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Postpartum World Culture: Grandma Knows Best!

By Doula Tammy

As doulas, we are endlessly fascinated with various postpartum practices from around the world.  Sometimes a therapeutic food recipe strikes us as absolutely stellar.  Sometimes the way another culture does things just makes sense.  And even when it doesn’t make much sense (to us) at all, it still gets us thinking.  Why are things done this way?  What is the function?  Can I take a second look at my own methods of care-giving and reevaluate the effectiveness of those choices?

The Pakistani family that Tory mentioned on Monday is incredibly sweet and down to earth.  I have so enjoyed our short time together and look forward to getting to know them better.

While I felt that they were completely welcoming to me and open to my care, I also felt that I came up against occasional walls when it came to newborn care and education.  Tory and I wondered if this was possibly a communication problem, a slight and infrequent language barrier if you will.  Turns out that the custom in their culture is to defer to the grandparents for all major decisions surrounding infant care.  So, it wasn’t that the couple didn’t understand me, but rather, could not make decisions about things such as soothing techniques without the consent of their own parents.

Whoa!  Fascinating, right?  In most American families, this would never fly.  We may receive heaps of advice from our extended family and in-laws, but we often take the opposing path…just so everyone’s clear who’s boss!  Even when we do begrudgingly admit that maybe Grandma has a point, complete submission to our parents’ will would be unheard of.

I found myself wondering if this lack of freedom in parenting decisions would be frustrating.  I suppose in some ways it would.  On the other hand, there would be something liberating about taking the burden of worry off the shoulders and handing it over to someone older, wiser, and less intimately involved with the baby.  Mom would be, in fact, totally free to simply bond with her child.

The “takes a village” model of postpartum care organically includes modeling, advice, and knowledge from elders.  Doulas often long for a world in which a woman would naturally grow up watching their own mothers, aunties, and family acquaintances breastfeed and handle baby.  Infant care is not necessarily an innate skill and must be—in one way or another—learned.  While so completely foreign to me at first, I can see a lot of benefit in a new mother letting go of the reigns and deferring to someone with more experience.

We talk a lot about “trusting the mommy gut” and that is essentially what we want for each new mother.  What I’m actually seeing with this client is a tendency to listen to instinct and then check in with her elders.  Kinda makes sense!


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