Updated: Mar 6, 2019
I remember going to my 6-week postpartum visit. I had my daughter Rose with me. She was just a tiny little thing--never sleeping, constantly crying. She had a lip tie, a tongue tie, a heart concern... I was trying to nurse, I was completely overwhelmed, and my friends and family were all hundreds of miles away. But for the first time in 6 weeks, the next 20 minutes were supposed to be about me, not her.
There I sat at the 6-week visit with my Nurse Practitioner, Sara. I tried to answer her questions about how I was doing and how I was feeling, but we couldn't even talk. Rose's screams were too loud. I burst into tears, telling Sara: "She's like this whenever she's awake! She cries all the time, and I don't know what to do!"I went home with a printout about postpartum depression, a list of practitioners in the area, and a suggestion: "I think you should find someone on this list to talk to." I remember looking at the list and seeing addresses in Cambridge and Somerville, and even Newton--places that would take 50 minutes for me to reach round-trip in the car. And I couldn't face 50 extra minutes in the car with a screaming baby. So I threw the sheet away and soldiered on, on my own.
I hadn’t done the “homework” to prepare for motherhood. I’d read What to Expect, but that was about the extent of it. So when Rose arrived--and with her, all of the challenges of new parenthood--I was left to figure out how to mother her in the moment of my overwhelm. When I should have been sleeping and enjoying my baby, I was reading book after book, and online forum after online forum, about breastfeeding, daycare options, sleep, infant soothing, and infant health. Week after week as my maternity leave wore on, I focused all of my energy on learning how to "fix" my baby. I created schedules and treated her sleep and feeding like science experiments. I spent hours on my phone trolling motherhood blogs. I scoured the internet for answers, but instead of achieving clarity about how to be the mother I wanted to be, I found that I was just increasing my anxiety, frustration, and feelings of isolation.
Photos: Rosie the ever-fussy baby | Scheduling my day with a three-week old, down to the minute | Every possible variable to try to get Rose to sleep for longer than 32 minutes.
It all came to a head on the day of Rose's 8-week vaccinations. It was a couple of hours before her appointment, and I thought to myself: "I know some people don't get vaccinations. I wonder if there's some reason I ought to know about before I take her." So I googled "infant vaccinations," and you can imagine the Pandora's box I stumbled upon there. Terrified after reading a few back-and-forths on various forums, I called my best friend, Ashley. Like the rest of my support network, she lives in Virginia. After talking me through her own choice about vaccinations, she gave me a key piece of advice: "Carly, when it comes to questions about Rose, be Amish. Act like there is no internet. Ask real people who care about you, who can give you real answers."
I got off the phone with Ashley and called a doula whose number I'd been carrying for a while. I had never thought that I would employ a doula, mostly because I imagined that early motherhood would be such an intimate time for me, my husband, and our new baby, and I couldn't picture bringing someone else into that. But my reality was not intimate; it was empty. I needed a specialist--an expert who could bring me a sense of calm, who could answer my thousands of questions, someone who could help me build the confidence that I needed as a new mother. I scheduled Debbie the doula to come that night and watch over Rose so that I could sleep for more than two hours. That night, Debbie gently cared for Rose, answered my questions calmly and decisively, and when she left the next morning, my house was in order. And I felt that my life was a little more in order, too.
I wish I could say that I took my friend's advice and never Googled another question about my baby. I wish I could say that I hired Debbie to come regularly after that. But I didn't. I kept Googling, but I Googled less. I couldn't stomach the price tag of bringing Debbie to the home as much as I wanted to, but we stayed in touch over text, and when I had important questions, I could reach out to her.
In the months since that hectic climax of anxiety, I have become more of a digital minimalist. I still use digital tools, but I'm mindful of the ones I choose. And I took the time to learn about parenting in a way that made sense to me: I became a doula myself through DONA international. And it is through this own transition, as I grow more confident as a mother and more empowered to improve the experience of early motherhood for others, that my business (Nessle) has taken shape.
As mothers, we need a village to raise our children, but we no longer live in villages. So many new parents are a plane ride away from family members, trusted advisers, and dear friends. But we cannot face pregnancy and early motherhood in that isolation. We need the ability to cut through all of the noise out there--all of that unneeded and misguided advice, all of that anxiety-producing content--to help us decide a path forward that feels right to us, so that we can be the best mothers we can be. This is precisely the support that Nessle provides. We are on a mission to make early motherhood a more supported experience by connecting expectant mothers and mothers of newborns to tele-support doulas who provide guidance and learning through a real-time, one-on-one relationship based on trust and empathy.
What kind of early motherhood do you want for yourself? For your sister? For your best friend? If you feel that Nessle might be an answer that helps you cut through the noise and be the mother you want to be, learn more about our services at www.nessle.co. We are always standing by, ready and eager to get to know you, support you, and to be a part of your village.