who knew what she was doing and had "seen it all before." Yet the notion of including their own mothers, or perhaps a sister, friend, or aunt who'd given birth, was anathema. Not only this, but they planned to keep their families out of the picture until way after the birth. They wanted to stay in control of the post-partum experience. Or so they imagined.
Quickly, I started to doubt my decision to invite my mom into the bloody screaming and swearing match that would inevitably be my first birthing experience. But in the event, she calmed me down and massaged my feet for hours. Once the epidural had kicked in, we sat around and gossiped while my frazzled husband took power naps on a chair. It was actually fun. I can't imagine for a moment that I'd have felt as comfortable or jovial with someone I'd hired for the occasion.
In the weeks after the birth, my mom stayed around to cook, clean, and complain that I wasn't wrapping the baby in enough blankets. But she also reassured me that everything was fine when the kid refused to poop less than 15 times a day ("You three all did that!") or refrain from hiccupping like a drunk ("Totally normal."). In fact, my parents, who live in London, ended up staying in New York for nearly two months after my daughter was born. It went way beyond what most grandparents would be able to provide. We were unusually lucky to get so much of their time and support.
But what I struggle to understand is why so many new moms and dads seem to bat their parents away like mosquitoes. Instead of looking to family, many other mothers posting on my local parenting forum got busy hiring every known post-partum professional, from the loftily titled "lactation consultants" to placenta encapsulators. They swapped gurus' details like cheesecake recipes. The very act of paying for help seemed to sooth them. Fair enough, I thought.
But then at meet-ups after the baby was born, the gloomy truth emerged. These women were often exhausted and insecure about everything they were doing. Few had families around. Some admitted that they might actually have to call their moms soon because they didn't know where else to turn. But this was, I sensed, very much a last resort. Yet the same people seemed keen to stress that their relationships with their mothers were great. The line, "My mom is my best friend" cropped up again and again.
So why are so many well off new mothers rejecting free family help? Is the fact that they're breezily successful in every other area of life deterring them from revealing any vulnerability?
Now, I'm about to do it all again. My mom is in my apartment showing my daughter British children's shows and feeding her cookies so that I, at 39 weeks pregnant, can put my feet up. My sister and dad will arrive next week to take over toddler duty so my mother can reprise her role as delivery room masseuse.
If all goes to plan, at no point will I have to Google "hiccupping newborn."