I'm not antisocial, I'm a doula

This article was first published elsewhere in June 2023.

There was a time in the distant pre-kids past when I was a gym junkie. With an exercise science degree under my belt, this was fraught with danger. Every time I stepped through the doors of a gym I was met with a wave of unqualified people giving their only slightly less experienced training buddies the shittest of shit advice, barely-teenage personal trainers cluelessly writing pelvic floor destructor programs for postnatal mothers, and injury inducing technique plain to see on every bench and squat rack.

To counter this I chose to stop seeing it, literally. Back then (pre-laser eye surgery) I wore glasses for all my waking hours. When I went to the gym I simply took those glasses off, the human equivalent of putting blinkers on a racehorse. I cranked up the music in my headphones and *poofsuddenly all the problems of the gym that were not mine to fix disappeared.

woman covering eyes with hand

Fast forward to now, and I am wishing I could use the same tactics almost every time I enter a parents and little kids social gathering or “mums and bubs”-type group setting.

How marvellous it would be if I could simply not see the baby positioned perilously in a carrier, or the four month old with a face full of dimples (hello, likely oral restrictions) being fed rice cereal because “the paed said my milk just wasn’t enough”, or the toddler being pulled to time out to “think about what they’ve done”.

How brilliant a time I might have if I could turn up the music volume to drown out the woman telling another she “had no choice” but to have a caesarean section because her baby was breech, or the parent who sought mental health support from their GP only to be given a sleep training handout instead, or the dad at the birthday party loudly rebuking the proven poor outcomes of corporal punishment because he was smacked as a child “and I turned out fine”.

Alas, I can’t do any of these things, and it makes socialising as a mother, rather than as a doula, minefield.

Imagine how a financial advisor might feel meeting a new group of people, then listening in horror while they swapped investment experiences and advice based on that one time they read The Barefoot Investor and watched some MLM influencer coaches banging on about manifestation, and that’s basically what being in standard social settings for parents is like for me as doula.

From the moment I set foot in a meet up with unknown parents, all of whom have no idea who I am or what I do, I am balancing the pros and cons of speaking up or biting my tongue. Is it my place to help them sort that aforementioned carrier or that dodgy latch, or is that overstepping? Should I recommend this or that podcast, or will they think I’m telling them what to do? Do I run back to the car to grab a spare copy of “Mama, You’re Not Broken” and awkwardly thrust into the hands of the unsuspecting mum who’s finding it all too hard, or do I just nod empathetically while fishing playdough out of my baby’s mouth? Between such decisions, I am also frequently wondering how soon is too soon to feign baby’s nap time and leave without seeming like the rudest bitch ever to attend once and never return.

It’s not that I don’t like the people, I just find it hard to be with the overflow of shitty, outdated, non-evidence based advice they have been given by the people supposed to be caring for them and their children, including professionals they are actively paying big bucks only to be heinously let down.

It’s challenging to hear the utterly predictable, culturally patterned Default Parent struggles, followed by someone else saying “yep, that’s just the way it is I’m afraid” and not crack it. Honestly, if I hear one more mother lament how her not-useless-just-misogynistic husband refuses to attend to any of his own own children at night because he has to go to “real work” in the morning to the knowing nods of others, the likelihood of me losing my shit will be 99.99%. [The last sentence refers directly to cis M/F couples because, in news that will surprise exactly no one, cis men seem to be the prime culprits for viewing fathering as a verb completed at conception and optional ongoing rather than a round the clock commitment. See my previous article on care for sick kids for further reading.]

It’s also difficult to adequately address any of these things while kid-wrangling myself. I find myself oscillating between basic introductions, changing the baby, people dancing around their worries and darkest feelings, scoping out who I’d like to force my phone number upon, and holding the big one’s floods of tears when another child commits the slightest misdemeanour. As you can imagine, this is not exactly a social cup-filling experience for me.

In short, the whole “meeting new people” thing as the mum-version of me is exhausting. It feels like work, but it’s not technically work, and is happening simultaneous with my unpaid mothering work, so I don’t know where I stand or where my boundaries should lie. It’s really much easier and more enjoyable for me to chat and make friends at the online hangs and local circles I host with my “doula hat” on - at least then there are some clearer expectations of what is and isn’t acceptable information or support for me to offer. Also, I’m usually kid-free and set the agenda in these locations, and priority number one is skipping small talk (because let’s be honest, no Default Parent has time to waste on small talk) to get to the emotional bits everyone is busy patching smiles over at mainstream meet ups.

Of course some places are more likely to come up trumps than others. Playgrounds where there’s no need to chat but you can if you want are usually easiest. I’m looking forward to an upcoming Homebirth NSW local meet up too. If money wasn’t a thing some of the kinder gym or other wholesome-but-often-costly nature play-type activities would rocket up the list of potential weekday-friend-hunting places too.

I talk a lot about rebuilding the proverbial village, and yet sometimes it feels like too much of a slog to source company over and over again for my own family. Perhaps the most frustrating thing in this whole scenario is that I’ve already done these hard yards once before with my eldest, only to have our mutually enjoyable activity and playdate routines dissolve as the other mums have progressively returned to work (how rude of them to have their own lives and aspirations!). The realisation I might need to keep hunting for available people as the up-and-coming crop of weekday companions also inevitably become unavailable is not one that thrills me.

I’m tempted to sign off this post with the words “people suck”, but that’s not true. I love people, but having my eyes and ears wide open to the conditioning, coercion and oppression of mothers and parents is rage-inducing, demoralising and altogether tends to gets in the way of a good time.

So that’s me. Wah wah wah. If this whinge hasn’t tempted you to be my friend I don’t know what will (/sarcasm).

Also, are you free next Friday? If you are, we should totally hang. As you can imagine, I have an active four year old, a teething baby and zero ulterior motive.

So this is a little ironic but since writing this article I've started a free playgroup. We meet on the second Wednesday of each month at the fenced playground at Billy's Lookout, Teralba. If you're a little further away, or local and resonate with what I've got to say, you might like to join my low-cost online membership community.

1 comment

Emmeline Tyler

Hey Anna,

Looks like you are migrating your substack over!

Not sure if you realise that every time you post to your website, your blog
subscribers get an email. So my inbox is getting flooded with your
backlog. I don’t mind but I’m just letting you know in case you weren’t

Xx Emm

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