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Highly Effective Friendship

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

Mothers in "Crisis"

I chose to become a postpartum doula because it is historically the phase where mothers get the least amount of support. In western cultures, a lot of attention is often given to the pregnancy; ensuring a safe pregnancy and birth. Once the baby is born, the attention often shifts from the mother to the baby. This often leaves new mothers with the responsibility of picking up the pieces on their own. Roughly half (52%) of all maternal deaths happen within one year of giving birth; with 21% of deaths occurring in the first six weeks. Between 20 and 30% (depending on age) of new mothers are officially diagnosed with postpartum depression, with estimates of 50% never seeking or receiving help for the so-called “baby blues”. Newborns are examined by a medical professional sometimes 3-4 times before their second month of life. This is in stark contrast to the postpartum care given to their mothers. On average, a new mother will be seen one time before their child’s second month of life. This is a hard pill to swallow given the statistics on postpartum mortality and mental health!

Doulas can be incredibly useful tools for new mothers in every stage of their pregnancy, including the postpartum stage. They are often experts on pregnancy, childbirth, and newborn care; supporting birth preferences, providing pain management tools, and caring for newborns after birth. Studies have shown that birth outcomes are better when doulas are present. Unfortunately, especially in the US, doulas are often underutilized or inaccessible to the majority of new mothers. A big barrier is finances. Doula services are not covered by most insurances, including medicaid. This often means that the most vulnerable populations who need the support the most don’t have access to such a necessary resource. Many birth workers and allies are doing the much needed work of lobbying for equal access to doulas for everyone in the country. I hope to one day see a country who values this unparalleled service and provides it, free of charge, to any person who needs it.

Hi, I'm Mr. Lonely

While I would love to see access to doulas across the board, it hasn’t happened yet. Politicians across the country have not yet pulled the trigger in support of equal and/or paid doula services. This led me to think about ways we could get help to mothers who urgently need it. The first thing you’ll hear a new mother say (after her obligatory profession of how much she loves her new baby) is that she didn’t realize how lonely motherhood could be. Loneliness is the unspoken maternal mental health assassin! When I think about my role as a doula, a lot of it has to do with knowledge about pregnancy and childbirth. But, a more important aspect of my role is fostering a genuine FRIENDSHIP with the women I support.

NPR reported on a survey that found that 60% of Gen Z and 70% of millennials reported feeling lonely BEFORE the pandemic began. I highlight these two groups because they are the largest group of child-bearing adults. Friendlessness was at an all time high before we all went into lockdown. With these numbers, the current “Maternal Mental Health Crisis” could’ve been predicted long before Covid showed up. Let that sink in. The women who are becoming mothers in the 2020s were already struggling with friendships before they stepped into the commonly experienced loneliness of motherhood.

Let me be clear. I’m not suggesting that your neighbor can replace a doula. But, just as God said to Adam, “It is not good for man to be alone”; I am saying, “It is not good for mothers to be alone”. Consistent access to committed and trusted friends may be the difference between a pleasant journey into motherhood and severe postpartum depression. Honestly, consistent access to TRUE friendship can be beneficial for everyone, considering the stark statistics on reported loneliness in this country!

Now, onto the idea of “true friendship”. Many people often point to their experiences with “bad friends” as a reason for their friendlessness. As a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP), I spend most of my days teaching children how to be “good” friends. How do you discern between a “good” and “bad” friend? Often it has to do more with character traits than on their physical actions. The thing with identifying friends based on character is that YOU often have to exhibit the traits of a good friend in order to attract good friends.

If there are millions of young adults who are struggling with loneliness, perhaps there is a need to reexamine how we do friendship in this country. While mothers are usually my target audience, it’s clear that the problem extends beyond the scope of motherhood. I’ve spent many years of my life, both as a Christian and as an SLP, developing my understanding of friendship and authentic connection with other people. We need to resurrect the availability of highly effective friends back into our society!

Highly effective friends:

  1. Understand the value of friendship

  2. Are willing to be vulnerable

  3. Are empathetic/compassionate

  4. Demonstrate social emotional reciprocity

  5. Know how to forgive themselves and others

  6. Understand accountability

  7. Are resilient through hardships in the friendship

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