Postpartum Isolation and the Modern Village

So, you’ve had a baby. 

When we talk about the struggles following childbirth, we talk about sleepless nights and leaky breasts and perineal tear care, and even postpartum depression has finally begun receiving more (much needed) attention.

But there’s one condition that no one is really prepared for: postpartum isolation.

If you enter any of the social groups for moms on Facebook, you’ll probably find several posts where mother’s have expressed their feelings of loneliness in motherhood—they talk about being up alone for middle-of-the-night feedings, being home alone all day with a child who can’t walk or talk or do things for themselves, being unable to do xyz because the baby had a meltdown or needed a nap or couldn’t be put down. You can almost see their overwhelm leaping from the words on the screen.

People are talking about it, mothers are talking about it.

But they’re talking about it to other mothers who are experiencing the same things, and they’re talking about it to those other mothers online—which means they are all still all alone. And by the time a mother learns of this all too common side-effect of motherhood, she’s already in the thick of it herself. 

“It takes a village to raise a child.”

It’s a phrase you hear often, and it is (from what we’ve heard) a pretty accurate depiction of child-rearing of the past: mothers and grandmothers surrounded the laboring woman as she ushered new life into the family; extended family was nearby to offer help in the postpartum period—with the newborn, with housework, with errands. Even friends could be counted on to share the burden of meal prep and sibling care in the early days.

Now, though, families may be spread across the country, or even the world, and friends are entrenched in their own lives—both those with children and those without. And with the increased convenience of technology, a check-up on the new family is merely a text or Snapchat away; in fact, you can see how everyone is doing with a quick scroll through your Instagram feed, no interaction necessary. 

We have grown apart, increasingly disconnected from the world of birth and new-motherhood, and from one another.

The event that used to draw people together and that is tangible evidence of what it means to connect is now often experienced in solitude. Sure, a mother may be bringing a whole new person home to spend her days with, but more and more mothers seem to express never feeling more alone than in that experience.

I suspect this is the root of the growing popularity of doulas today: the role of the doula is an old tradition made new, filling a more important space now as part of the modern family’s village. 

This is true in the laboring space, as a doula supports the birthing person on one side, their mother on the other, and this is true in the postpartum period, when a doula takes the 3 A.M. feed so that the infant’s parents can rest awhile longer before beginning again in the chaos that is new-parenthood.

The modern doula—and especially today’s postpartum doulas—are reviving a practice that has historically made the transition into parenthood easier and, more importantly, less lonely.

People wonder, “Why hire a postpartum doula? Why not just a baby nurse? A night nanny?” But this here—this notion of the village—is why. Postpartum doulas are not just there for the baby, they’re there for the whole family—including the new mother.

They support them in the physical and emotional recovery from childbirth, and in navigating new-motherhood. They support both parents in finding and implementing the philosophy of child-rearing that complements their personal concepts of family. And, if need be, they even pick up a few of the extra household tasks for a little while, as the new parents find a balance between life before baby and life after.

Times have changed, the concept of “family” has been modernized, and now the same is being done to postpartum care.

The village is making a comeback, wearing a new title and offering more comprehensive support. And our hope is that, as a result, the condition that inspired this post—postpartum isolation—will soon be a thing of the past.