“Birth is a rite of passage!” “You will never forget the day you gave birth!” “Spend as much time preparing for your birth as you did for your wedding!” We’ve all heard about the importance of birth…choosing the right care provider, class doula, birth space… but what about the moment it’s all over? How are mothers in our society preparing for the time when the grand event is finished, the confetti is all over the floor, the lights come on, and everyone has gone home? There is such a buildup to your day, or perhaps days of birth, but not much emphasis is placed on the 6570 days you will spend raising the child thereafter.
A few days after giving birth, there is a big drop in hormones, which leaves 80% of moms dealing with baby blues. It’s also the time that most families are sent home from the hospital to care for their baby on their own without the safety net of the hospital staff, and the time when moms are waiting for their milk to transition (or “come in” according to popular terminology.) Moms may begin to experience nipple soreness from the newness of breastfeeding, and are usually still experiencing pain as they recover from birth, whether vaginal or cesarean. Meanwhile, family and friends may not register the fact that you have a wound on your uterus the size of a dinner plate from where your placenta detached and that you are leaking fluids from your breasts and vagina.
So what can be done to cope with all of this physical, emotional, physiological, and social intensity?
Allies. Set up allies ahead of time to help you after the birth. Keep a list of all the minor tasks that need to get done in your day to day life on the refrigerator. When someone says, “Well, if you need help with anything…” direct them to the list and let them know that any of those things would be incredibly appreciated. In addition to meals, cleaning, laundry, pets, and dishes, arrange for a shoulder to cry on. Someone who knows that empathy doesn’t mean saying “at least…” Someone who can just listen and validate whatever you’re going through with love and compassion. If you’re going to have a shoulder to cry on, you may as well set up an ally to laugh with as well. Arrange friends ahead of time who will raise your spirits and brighten your mood.
Remember, most people want to help you and see the baby after the birth. Accepting their help is not just a gift to you…it’s a gift to them. Allowing someone into those dreamy newborn days for a little while is a treat for many people. Letting them hold the baby while you shower or change a diaper while you grab a snack is a treat for them as well.
Be sure that your allies understand before the birth that you will probably need to stick to short visits at first so that you and baby have time to rest and get the hang of breastfeeding without an audience, although their flexibility would be greatly appreciated…not just with length of stay, but how often they will visit, what you will need help with, which times work best for you, etc. When people arrive at your house, answer the door in your bathrobe, even if you have regular clothes on underneath. Have your partner let guests in and let them come greet you in bed. This is not a time for you to be the hosts…your allies need to be there to offer physical and emotional help, not receive it. Having these conversations before the birth can help your allies have realistic expectations when the baby arrives.
Make time to connect with your partner, even if it’s just for a quick hug when you have a free arm. You are a team working towards the challenging goal of getting through the days, weeks, and months. Remember what brought you together to make this baby in the first place. Be forgiving with yourselves and each other. Understand that stress, confusion about how to navigate being a new parent (or new parent to 2, 3, 4, etc. kiddos), and lack of sleep don’t bring out our best selves. Doing your best and bringing a healthy dose of forgiveness and compassion to everyone involved is the best medicine for the postpartum journey.
Prepare with the practical knowledge that you’re able to. A breastfeeding class is a great idea if you’re planning on nursing. (An IBCLC and your local La Leche League chapter are great allies to set up during pregnancy!) Educating yourself about car seat safety is also super important. (80% of kids are not fastened in safely.) Don’t let your shopping around for the best team stop at birth…shop around for the people with baby care know-how as well.
Of course, not every moment of the postpartum period can be buffered by allies. There are ways you can show up for yourself too. Mothers learn breathing techniques, relaxation practices, and comfort measures to cope with the intensity of birth. Guess what? These resources are still useful during postpartum! You can use the things you have learned during your childbirth class and birth experience to help you cope with difficult moments during postpartum. If you find yourself pacing with a crying baby in the middle of the night, help yourself to calm down while you help the baby do the same. Focus on your breath, notice the parts of your body that are holding tension and release anywhere you can, count to ten, move through your struggle one moment at a time, just as you would move through one contraction at a time.
Nikki Shaheed CD(DONA) Certified Birthing from Within Mentor