This week's blog post comes to us from Calm and Confident Doula Laura Gardener, in honor of the week's theme of love....
We’ve all had lovers who didn’t quite speak the same language that we spoke. “S/he never buys me flowers.”, “Why do I always have to say ‘I love you’ first?”, “They never cook my favorite foods.” or, “If only s/he would give me a neck massage without me having to ask!”. Most definitely, there are words and actions that make us feel cared for. Much of this is shaped in our early childhood- Mom cooked chicken soup when we were sick; Dad kissed our boo-boos when we fell; Grandma always gave us a special treat when we visited. Additionally, some of our ‘language of love’ gets defined by our first boyfriends and girlfriends: “ Jesse gave homemade Valentines.”; “Kit made bouquets of flowers from their garden.” ;Sal wrote little love notes to me every day.”
As parents, we can experience the same disconnect in terms of love language. Our teenager no longer wants to spend time with us. They shrug when we give them a hug or a kiss. They no longer bring home drawings for our refrigerator. The teenager, in turn, may be thinking, “If they really loved me then they’d just back off and give me some space!” However, even as early as infancy, we and our children can experience communication gaps. “The baby never makes eye contact with me.”, “She smiled for my husband but not at me!”, “He never stops screaming- I swear, he hates me!”
As Postpartum Doulas, part of our job is to serve like Cyrano de Bergerac and translate love languages. We help parents and their infants better understand each other. For instance, we might say, “Oh, look at how the baby is gazing at you!” Or, “See how she turns her head when you speak?” Or, “He looks so content at your breast.” In turn, we can help mothers and fathers to better adjust their behavior so that the baby feels most comforted. “You might consider this additional position for nursing...” “When the baby is crying like that, you might try…” “I think that particular cry might mean… what do you think?” With our words and actions, we can help parent and infant to better understand each other and better meet their emotional and physical needs.
Prenatally, something that we could do as Doulas is create a tool that helps parents identify their own languages of love. Parents, try asking your partner how they know you love them? What is that you say or do that shows love to your partner? What are you looking for from your partner that shows love? What do they imagine their own needs and wants will be from the newborn, and also what do they imagine will feel most loving to an infant? Have parents try completing these sentences:
1) I will feel that my infant loves me if…
2) My infant will feel love from me if…
3) Things that I can do to help my infant feel loved include…
As Doulas, we can help our clients to consider whether their expectations are realistic while simultaneously helping to best meet everyone’s most essential needs. Being able to speak and understand each other’s love languages is the basis for achieving secure attachment between parent and infant. Secure parental/infant attachment creates the basis for continued healthy attachment throughout life.
Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, gives us some helpful insights into the ways people perceive love. He refers to five primary “Love Languages”:
Words of Affirmation- This language uses words to affirm other people.
Acts of Service- For these people actions speak louder than words.
Receiving Gifts- For some people what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift.
Quality Time- This language is all about giving the other person your undivided attention
Physical Touch- To this person nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch.
* (these descriptions come from The Five Love Languages-go take a look at the book if you are interested.)
Laura Gardener is a Postpartum Doula who is part of the team at Calm and Confident Doula Services. Her undergraduate honors thesis in psychology focused on ‘Maternal-Infant Attachment in High-Stress Pregnancies’. As a Masters level psychotherapist, she routinely addresses attachment issues with her clients. She continues to do so now, as a Doula.