A Night Doula’s Thoughts on “Tully”
Updated: Jan 5
I recently saw the movie “Tully” and I can’t stop thinking about it. After mulling it over, I am left unsure if Tully actually existed or if she was a figment of Marlo’s (the postpartum mom played by Charlize Theron) psychosis, awakening within her the young woman she used to be. This is the same feeling I had after watching “A Beautiful Mind.” I replayed each moment, trying to separate the actual reality from reality perceived by the main character.
The preview seemed like a realistic depiction of postpartum life and the necessity of asking for help. I was hopeful that this mainstream production might shine some light on a hidden time of life when many families suffer. In many ways, the film did not disappoint, however I am dismayed at the misrepresentation of night nurses, night nannies, and night doulas. For such a popular movie to depict the truly supportive role of these professions in a twisted way disturbs me.
So here is my list of ways I, and other night doulas working within our scope of practice, are not like Tully....and then some ways that we are!
8 WAYS I AM DIFFERENT FROM TULLY:
1. I ALWAYS wash my hands upon arrival at a client’s home.
This is common courtesy and useful bit of hygiene. I do not want to give baby any germs. I was cringing each time Tully arrived and picked up the baby without washing her hands first.
2. I don’t come in to a client’s home and help myself to her food. Most of the time, I prepare food for her and her family. I feel strongly that clients should not feel like I am a guest who needs to be fed and catered to. I do not expect clients to feed me, and if I will be with a client for more than 4 hours, I bring my own food and drinks.
3. I don’t take an active role in rekindling a client’s sex life with her partner.
Seriously. I will chat with clients about the importance of spending time and physically connecting with her partner, and how they can embrace the changes that pregnancy, birth and having a new baby have brought. I let them figure out how and when to do that. I don’t delve into their sexual fantasies. Enough said.
4. I don’t suggest clients go out partying, drinking, or even driving far from their baby within the fourth trimester.
The 3 months after baby is born is a sacred time of connection, focused on nourishment, integration of all the changes that are taking place, as well as rest, and recovery from pregnancy and birth. Even moms who have a wild side often enjoy this break from the normal demands and pace of life.
5. I don’t abruptly tell clients that I can’t work with them anymore.
The end of a contract is a decision that happens organically as clients feel better able to manage their lives and responsibilities. Sometimes I will start the conversation by observing that mom seems to be ready to take on more of her former role. Then we work out a plan to taper off my hours with them, and ease the client into her life without my regular support.
6. I don’t sit closely and stare at clients nursing in the night.
No one wants to be watched like that in the middle of the night. I bring baby to mom, then go and do something else for a few minutes, before coming back to check on them and see if baby is full so mom can go back to sleep.
7. I don’t tell moms their breasts are empty.
Because breasts are never completely empty, and most babies don’t stop sucking just because the flow of milk has decreased. When newborns get fussy at the breast, it usually means they need to burp or the flow is too fast for them. Its most likely baby will fall asleep...They should have consulted me for this movie, for reals.
8. I am a mother, wife, and stable adult.
I have personal experience with the postpartum transformation my clients are going through. I am not strutting my young body around, untarnished by pregnancy and breastfeeding. I am not bringing the drama of an unstable life into my clients’ homes. The end of the movie is an ode to the beauty of the boring stable life, and I love it. As Marlo and her husband Drew pack their kids lunches together while listening to a groovy tune, “Yes,” I thought to myself, “this the beauty of being a family.” The soundtrack is great, by the way.
And here are ~
8 WAYS I AM SIMILAR TO TULLY:
1. I help moms rest, shower, eat, and feel like themselves again.
They won’t ever get back to life as it used to be, but being well-rested, well-fed, and clean sure makes the world a brighter place. My time with my clients is focused on their needs and is deeply nurturing to them at a time when they are a sensitive as their newborns.
2. I clean the house so that the environment feels peaceful instead of chaotic.
Tidying, organizing and light housekeeping go a long way in helping new families feel at peace in their homes as they get to know baby. I literally teared up watching “Tully”when Marlo comes downstairs after the first night Tully stays over, and the house is immaculate…its like 100lbs falls off her shoulders immediately.
3. I cook beautiful food.
Tully makes cupcakes with brightly colored frosting, which serves a huge purpose in the film. However, I make food that is more nutritious and targeted to the needs of postpartum moms whose digestion is weak and caloric needs high.
4. I ask great questions.
Tully asks wonderful questions that start getting Marlo out of her stupor and into a place of feeling alive again. I like to think that the questions I ask my clients help them see their experience and challenges from a new perspective, and allow them to celebrate their successes and progress
5. I take really good care of baby.
I have an intuitive understanding of newborns and get so much joy out of being with them and getting to know them. Their needs are often immediately clear to me and I take great care of them so that my clients don’t need to worry about them at all.
6. I cheer mom on!
Motherhood is a difficult job and it is made even more difficult by the lack of support and acknowledgement mothers get for their efforts. I do my best to point out the amazing things my clients accomplish everyday, and to celebrate that just getting through the day keeping everyone fed, clean, dressed, and rested is a great feat.
7. I share evidence-based information.
Tully shares a lot of useless information, but she also shares some wonderful gems about baby Mia’s cells still being in Marlo’s body, and asking Marlow to give Mia a goodnight kiss because she’d change so much overnight. She helps Marlo appreciate the beauty of infancy, family, and connection. I often share information about breastfeeding, infant care, infant communication, and postpartum maternal recovery.
8. My services make great gifts.
Marlo’s brother pays for Tully’ services, and likewise night doula services, daytime doula services, and meal preparation are all wonderful gifts to give a new mom or family. These gifts go so much further in easing the transition of welcoming a new member into the family than , say, a stuffed animal, or a cute outfit. It is so hard to ask for help in our society, so just give help; it can’t hurt!
I am curious to hear other doulas' and moms' opinions on this movie.
Life Beyond Birth provides support for expectant parents, and new babies & their families, online and in-person. Find a class or contact Molly at www.lifebeyondbirth.com.