What do I need to know about this forgotten 4th trimester? How can I best prepare myself for postpartum? Support is the name of the game, and we want to ensure that everyone has it in one way, shape or form.
I remember sitting at my kitchen table while holding my newborn daughter, staring bleary-eyed at the glass of water Barbara placed before me. Barbara was an angel sent from heaven. Her wings may not have been visible, but I know for a fact they were there.
Barbara was my dear friend, and my husband and I don’t know how we would have survived those early days without her. When she observed on our first day together just how sleep-deprived and hormonal and besotted and bewildered I was, she asked, “how can we better prepare new mothers for this?”
I carefully considered her seemingly simple question. I mean, I had taken a really good childbirth class and I had devoured the words and opinions of as many pregnancy books and websites as I could possibly digest in 41 weeks. I was an obstetric nurse and had enjoyed many heart-to-hearts with my mom. I had friends who had babies. But there was nothing – absolutely nothing – that could have prepared me for motherhood. I was exhausted, I was fragile, I was clueless, I was sore, I was a mess, I was oddly sad, I was madly in love, and I was not…the…same. I felt changed forever. How does someone gear up for that, exactly?
So I looked up at Barbara, regarded her through my fog and fatigue and utter cobwebiness, and gave it to her straight. “You can’t,” I told her. “You just can’t.” But I was not yet a midwife, to know that you absolutely can!
Parenthood, I have come to tell the moms with whom I work, is like an exclusive club that you join as soon as your baby is born. You can ask other members about it, you can research it, you can get a glimpse of what it might be like and you can check out the swag in advance. But it’s not until that baby is in your arms that you really, truly, on a visceral level, become a card-carrying member of the Holy-Moly-I’m-Wholly-Responsible-for-Another-Human-Being Association.
Therefore, think about whatever it is you can do now to give yourself and your family the best shot out of the gate. Shore up your relatives, your friends, your co-workers, your community. Explore the myriad of ways you can procure professional support (i.e. postpartum doula, baby nurse, meal delivery, housekeeping, etc.). If resources are limited, the bankrolling of any of the above makes an invaluable gift (so have your best friend spread the word when she sends out your shower invites). Most postpartum doulas also offer payment plans and some provide services on a sliding scale.
Get the scoop on what the postpartum period is really like from trusted sources. And check out the following game. It’s called, “Keep Your Expectations Low.” Wanna play? Here we go…
Close your eyes, imagine you are more bone-tired than you have ever been in your entire life. You are recovering from a marathon, and your hormones have flown to Tahiti leaving you to deal with the aftermath. Now, walk yourself through a day with a newborn who depends on you for literally everything, and remember: keep your expectations low. Nope -lower than that. Now, go even lower. Awwwww – it’s super cute that you see yourself getting dressed! Keep going, keep going…
If you all you pictured was maybe, just maybe, brushing your teeth and squeezing a shower in between feedings, then you are a WINNER!!
Why does accomplishing next-to-nothing except nourishing your baby, nourishing yourself, sleeping and perhaps getting in some personal hygiene events before you collapse into bed equal success? Because if you do much more than that, you’ll be pushing yourself too hard, that’s why. I know – this all sounds ridiculous now. It certainly did to me when friends warned me about taking it easy. But if you don’t heed this advice, and if you don’t secure some kind of support before you give birth, you will only set yourself back. And if you go down, who’s gonna be there for your little one?
Don’t panic. Of course you’ll achieve a new normal once the baby grows a little and you begin to feel stronger and get the hang of things. But the adjustment period isbig – respect it as such, and your whole family will benefit.
You have so much to think about when you are pregnant, and at this point you are likely even making lists of your lists. But building a strong postpartum support system before your baby arrives will help ease your initiation into this pretty awesome club we call parenting.
It may not be a clinical stage of labor and delivery. But try telling any new mom that the "postpartum" stage deserves any less credit than the others of labor and birth!
We know this all too well, and for that reason, I spend a lot of time with moms discussing this very topic. Support is the name of the game, and I want to ensure that everyone has it in one way, shape or form. The postpartum stage is one of transition, physical recovery and big emotions - lots and lots of them. Preparation - before the baby arrives - is critical. Thinking a lot about labor and birth is a given. But I urge you to also give some serious thought as to how you will prepare for those first few weeks and months with your new bundle.
Long ago and far away, women were surrounded by family members and friends during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. New moms were cared for by their mothers, sisters, grandmothers, cousins, aunts, friends, etc. This meant that she would have others around her continuously to help her recover and to soften the learning curve as it pertained to new motherhood.
Just what did that look like after a baby was born? Picture this: a new mom never had to lift a finger, since all of the housework, meal prep, cleaning, chores and errands were covered (women who have just given birth need to be off duty for complete recovery). She was provided with measures for comfort and healing. She had lots of nursing help and bathing help and TONS of wisdom, guidance and moral support. A new mother could depend on this circle of women for anything she needed at any time. And more often than not, her needs were anticipated before she even knew what they might be.
Sounds heavenly, right? “Where do I sign up,” you ask? There are still many cultures around the world that welcome new families in this way. There are even some nations that provide this kind of support to all citizens for six weeks after a woman gives birth, free of charge (I’m looking at you, France!).
But here in America, women are often left to their own devices, and I just don’t think that’s fair. Not only do many of us find ourselves living far away from family and friends, but concepts like family leave and childcare are woefully lacking and can leave new parents feeling like they are jumping into the abyss without a parachute (or at least an accurate GPS app).
Having a baby is joyful and miraculous and beyond anything we can ever imagine before our little ones make their way into the world. But one thing to which people rarely give thought is the idea that the baby is not the only one being born here. Women and men are born into parenthood. This transition is enormous, and cannot be underestimated.
Postpartum doulas (PPDs) can really be a big help. They prepare meals, make sure that a woman is staying well-hydrated (because who, in their elated-yet-exhausted haze, will do these things for themselves?). They straighten up and make your “nest” as comfortable for you as possible so that you can forget about the dishes and the laundry and the texts and GET SOME REST. That last bit’s in upper case for a reason, Everyone. Rest is essential for healing and recovery, both physically and emotionally.
PPDs will run errands, and watch older siblings. They are well-versed in newborn care and breastfeeding and will educate parents in these areas. They know how to recognize signs of emotional distress which are common in the days, weeks and sometimes months following birth. They can provide resources and referrals and that extra pair of hands that all new parents need and treasure.
Many people wonder what the difference is between a baby nurse and a PPD. A nurse will traditionally live with a family for a few days or weeks, taking care of all things baby: laundry, diaper changing, calming, bathing, etc. (Some, but not all, are trained to help with nursing – good to ask when exploring this option). PPDs usually work approximately 5-6 hours per day (though some do overnights), and help mother the mother so that the mother can mother the baby. That’s a mouthful, but an accurate one, as you can see from the aforementioned description of services (which obviously are wildly helpful to partners, too).
The transition to parenthood (and it’s always a transition, whether this baby is your first or your fourth) can be greatly eased with the support of a Postpartum Doula.
Those outfits from that store down the block? Adorable.
Another stuffed animal or set of ironic-sayings bibs? Precious.
But the gift of a postpartum doula that you can give yourself, or that those who love you can purchase on your behalf? Priceless.
Guest Contributor: Anne Margolis, Home Sweet Homebirth
Anne is a Licensed Certified Nurse Midwife, OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner, Certified Yoga Teacher, and Clarity Breathwork Practitioner. She is a 3rd generation guide to mommas birthing babies in her family. Anne has helped thousands of families in her 20+ year midwifery practice and has personally ushered the births of over 1000 healthy babies into the world.
Images by: @diahpodcast, @spiritysol, @alwaysmatilda_katie