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Reviewed by Jane Beal, PhD, CD(DONA), CCE(BWI) & CLS
Allie Chee, author of New Mother: Using a Doula, Midwife, Postpartum Doula, Maid, Cook or Nanny to Support Healing, Bonding and Growth (Hestia Books & Media, 2012), is clearly an extraordinary person. She gave birth to her first baby at the age of 42 at home in the care of a midwife, but only after traveling to 50 different countries around the world, co-founding a leading financial industry publication, and owning her own cleaning business. So, as she says, “in the spirit of community” she offers what she has learned to her readers to help them “realize their dream of motherhood” (p. 20). Allie Chee clearly values the opportunity for mothers to stay at home and raise their own children. She is in favor of families having servants to help make this happen well. As the daughter of a single mom who worked as a cleaning woman in Texas and as a woman who cleaned plenty herself—and then went on to own a cleaning business—she places a high value on service. Service is undervalued in our culture, but not in Chee’s family. In Chee’s view, service is particularly valuable to pregnant, birthing, and postpartum mothers. She has a good point. Relying primarily on her personal experience, she talks in detail about the services she received from her OB-GYNs (only one of whom she kept as a back-up), two midwives (one of whom she fired), three doulas (all affiliated with her chosen midwife who were apparently in the role of apprentices), her two postpartum doulas (one of whom she detested), and a woman she hired who is, as she says, “a lot nanny, a little bit cook, and a tiny bit maid” (p. 125). She explains the qualifications she believes people in each of these roles should have and how she went about hiring them, giving the specific questions she asked in interviews and explaining the importance of contacting references. She emphasizes the importance of feeling that special “click” with people who are going to serve you. Interwoven throughout her chapters is Chee’s interest in traditional Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic healing, and vegan meal preparation. She highlights the Chinese practice of the “sitting moon,” a 30-40 day period after birth in which the mother keeps to her bed with her baby as part of her healing process. Americans typically go on the “honeymoon” when they marry, and many have heard of the “baby moon” (a honeymoon-like getaway for the married couple during the second trimester of pregnancy), but incorporating the “sitting moon” into family life could bring truly great benefits. Chee particularly endorses the book, Sitting Moon: A Guide to Natural Rejuvenation after Pregnancy by Dr. Daoshing Ni and Jessica Chen. As Chee accurately observes, far too many mothers strain themselves physically and emotionally in the postpartum period, primarily by returning to work before they are fully recovered from childbirth. This is better avoided—and can be, according to Chee, with proper support from others. In a day and age when family members can rarely take time off work to be with a new mother and baby, servants, in Chee’s view, are the key. While New Mother is a useful book, it may not resonate with everyone. Allie Chee’s heart is clearly sympathetic to single moms, but her primary advice about how to achieve staying home with your baby after childbirth with servants to help you is not something most new parents can consider. She does not offer specific advice on how to afford this goal (though she does promise to do so in her next book, New Family). In Chee’s case, it appears that her own past financial success combined with her husband’s willingness to be the primary breadwinner during their only child’s infancy has made this affordable for her. Chee is clearly in favor of natural birth, but her view of attachment parenting is unclear. She mentions babywearing (with a story of how her postpartum doula recommended a wrap that did not work for her) alongside car seats. She does not endorse safe co-sleeping and on-demand breastfeeding (though she does mention these as options). So families planning to practice attachment parenting may wish to read Dr. Sears’ The Attachment Parenting Book. Finally, Chee does not cite or list other useful resources new mothers may want to consult, including books on natural childbirth like Pam England’s Birthing from Within, Barbara Harper’s Gentle Birth Choices, and Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth (though she does mention Ina May herself). Penny Simkin’s The Birth Partner, Klaus and Kennell’s The Doula Book and Rachel Gurevich’s The Doula Advantage will give mothers a much clearer idea of what most doulas actually do. Families might want to research doula organizations like ALACE/ TOLABOR, BirthWorks International, CAPPA, DONA International, and ICEA, too (Chee only mentions DONA in a footnote) or investigate the main differences in training provided to OB-GYNs, MDs, DOs (not mentioned), CNMs, CPMs, lay midwives, and traditional birth attendants. The book has very-little-to-no discussion of the importance of childbirth education, placental encapsulation (a traditional Chinese medicine technique!) or lactation counseling and consultation. The role of the father is relegated to a few brief mentions. That said, Chee’s book is easy to read and relate to overall. It explains why family servants are needed and what their roles can be. In the end, it achieves its goal of presenting the role of service to the family by doulas, midwives, postpartum doulas, maids, cooks and nannies as a highly desirable and potentially wide-spread norm for Americans in the future.