Doulaing, kittens and wet-nursing
I’m not able to do as much doula work as I’d like nowadays, as a full time working single mum, parenting a teenager and school child with #ADHD I’m pretty busy. I still do one to one sessions and teach workshops when I can. But doula work is in your bones, the doula mindset I now use in my everyday life all the time, approaching difficult people as if they were in labour can work wonders. If someone has unpredictable behaviours, extreme emotions, confusing needs- you can do well by loving presence, deep listening, going barefoot, breathing slowly, mirroring calm. Finding a transcendent part of you that sees the sacred in our everyday transactions. looking at the environment you are in- can it be changed to reduce peoples anxieties? Lights turned down, think about the acoustics, the smell. This week my son has been very anxious and worried, he has ADHD and probably ASD and the change from school to holidays combined with his birthday had led to him needing to be within touching distance of me at all times at home, this can be very tiring and stressful and he was worried about bedtime and sleeping too. A friend of mine called round whilst he was spiralling into panic and took him into the garden, they talked about the plants and he suggested my son chew and smell a few herbs, that it helped him if he was anxious. I took my son back to bed and he lay smelling his leaf while we read a story and until he calmed down and fell asleep.
Last year after our dog died of old age and I decided to get two sibling girl cats. They have been lovely to watch, very close. I thought about getting them neutered but decided to let them have one litter of kittens. As a child we had lots of pets and I witnessed two litters of puppies be born and grow up, this shaped my own interest in physiological birth and was one of the reasons I became a doula. I thought it was important for my children to see the normality of the life cycle.
My son watched in interest as local male cats started to frequent our garden after the cats went into heat, one male in particular seemed to have a close bond with my two sisters. We even witnessed them mating one morning so could introduce the birds and bees conversation with my son naturally. We then observed our cats behaviour start to change, to eat more, to become more solitary, not as close with her sister she would hiss if she came too close, she started eating more and I told our son we needed to be gentle with her, not pick her up too much or scare her. The male cat still showed regularly in the garden.
Eventually as I went away for a weekend, I thought the kittens would be due in about a week. I wondered how she would manage with her first litter. One dog I had as a young adult had a litter of puppies (she was a rescue dog and already pregnant otherwise I would have had her neutered) and coped well with the birth, until disturbed by my then partner returning with our other dog and friends, after which she left a puppy in its sac and did not care for it as she had the previous puppies and I had to intervene.
After the weekend I returned to find cats, neither of which looked pregnant. I quickly searched the garden and house for kittens, finally finding them in a cupboard in my bedroom, six kittens, all well and healthy, no mess, she’d done it fine all on her own.
She’s been a great mother, breastfeeding the babies on demand, purring loudly, but not let her sister too close. One early morning I found the daddy cat in the room too, chirruping at the cat and watching his kittens. A week later I found both sister cats in with the kittens. I was glad to see them friendly again, and when I looked at the kittens, I noticed one smaller all black kitten, her sister had had a kitten herself, just one. They are now co-feeding all the kittens, mostly found all together in a big heap of furry cats and loud purring. I was worried about the mother with six kittens who was struggling to keep weight on, so this should help her manage the load.
My young experience of watching puppies feeding, I’m sure influenced my own determination to breastfeed, and helped give me determination when my first baby was sleepy after a long labour and diamorphine. Kept me going through the pain of a tongue tie for over a year when she self weaned. I always felt is was important to breastfeed anywhere and everywhere, not covering up, to normalise breastfeeding in society, as I’m sure hiding breastfeeding away means that people feel it is something to be ashamed of and also stops girls learning what it looks like to latch a baby on. You end up with attitudes like this (and this is a man whose wife did breastfeed!)
My son I fed till he also self weaned at nearly three and a half. Breastfeeding past a year is less common now in European countries, but historically was the norm and is usual in countries around the world today. In some countries breastmilk is also given to invalids and women commonly share breastfeeding with their sisters and friends like my cats
I personally have nursed a few other peoples babies, mainly when they have been having early breastfeeding difficulties and the baby was hungry and struggling to latch
Mothering can be very hard in today’s society, without the ‘village’ community, women trying to learn all the skills on their own without prior experience and without support, levels of postnatal depression are high, but it is often the bonds we make with other new mothers that are sustained friendships throughout our adult lives and get us through those sometimes dark early days, sleepless nights and the continued joys and sorrows of parenthood
Just like other animals, we humans are primed through evolution to birth our babies, breastfeed and live in community, supporting each other