Confessions of a Corporate Go-getter Mom

Doula Services

Postpartum frustrations, sleep deprivation, and the postpartum doula who had the answers

“My hypothetical kids were overachievers”… and other things I learned from having a postpartum doula

It was 3 a.m. and the baby was crying for the umpteenth time in a handful of hours. I sat up in bed, rolled my eyes at my snoring husband with his worthless nipples, and picked up the screeching pterodactyl staring back at me. She was rooting around, dive-bombing at my shoulder, my chin, anything that resembled a breast. “How can you be hungry when you just ate?” I thought to myself. I offered her my breast and she eagerly took it for all of 45 seconds before her tongue slowed, her grunts quieted, and her wiggles stopped. She was fast asleep again.

Wide awake…and wondering where my confidence went

“So were you hungry or sleepy?” I marveled aloud, though clearly I was the only one left wide awake at this godforsaken hour. “I just don’t get you! What do you want?” I moaned. As I sat there quietly contemplating whether to set her down and repeat this song and dance in another 20 minutes, wake her up and try to force her to eat more, or just let her sleep right here on me, like I swore I would never ever do, I wondered what happened to the decisive, confident business woman I once was…. still am?

I had to laugh a bit at my own uncertainty. I’m not sure I can pretend at this point that I am still her when I seem to speak only in the past tense of the woman I once was. The two realities seem to exist in this dichotomy; there’s the me before I brought another whole entire human being into the world. And then there’s this me that’s sitting here now, fumbling through motherhood with an infant whose mother can’t even tell whether it’s hungry or tired. A tear rolled down my cheek as I thought about the last few weeks. Why is this all so hard? 

Motherhood post 30s

I came into motherhood later than many of my peers. While so many of my friends married in their 20s to their highschool or college sweetheart, adding another child to their Christmas card every two or three of the next half a dozen years, I was busy chasing after my corporate America dreams, spending long nights drafting ridiculously complicated briefs and heading up board meetings across four time zones. Now those same friends have children that are out of diapers and onto school pickup lines while I finally decided to have a child in my 30s. Add in years of putting dating on the backburner, then the timing dance of IVF and I finally got the baby I dreamed of just before I rounded the corner to 40.

Cycling through sleep deprivation…and Google searches

The next morning, between scattered naps and several more times on and off the breast, as I searched Google for ridiculous things like “How do I know if I’m not making enough milk for my baby?” and “When do babies start to sleep more than two hours at a time?” I couldn’t help but feel really overwhelmed by my current reality. Maybe I got it wrong, I worried. Maybe you aren’t supposed to have children in your late 30s; because most mornings I feel like this sleep deprivation might actually kill me. As I warm up my coffee for the third time this morning, the thought of returning to work in a handful of weeks crosses my mind and I shudder.

My thoughts were interrupted when the door buzzed. I went to open it, assuming Amazon must be dropping off another 2 a.m. purchase. It’s like Alexa hears the sound of a baby crying and fills up my feed with the next product promising to make my life better, get me an extra hour of sleep, or aid in my baby’s development. To my surprise, Emma was on the other side of the door looking back at me. She must have caught the shocked look on my face, or perhaps it was the 2 day old pajamas with a bit of dried-on spit-up on the shoulder, as she asked cautiously, “We said Thursday at 11, right?” I wasn’t sure which would be worse to admit at this point — that I had no idea what day it was, or that I had completely forgotten I agreed to a plan at all, so I just stepped aside and let her in.

Newborn care to answer every new mom question

My husband went to college with Emma, and she has been a part of his (what is now our) extended friend group ever since, although acquaintance may be a more accurate descriptor of the relationship we have to each other. I knew she had been a nanny for several years; it had always seemed she was traveling the globe, taking care of children along the way. My husband had mentioned she runs some kind of newborn care business now and she had been great about offering advice on the best stroller and bassinet when I was researching product reviews during my pregnancy. When she reached out after the baby was born, offering to bring by a hot lunch, I readily agreed to have her over once we’d brought the baby home and our initial storm of family visitors had made their way back to their own homes.

When will breastfeeding get easier?

As we sat down and started to chat over my birth and these first few weeks of mom life, I sheepishly admitted to Emma that it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. “Birth was exhausting,” I complained, “and breastfeeding is reeeeally freakin’ hard. It doesn’t feel intuitive or magical to me, only hard.” Emma nodded as she listened intently. “Breastfeeding is a LOT of work,” she offered, “and you’re only one part of the equation, this little one has to do her job too,” Emma said as she tapped my daughter’s chest.

Much to my surprise, she seemed to be falling asleep — something she never does for anyone but me. “Wow! You are REALLY good with her!” I remarked. Emma smiled, “well I should hope so.” Ohh, that’s right, I thought to myself, the newborn thing. “You don’t even have kids of your own though!” I muttered. Did I really just say that out loud? Emma smirked a bit, she turned her head towards me and said “Well Grace, you don’t have any legal problems but you’re still good with those!” I laughed aloud at the comparison. She was right though, many people work in jobs they have no personal experience with. I don’t know why I assumed this would be any different. Doulas to the rescue

What about swaddling and a sleep schedule?

Emma taught me a new technique for swaddling the baby and we actually got to put her down for a little bit and have some lunch. As I shoveled in some of the amazing and nutritious meal Emma had prepared, I continued to ramble on about how terrible I am at all of this. “I just thought we’d be on more of a schedule by now,” I offered, “It just feels like I’m an around the clock milking station, and half the time it seems like she can’t even decide if she’s hungry or tired.”

Why is being a mom so challenging?

Emma gave me an affirmative nod as I rattled off more reasons this was so hard for me. “That makes a lot of sense,” she offered. I quickly interrupted her; “What does? That I would be so bad at this?” I asked defensively. Emma’s laugh filled the air, “No, silly. That your hypothetical baby was going to be an overachiever and just come out with breastfeeding and sleeping already mastered.” I sat there picking at my cuticles, and thought about what she’d just said for only a moment before pushing back against it. “But it seems a lot easier for some people,” I muttered. “Perhaps,” Emma offered, “but time at home with a newborn is the opposite of what we have been taught to believe being productive looks like. It just makes sense to me that after years in a fast-paced and demanding career, you would find this adjustment to be particularly challenging.”

The start of postpartum recovery — and getting the right answers

I hadn’t really thought about it like that before; maybe she had a point. Emma was clearing our lunch plates as she suggested I do something for myself for a little bit while she was here and could watch the baby. It had been weeks since I’d had the luxury of thinking about my own needs, I didn’t even quite know what to do with that suggestion. Luckily Emma had an answer for that too. “I could put some tea on if you want to read a book or watch some trashy TV, or maybe you’d like a hot shower without needing to keep your ears on for the baby?” she offered.

A luxurious shower

About half an hour later, I stepped out of the shower that was literally pure magic. I had actually used both shampoo and conditioner, I even exfoliated my face and let the water run down my back until there was no hot water left. I put on some clean clothing, wrapped my hair in a towel, and returned to the kitchen to find that Emma had not only put away our leftovers, but she’d washed all the dishes, including the never ending bottles and pump parts that litter the living room and kitchen daily.

Emma smiled at me from a basket of laundry she was folding; “there’s no way the baby’s still sleeping, is she?” I remarked. Emma motioned towards a mat on the floor where the baby was stretched out with toys dangling over her, as she grabbed for a crinkling zebra. “How did you figure that booby trap out?” I marveled. We laughed in unison. Emma explained “Well after you do a few dozen of them—” “Ahh it gets easier!” I interrupted. Emma sighed, “I mean, honestly, only by a little. You just learn to look up a YouTube video of someone else that figured it out, because it’s always the opposite of what seems intuitive.”

Feeding schedule

YouTube! Of course! I don’t know why that didn’t occur to me. “Is there a YouTube video on how to figure out if your baby is hungry or tired at 3 a.m.?” I wondered aloud. I followed Emma into the nursery as she carried a pile of folded sleepers to put away, showing me how to fold them so you can see each one from the top when you open the drawer. I guess she could tell I wasn’t really joking about my inquiry, because she was answering me about how often a baby needs to eat at this age, and the other reasons she might wake at night, what to do about those and how to start getting her on a schedule to make sure she gets enough sleep but not too much sleep, and something about an eat, play, sleep routine or was it play, eat, sleep? “I feel like I should be taking notes,” I giggled though I really wasn’t kidding. Emma had an answer for everything.

Breastfeeding advice

I could hear the baby starting to fuss in the next room and I knew it was time for a feed. I sheepishly asked Emma if she had any breastfeeding advice for me. She smiled back at me “I’d be happy to observe a feeding and answer any questions you have.” Emma showed me some new positions to try that were more comfortable for my height and postpartum recovery needs, and explained what to look for when the baby’s latched on to know whether her latch is good, as well as tell the difference between when she’s actively eating and when she’s just snoozing or pacifying. She broke it down for me which things are my job to control and which things are baby’s job in the breastfeeding relationship. “No wonder this has been so hard,” I teased, “I’ve been the one trying to do ALL the work!” Emma continued, “Breastfeeding is definitely not a solo project. It’s basically a group project where you didn’t get to pick your group member. Oh, AND the group member you get is brand new to the world.” I laughed so hard I startled the baby. “No wonder I feel like I hate this some days! Those group projects are the WORST!”

Hire a postpartum doula — you won’t regret it!

I felt more like myself than I had since bringing this little one into the world. I begged Emma to find room for us on her schedule, and she obliged. I already know for the next time around, that I will not even think about having a baby without a postpartum doula to help me find my footing in those early delicate days of parenting. She taught me how to slow down and enjoy the fleeting moments of infancy, while giving me permission to hate parts of the journey that I find to be really challenging and be okay with that. Having Emma over that fateful Thursday reminded me of one of the most important lessons I have carried with me throughout a demanding and fast-paced career. Anytime you have a problem that you have no clue how to address, there is someone out there that’s made it their life’s work to solve that problem. Find that person and hire them. Heck, hire a whole team of them!