When local social worker Beth Shelton was ready for a career change, she began serving a different vulnerable population: new mothers. Her startup, Homecoming Postpartum Services, was the first of its kind in Memphis.
As the first certified postpartum doula in Memphis and a Licensed Master Social Worker, Beth Shelton provides new mothers postpartum aftercare and counseling.
With her Master's in Social Work from the University of Tennessee, Shelton began her career as an in-home therapist for children, where she fell in love with the model.
"As a social worker, I believe in meeting the client where they are. And as a social worker, I work with vulnerable populations. New mothers are vulnerable. They're sleep deprived, sore, and terrified. Moms are worried that they aren't doing things right--they are overwhelmed with social media, the internet and their friends and families who, for the most part, are confirming the worries. There is so much information but there is very little support and love. New moms need validation, support and kindness. They need reassurance that they are doing everything right, even if what they are doing is different from what their friend on Facebook is doing,” explained Shelton.
Finding herself at a professional crossroads in 2013, Shelton decided to use her social work expertise to assist new mothers. "Nationwide, arguably world-wide, there is very limited support out there specifically for new moms," said Shelton.
Seeking to improve postpartum care for Shelby County mothers, Shelton launched Homecoming Postpartum Services.
Homecoming Postpartum Services provides support for approximately 20 new mothers each week. Postpartum doulas are experts in postpartum recovery and newborn care, providing breastfeeding support, emotional support, and education on caring for a newborn.
“We help mom achieve the optimal recovery by supporting her rest, nutrition and emotional well-being. I have been told by many parents that I 'bring the calm with me' when I visit. It's amazing what a nap, a snack, a conversation and a shower can do for moms' overall well-being."
Aside from her doula work, Shelton and Homecoming Postpartum services have partnered with Appleseed Inc. to offer in-home mental health care and counseling services. As a therapist, Shelton works with clients on a variety of issues including bereavement due to pregnancy or infant loss, adjustment to parenthood, and processing traumatic birth experiences.
"In my practice I focus on a cognitive behavioral therapy approach," says Shelton. "We work on using mindfulness and other techniques to help mothers develop coping mechanisms to deal with feelings of anxiety and/or depression.”
As with all kinds of therapy, each client is unique and approaches counseling with different strengths, expectations and struggles. But for new mothers, Shelton says, there is a heighted need for delicacy.
“There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach to this type of work. Mothers benefit from a more personal approach than is often seen with typical approaches to therapy. They need objective, considerate and educated validation with treatment and support. Walking this journey with my clients is one of the greatest honors of my life."
Homecoming Postpartum Services also provides postpartum planning workshops to prepare new parents prior to birth as well as weekly support groups for new mothers who suffer from postpartum anxiety or depression.
While Shelton's expertise in both counseling and postpartum support is unique, according to her interest in the practice is expanding. "The field of postpartum doulas in Memphis has grown a bit since I was certified in 2014, and there are some really amazing women serving in this capacity for new moms."
Awareness continues to increase along with these support options for new mothers.
"In a perfect world, we would work as a community to honor a new mom during her recovery and her transition into parenthood. We would, as a community, encourage her to rest and provide her with actual opportunities to do that. But this isn't a perfect world. And that's what postpartum doulas are for."