When I try to explain what I do as a postpartum doula, I get all kinds of comparisons. I don’t blame people, it’s a hard job to describe and even harder to understand (unless you’ve been a new mom. Then you compare us to things like superheroes and guardian angels).
Often, people say “Are you like a babysitter?” or sometimes, more snarkily, “If you’re watching the baby, you’re not a doula, you’re JUST a babysitter.” For a long time, this bothered me. I’d insist, “I am NOT a babysitter! It’s DIFFERENT!” I didn’t want to be JUST a babysitter. I am 33 years old, I own my own business, I have a ton of skills and training, and I make a very nice living. Babysitters are teenagers! I know, because I used to be one.
Today, I am going to step up and say it, loud and proud. As a postpartum doula, I play many roles – listening ear, loving arms, light housekeeper, all-around-new-parent-support, and yes – BABYSITTER.
To quote graduation speeches everywhere (forgive me), “Webster’s Dictionary defines ‘babysit’ as ‘to take charge of a child while the parents are temporarily away.’”
Leaving your baby with a caregiver who is not you can be one of the hardest steps for a parent, particularly a mother. You want to know that your baby will be as safe, loved, and cared for as if you were there. In the words of my mother, “I wanted to know that if there was a fire, whoever was taking care of you would get you out first.” We hope no situations like that arise, but it takes a HUGE amount of trust to leave the thing you treasure above all else in the care of someone else. When that treasure is a teeny newborn, it’s even more difficult.
My role as a postpartum doula is to support a new parent in WHATEVER WAY THEY NEED. If that means making them feel supported, at ease, and confident by keeping their precious new baby while they go to a doctor appointment, do some self-care at the nail salon, or have that all-important date night to reconnect as partners, then I will wear my Babysitter badge proudly. What if I were to say to a client, “I’m sorry, you can’t leave your baby with me, the highly skilled person you feel super comfortable with, because it’s not my job as a doula. Why don’t you call a babysitter?” How do you think that new parent would feel?
I don’t believe there is such a thing as JUST a babysitter. Whether you are leaving your newborn with a postpartum doula or your 4-year-old with the teenager from down the street, you are placing your world in someone else’s hands. You want someone whose skill level is as bad-ass as possible, and who gives you ultimate peace of mind. We may be babysitters sometimes, but we are the most highly trained, badass babysitters you could possibly hire.