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Moms Get on-the-Job Training From Experts : Parenting: After the Stork, a postpartum care service in San Juan Capistrano, is helping women make a smooth transition into motherhood.

October 08, 1992|JEANNE WRIGHT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Like many new expectant mothers, Barbara Poliquin had carefully planned for the big day when she and her husband, Mark, would bring their first baby home from the hospital.

But all the classes and books in the world couldn't have prepared the Laguna Niguel woman for the reality of childbirth and motherhood.

"I'll never forget the day I came home from the hospital. I walked through the door and started crying," said Poliquin. "I was tired. I was very nervous. I just didn't know what to do. I had just spent six days in the hospital after developing an infection from my Cesarean section. I knew I needed help, but I couldn't burden my family members."

To her rescue came Mary Davis from After the Stork, a postpartum care service in San Juan Capistrano that employs health care professionals, childbirth educators, mothers and others to go into the home and help women make a smooth transition into motherhood.

"She helped me the way only another mother could," said Poliquin. "It was like having a nurse in my home. She helped me with the baby and gave me advice on breast-feeding. Plus, she did the laundry and made casseroles."

Most important, said Poliquin, she allowed her to get what most new parents crave most those first few weeks -- sleep. Davis slept in baby Aimee's room at night and brought the infant in to Poliquin every three hours for feedings.

So pleased with Davis' help, the Poliquins relied on her again when their second child, Benjamin, was born two months ago.

With hospitals discharging women quicker after giving birth and many new parents today finding themselves without families who are able to lend support, postpartum care companies such as Davis' are growing in popularity around the country.

In 1988, there were only 14 services nationwide, said Debra Pascali of the National Assn. of Postpartum Care Service. Now, there are more than 100, she said, with 15 to 20 of them in California.

Often called "Doula" services--from the Greek term meaning "to mother the mother"--such private care firms are filling a void left by changes in an increasingly mobile society and shifting health care system, say advocates, mothers and some health care professionals.

Because some hospitals are discharging women as early as six to 12 hours after giving birth, postpartum help for new mothers "is a necessity, not a luxury right now," insists Chris Morely of Tender Care, a Doula company that serves clients in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Orange County.

But the high cost of such private care does make it a luxury. With prices ranging from $17 to $24 per hour, depending on the service and location, critics say it's a service for the privileged. Most clients are upper-income, professional women and couples.

Pascali and others say they hope postpartum care service will become more affordable for middle- and low-income families through cooperation from hospitals, third-party reimbursements from insurance companies, and government support.

"It should be available for everyone," said Pascali, who operates MotherLove Inc. in New Jersey.

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While low-income and very young mothers have stresses in their lives that may make coming home from the hospital difficult, Davis notes that in her experience, career women also have a uniquely tough time making that transition from the board room to motherhood.

"For someone who is successful and in control of her career, it is difficult when all of a sudden the baby is in control. It can be awfully scary," said Davis. "I've seen a high-powered career woman left a quivering wreck by a seven-pound baby," said Morely.

Davis says her company is not a nanny service. She and most of the members of her staff are mothers and have received training to help the new moms with infant care. They will work day or night to help make the new mom more comfortable.

Some family clients received the service as a baby shower gift, said Davis. Sometimes grandparents who can't be there to help hire the service for their daughter or daughter-in-law.

Whether mothers are poor or affluent, lack of support, sleep deprivation and dramatic hormonal changes after the birth of a baby can leave them feeling overwhelmed and anxious, said Lois Gobrecht, a Yorba Linda psychologist.

That's why it's imperative for them to have support that will allow them to adequately bond with their babies and care for other children as well as themselves, said Gobrecht, who specializes in treating women with postpartum depression.

"When women don't bond well with their babies, it can have long-lasting ramifications, including an increased risk for child abuse," she said.

Such situations can also put "babies at a higher risk for being neglected," according to Karen McCurdy, senior analyst with the National Committee for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Chicago.

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There's further evidence of a growing sensitivity to the problem.

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