Words by Aja Hannah

As the number of cases of COVID-19 rises in America again, it is hard for parents to find safe support for themselves and their kids, especially new parents with perinatal depression. New parents usually look to their parents or grandparents as support systems. Sometimes these support systems can’t help as much as needed because they have work or they live in another part of the country. Now, new parents may also be worried about coronavirus exposure whether that is due to family members not taking protective measures like wearing masks or they have elderly or immunocompromised family members. 

As a new mom, I fall into several of these fields. My therapist and psychiatrist, who I largely connect with online now, push the importance of self-care but acknowledge that finding time may be almost impossible. As a mom with a newborn and a toddler, how am I supposed to get more sleep or eat healthier or exercise?

Honestly, I nearly burnt the house down the other day with a grease fire. My toddler was hungry and she did not want cold leftovers so I started a meal for her on the stove. Then the newborn started crying from the other room and he had pooped through his diaper, clothes, and blanket onto the floor. I took time cleaning that up before remembering that I had probably burned the toddler’s dinner. 

When I walk back into the kitchen, I see flames. In my sleep-deprived mind, I had turned on the wrong burner — the burner with the bacon grease still in it from the morning. The fire alarms hadn’t gone off yet even though the flames were inching up the wall and melting the lightbulb in the hood. So I ran around the house looking for baking soda and found it in the bathroom and put out the fire. The fire alarms finally go off and I open the windows. I take the kids outside as smoke starts to fill the house. The neighbors are pointing. 

Yeah, I need help. By any means. 

Shannon Shaffer, a mom of two and a nurse practitioner, said her mother stepped up to help her with overnights for their first child. “It was amazing. We were calmer and better rested. We had her help right away with my second after this experience, especially with a toddler in the mix. She also helped again when I started back to work,” Shannon said.

Although my usual support system is limited, I am lucky enough to have the funds to hire someone to take the pressure off. I tackle the most urgent thing needed: sleep. There are actually people who specialize in taking care of babies at night. Local moms on Facebook forums recommended Flora and Finn Birth Services. 

Flora and Finn was started by Heather Sudduth in 2014. Heather has five certified doulas on the team, including herself, and they serve all over Northeast Ohio. Heather’s journey started in 1999 after the birth of her daughter. “Helping women through a life-changing experience, guiding them through that experience and calming them and reducing their fears pulled me to start my training and certification,” she says.

Like many doulas, Heather’s team supports expecting parents during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. For parents like me, they are trained to recognize symptoms and help parents access resources. While they aren’t able to diagnose Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders, they do provide compassionate and nonjudgmental listening so parents can unload those heavy feelings.

I’m not much of a talker with strangers, but Heather tells me they can still help me. “We also assist with getting much-needed sleep. Lack of sleep plays a huge part in mental health and we are able to give our clients nights of much needed and mostly uninterrupted sleep (yes, even if they are breastfeeding!) so they wake up feeling rested and in good spirits.”

I sign a contract, pay a deposit, and I schedule a three-night stint with Becki Adams, one of Heather’s contracted doulas. Becki arrives early with a mask and her own gloves. She is a lithe woman with an eclectic style. She washes her hands right away and asks me about nighttime routines. She also asks what else she can do for me while I sleep. 

I go to bed a little apprehensive about leaving our newborn with a stranger, but mostly just exhausted. I sleep for nearly 10 hours. I go into the newborn’s room and Becki gives me a rundown of feedings, diapers and his sleep. I notice the diapers have been stacked neatly and baby blankets have been folded. 

My partner gets up after I do and the coffee pot is prepared, ready to be switched on. The next two nights are heaven. Becki comes in and straightens up while I am breastfeeding. The newborn falls asleep and she starts laundry for us. She hangs clothes. She tells me she could even do some meal-prep for me to help me eat healthily. 

Shannon was right. I was calmer and more patient with my toddler who needed attention. I was able to reflect and realize the reflux my newborn had been having wasn’t normal. He had an allergy. 

But three days were up fast and the service is quite expensive. Don’t get me wrong, the price is worth it and it makes sense for the training, education and experience that these doulas have. My partner said, “I wish we were rich enough to pay her every night until he sleeps through the night.”

When it comes to using a service like this, Shannon says, “Every woman needs this. I think it would be worth it if the mom thinks she could allow herself to trust the person enough to utilize the help. If she doesn’t fully trust them, it wouldn’t be worth it because she would probably still be waking up and be hyper-vigilant anyways. But it could be a good way for some overtired moms without close family to find respite during postpartum.”

For those hesitant to have someone new in the house during the pandemic, Heather and her team have been doing virtual support and only go to homes on a case-by-case basis.

We’ve already signed up for another three nights. 

Aja Hannah is a writer, traveler, and mama. She believes in the Oxford comma, cheap flights, and a daily dose of chocolate.

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