There were tears because so often this is a time of heartache rather than joy. It seems the baby product ads showing well rested mums with good hair and calm babies wearing white, (without a drop of vomit on them I might add) have sold us a lie, especially as we as women are notoriously bad at asking for help.
We talked about how challenging it is to ask for or accept help, how even women who know that support is needed in this time struggle with just saying "thank you, I would love a meal". Or we expect that after 6 weeks we should have 'bounced back' to our usual pace and workload. Never mind that our bodies are still recovering (yes, no matter how good you feel), our hormones and still crazy, our life is forever changed, we are trying to nourish another human while figuring out who we are as women and mothers, and being a sexual being is apparently back on the table! Clearly we expect too much of ourselves! So how do we change this? How did we support ourselves and our babies better?
First please consider redefining what your consider the postpartum period to be. 6 weeks is when you get discharged or signed off by your dr to be 'normal' again. This Is truly laughable. Few of us have even established breastfeeding by 6 weeks. 3 months ends the 'fourth trimester' however 3 month old babies don't sleep well. You're tired and often struggling to leave the house or get a meal together still. Personally I think the postpartum period is at least 12 months (though technically your entire life after having a baby is postpartum). When you baby turns one you'll be hopefully feeling like you're starting to get a handle on things. Sleep is usually a little better, naps are somewhat regular, baby will be becoming mobile and a touch more independent. Please give yourself a free-of-judgement 12 months at least.
Here is some of the suggestions floated at our meet today. I absolutely concede that this is hardly a comprehensive list but hopefully it gives you some new ideas...
- Use your time in hospital to rest and connect with baby.
- If you are birthing at a birth centre or at home, still use these first few days to rest and connect. You're only 'job' is to sleep and breastfeed your baby. The more rest you get ta this time, the better you're body will heal and regain its vigour. Doing too much can lead to an increase in blood loss.
- If possible hire a cleaner for a couple of hours a week or fortnight for the first couple of months.
- Limit visitors if that is what you want. Limit people touching and holding your baby if that's what you want - it's a person, not a football. Give yourself permission to change plans and cancel visits if you'd rather get some sleep.
- Put visitors to work! They can make their own cuppa and fold some washing or wash some dishes. People want to help. Let them! The gorgeous doulas at Perth Postnatal Village and Peace Love Baby have created a simple poster to print out and put up on your front door. It tells visitors that baby has been born and guides them in how to help you. A copy is included below.
- Have a friend put together a roster of sorts. A friend of mine was concerned about being home with two kids and a new baby when her husband went back to work. At her blessing ceremony (a baby shower is as ideal time also) we asked all of her women friends to say what day of the week suited them best. Then I contacted people on her behalf and set up visits for the days she chose. I also informed people that she would likely say she didn't need anything and to ignore that! It worked a treat. She had visitors when she wanted and quiet days too.
- Ask visitors to make just as big a fuss of older siblings as they do of the baby. Children notice everything. They don't need to have jealousy building due to well meaning visitors.
- Starting making and freezing food when your pregnant - meals AND snacks. If necessary buy a second hand freezer. It's a great investment.
- When people offer help, give them your dietary requirements and let them cook for you.
- Look into online an meal service. Some postpartum doulas offer a stand alone meal service and have an understanding of the needs of the new mum.
- Online shopping is your friend!!! Both major supermarkets do delivery (for a fee) or 'click and collect' (free). It can take some time to set it up and get used to it but it is worth the time investment. Other shopping can be done online too with a bit of notice. I even bought my babys car seat online and had it delivered for free.
It is a huge time of adjustment for little ones. You are learning a new way to be, and they are too. They are trying to figure out what it means to be a sibling, and adjust to having mum less available than they are used to. Acknowledging that is important for little people.
- Talk about "our baby" rather than "my baby" or "the baby"
- While still pregnant teach your children some things that they can do for themselves. Being able to get them self a drink when you've got a newborn cluster feeding will make a huge difference. Other things might be getting themselves a bowl of cereal, or leaving snacks on a low shelf are helpful. Accept there will be more mess. It's ok, mess can be dealt with. Children being fed, watered and confident is more important.
- Give them responsibilities and opportunities to help and be involved. Simple things like picking up things or getting them to put nappies away help them feel involved.
- Keep a stack of books where you breastfeed your baby and read a book every time you feed baby. Your toddler is more likely to look forward to nursing if it's a time of connection for them.
- Busy bags (look it up on Pinterest), new toys (think small simple things), low mess activities like play doh, colouring or paint with water books are all great for desperate times.
- TV. A contentious one I know. If you a to friendly home your kids will likely end up watching more than you're really comfortable with but it may be the difference between showering or not. Put the guilt aside during this time. It's just not worth giving yourself a hard time about. Recording best loved shows is a good way to have the right thing available for when you need it.
- See if there's a local teenager who can come and play with your kids. It's cheAper than baby sitting as you'll still be there but it takes the pressure off you to be present and your kids get their play needs met.
- If friends or family offer to take your children on outings and you think your child is safe and will cope, accept with a smile. The outings my child went on were much loved and she enjoyed having news to tell me when she got home. We both won.
- talk talk talk! Before Bub arrives talk about what life will look like in detail. Decide on what domestic tasks your partner can take on, and what you think will most support you. Be specific and clear. Write it down and stick it on the fridge.
- Talk about how intimacy and sex will change. We all know sex is off limits for the first few weeks, but what about after that? Just because a dr gives the 'all clear' it doesn't mean it has to happen. One or both of you might take some time to get your mojo and desire back. There are other types of intimacy and sex besides intercourse. Consider going into a mode of exploration emotionally and physically without expectations. When you do have sex it may feel different. Breastfeeding can cause vaginal dryness (which doesn't get mentioned anywhere near enough!), and your breasts might feel like they are off limits. This is all completely normal!
- if you've had difficulties with breastfeeding previously, get support while you are pregnant. Find some lactation consultants (LC) and meet with them, or investigate where your local free breastfeeding support services are. Have a meeting with an LC and come up with a plan.
- If breastfeeding troubles arise after baby is born, get help quickly.
- Talk to your partner about what is helpful to you. Some women feel touched out and want someone to take the baby for a while, other women want to be with their baby but have someone bring them a cuppa. Having your partner bring you water and your phone/book/tv remote when you are nursing is good. Again, tell them and be specific. Having a partners support is one of the biggest indicators for having a long term breastfeeding relationship.
And finally of course it's worth mentioning that post partum doulas are available. They can often meet a lot of these needs at once. Offering support with meals, kids, lending a supportive ear, breastfeeding, and/or massage, they are an absolute blessing.
By by supporting yourself in these ways, and showing others that's it's ok to be supported, you empower other women to ask for support too. You show men that this is what's needed. We can be the change in our own lives and in our community.