A Postpartum Support Series For Loved Ones – Part Two
Who is the new mother in your life? Is she your wife? Your girlfriend? Your sister? Your daughter? A friend? And even beyond the blood lines and the way you know her, what role does she play in your life and the people in hers? Is she the one to organize every social event? To count-on to carpool with? Is she the sounding-board? The cheer-leader? With a brand new babe in her arms is she still all of those things? Does she still wear all of those hats?
The importance of taking it gently physically after childbirth is fairly well communicated by care providers more often than not is seems. If a midwife or obstetrician has ever shown you a placenta after birth and strongly emphasized the size of the massive wound on the inside of the mother’s body the point likely came across quite clearly. Take it easy! In postpartum doula work we often encourage new mother’s to spend the first week around the bed, the second week around the home and the third week around the block. Exerting themselves beyond that can prove to be too much. Many new families embrace a 40-day lay in period of rest and recovery with minimal company and virtually no to-do list. All of these things are amazing but what about taking it gently mentally & emotionally as well? The mental load of new mother’s is often over-looked and very seldom is it shouldered.
Mothers carry quite the mental load. Whether she has a 16 year-old or is 4 weeks pregnant there is so much that goes on upstairs that is unheard & unseen. She plans meals, makes the grocery list & hands in the field-trip permission slips on time. She does her best to balance and organize the family’s calendar, never miss a birthday, an ultrasound or soccer practice and to make sure that date night actually happens. She makes sure there are snacks in her bag before she leaves the house and that the littlest ones stuffed bunny never gets left behind. She worries. She worries about his bad dream last night, her refusal to eat anything but yogurt and if she has everything she needs for when the new baby comes. Did they clear their plates away? Say thank you to Grandma for fixing their blanket yesterday? She researches why her son is suddenly stuttering and investigates why her oldest doesn’t want to play with Billy anymore. Every day.
Outside of managing a home and raising littles there is also considerations with aging parents, finances, careers, siblings, friendships, health and LIFE. Does all of that stop when she has a newborn in her arms? Hours old? Days old? Weeks old? Pile on a lack of sleep and tracking input & output and it’s a lot!
So when we stop and think about what those first days and weeks should or could look like for a new mama (in addition to the physical recovery) and what we want for that new mama we love so much, it becomes very clear that she needs much more than an occasional nap or someone popping by once and awhile to shovel her driveway. New mothers need to be reprieved of much of those 500 things in her head that circulate and take up space and that’s what shouldering the load is all about.
“We can endure almost anything if we have someone at our side who truly loves us, who is easing the burden and lightening the load.” – Jeffrey R. Holland
When we can shoulder her load she can focus all of her energy & her heart on the baby, her recovery, her partner and the family’s adjustment. In time all that other stuff can come back into the picture but for now it’s about the transition. New families need this time. It’s not just about waiting until the bleeding stops and being expected to get ‘back to life’ there is a whole lot more happening here and there’s a lot to process and adjust to. There is also a lot of things a loved one can do to help with that transition and to shoulder that huge load.
1. Have Understanding
Have respect for where she is at and what is going on right now in her world. Try not to feel offended if she doesn’t return your text for a few days or doesn’t answer your call. If she confides in you her struggles do your best to listen wholeheartedly, you don’t need to have the answers or solutions. Know she is on her path and will find her way. She needs to be heard, understood and validated in all of this.
Understand that if you touch her newborn’s face without washing your hands it might cause her stress. She also may not want to let her baby go for very long or at all. She may not be ready for company and that can be very difficult for family who want nothing more than to love on her and that new bundle, but she knows best.
Watch your comments as new mom’s can be sensitive. Maybe a joke about her waddling around might have been well received or appreciated a month ago but maybe not so much now. It’s a different time in her life though not very far away and she needs support from all the ones she loves.
2. Be Conscious of Mom-Guilt & Give Her Time to Let Go
Often times, accompanying the massive adjustment that comes with being a new mother (each and every time a woman becomes one) is a big dose of mom-guilt. A lot of the things she used to have time for, she no longer does. A lot of the relationships she used to put in the forefront she no longer can on her own without help.
Giving her ten minutes alone with her toddler to read a few books or taking the dog for a walk when you get home from your day can work wonders is alleviating a lot of the guilty feelings. It’s difficult to feel torn between the 24/7 that is caring for a newborn and all of the needs of other family members.
The balance and priorities can be difficult to navigate at first but it always comes around. There is much that needs to be let go because no new mother can continue to be everything to everyone and come out the other end peaceful. It might be hosting family dinners or continuing to ski this year that needs to go by the wayside for a while and it will become clear, although not always easy. Know that it takes time to figure all this out. Be gentle and patient with each other while you get it sorted.
3. Create the Space for Her to Be Rather Than Do
It is important to have seriously realistic expectations of what postpartum will be and part of that should include not expecting too much from a new mother. New motherhood, much like labour & birth is largely instinctual. Combined with a lack of sleep and lack of energy it’s easy to understand why mothers do not spend a whole lot of time in the neo-cortex or ‘thinking’ part of their brain in those first weeks.
It can be beneficial to just do, rather than ask. Figure out how to put together and turn on the new baby swing and then just tell her where the on switch is. Make the grocery list and just go to the store without calling her to debate brands of rice. Make the dog his vet appointment and take him. Do the banking. Clear the schedule. Clear the counters.
Allow her the opportunity to just be a new mother to a new baby. Calling her to vent because you had the worst day ever, or waiting for her to co-ordinate and organize your parents 50th wedding anniversary at this point isn’t fair.
4. Show Love
She cannot pour from an empty cup so find ways to fill her up. Tell her she’s doing an amazing job and she was born to be a mother and say it in front of other people she loves. Tell her she’s beautiful. Bring her tea or coffee while she nurses in bed. Support her choices, her intuition and priorities. Ask her how she’s feeling, how her night was and what she needs. Love her like you always do.
5. Take Care of Yourself Too
It is just as important for new fathers and partners or any support for a new mother to take care of themselves too. Do your best to get your rest, feed yourself well and take time away for yourself every day. Just as mom has a full-time job in caring for the new babe, you have a tonne of responsibility and craziness in shouldering that load.
Before you know it, everything will become normal and start to feel normal and it will all fall into place as it should. You will have done amazing things is promoting a calm and more peaceful transition for your family and loved ones and you will all be on your feet sooner because of it.
Who is the new mother in your world and what could be shouldered for her today? We love it when you share!