As I write this, I have 6 friends who are counting down the days and weeks until they welcome their bundles of joy into the world. As I’ve journeyed with them, I’ve had to do lots of reflection on what went right and what was messed up during my 38-week sprint into motherhood. I want to share some insights I gained during one of the most critical periods in a mother’s life: the weeks after giving birth.
Don’t forget that your body gradually morphs into a living incubator over the 9 months, but then with one last uterine surge (or your surgeon’s swift hand), the tiny human exits. Your curves are left looking oblong. Your garden is left dishevelled and shell-shocked after Tornado Childbirth rips through. Then your doc may explain that you now have stitches that need to be cared for. Swollen knockers open a milk bar on your chest. Your muscles feel like you just ran past Usain Bolt in a 2, 000-meter sprint up to Blue Mountain Peak. Then, when you try to take your first steps or try to sit up in bed, you realize that all your joints feel loose and you discover muscles you never knew you had – because they’re sore!
Postpartum depression is a possibility. The mind and body of a new mother can suffer a very traumatic incursion-like state after her baby is delivered. There are those hormones that cause you to lose a grip on reality, and crumble beneath a tsunami of emotions during pregnancy. And they don’t exit your body when your waters break. Instead, they slowly release the reigns on your mind and body in the weeks that follow. All of this is happening while you are trying to soak in the fact that a tiny baby is depending on you to care for her every need and soothe all his recurring discomforts.
Long before your due date arrives, you need to determine whether you have a community of loved ones who are willing and able to assist you or if you will need to pay for these services. Either way, it has to be taken care of. Your mental and physical health depend on it and you will not be able to completely attend to your newborn babe without these arrangements in place. This is why midwives, obstetricians and other health professionals are keen on ensuring that you have sufficient family, community and even specialist support services. The services that every new mother will need assistance with are:
1. Laundry – This is separate from everything else because a new baby goes through more clothes and bedding than a diva on a concert tour. Plus, you will be going through lots of clothes too as you deal with spit up, exploding bowel movements, leaking boobies and over-flowing lochia.
2. Food Preparation – Excellent options are freezer meals, sandwich fillings, soups, juices, lots of pure water. At first, many of these meals will need to be served to you in bed.
3. Cleaning – Just seeing the dust and clutter will raise a new Mommy’s blood pressure because you want a spiffy-clean space for your baby. So, just accept that someone else will be holding the broom for a while. Some lost items may turn up!
4. Shopping – Whether it’s picking up groceries or last-minute baby gear, you won’t be in the condition or the mental space to handle crowds, long aisles or check out lines.
5. Business – It could be hospital bills, insurance claims, utility bills, etc. The important stuff that you would prefer to forget about for a little while.6. Transportation – For doctor visits or the refreshing outdoor trips, you will need someone to take you around because driving will be off limits.
7. Babysitting – even if you try, you will find it hard to sleep when the baby sleeps. Plus, sometimes you will need a little alone time, just to take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’re still you.
8. Newborn care – even an experienced mother will forget how to prep the bath or which way to put on the diaper, how to get a a good breastfeeding latch or how to clean the umbilical cord.
9. Grooming & Emotional Support – taking a shower/bath will be very difficult at first, and getting your hair done will help you feel so much better about yourself. But, more importantly you will need someone to lean on, to hold you when you are crying and not sure why.
10. Physical Therapy – When you get strong enough, you will need to take daily walks and do a little exercise. You’ll need to learn the techniques for getting out of bed and get help with your sitz baths and changing bandages. You need someone to remind you to not to do any heavy lifting and to sleep on your tummy.
If you are counting down, like my friends, but you haven’t arranged for helpers to come around after you bring your baby home, now’s the time to make your list. Put these requests on your baby shower wishlist. Start asking friends, co-workers, neighbours, and relatives to volunteer now. If you live far away from your core community, then you may need to hunt down some support services, delivery services and start planning for bulk cooking freezer meals. But, don’t leave these essentials to chance or expect your partner to buckle his shoulders under the load or, worse, try to do it all.
On the other hand, if you know someone who has just brought home a baby, don’t tell them, “Please let me know if you need anything”, or “If you need some help, just call me.” Instead, you should call them and tell them you’re coming by to clean up. Cook or purchase some healthy meals and bring them over to their house. Set aside a few hours to go by, tell them to catch some sleep while you watch the baby. When you’re heading to the supermarket, ask them to text you the items they need. The reality is, the average woman wants and needs to prove to herself that she can ‘handle it’. But, she also needs to be in postpartum rehab, and she will need your help to ‘check-in’. So, be there for her.
Ladies, how was your postpartum ‘rehab’? Did you have all the support you needed and wanted? Mommies-to-be, do you have a support system in place for the weeks after you give birth?
Didan Ashanta is a natural living enthusiast who blogs at DidanAshanta.com. A native of Jamaica, she currently lives in Tokyo with her husband and 1-year-old daughter.