Mothering the Mother


Former Brooklyn resident Robbie Bent called a mothers helpline six weeks after giving birth, feeling incapable of motherhood. A woman answered and it took minutes before Bent stopped sobbing long enough to tell her, “I’m exhausted, I’m crying all the time, and I don’t know what to do.” The woman’s advice: Hire a postpartum doula—a woman who “mothers the mother,” according to Dr. Dana Raphael’s The Tender Gift.

Bent is one example of the approximately 10 percent of new mothers affected by postpartum depression. Developing in the year following childbirth, symptoms can include irritability, sadness, and ambivalence toward one’s child. Treatment includes psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both, but health professionals are increasingly recommending doula care in addition to these.

Part teacher, sounding board, and household help, doulas are experienced with newborns, offer a listening ear, and have been known to spoon-feed nursing mothers too busy to eat. “My main concern is that you’re bonding with your baby,” said Kathy Koncelik, a doula from East Islip, New York. Doulas keep households running with grocery shopping, cooking, and light housekeeping while helping parents learn skills like comforting, diapering, and bathing their babies. “Doulas are there to facilitate,” said Ruth Callahan, owner of Doula Care Postpartum Services, a Manhattan-based business.

Doulas do not provide medical services or medical advice but can guide new mothers and families to resources including local lactation consultants, mental health providers, and support groups as necessary.

To become a doula, neither training nor motherhood are required, but professional organizations have developed certification programs to help standardize the industry. These requirements vary among organizations so it is important to inquire about a doula’s training, recognizing that some may have tremendous experience without certification.

At $25 to $40 an hour in New York City, postpartum doula care is pricey, but temporary. Special needs like multiple births or mood disorders may make extended care preferable, but doulas typically work with a family part-time for one to four weeks (depending largely upon budget) while gradually reducing their hours. “The goal is for you not to need us,” Callahan said.