From one new mom to another
The other day a dear fellow mommy from Instagram has shared that her partner is returning to work from paternal leave and how this leaves her with mixed emotions. When I read her post, lots of memories and emotions surfaced that I had probably suppressed about the first few weeks of motherhood. What I remember was constant fear, being immensely exhausted, freezing, feeling sore and misunderstood. I was dreading the weekdays when hubby had to go to work and was sitting on the couch with the baby sleeping on me having always one eye on the parking lot until he arrived each evening. I felt inadequate, confused but at the same time could not imagine leaving the baby with anybody else even for a minute. The whole birth experience and having a baby felt surreal (and to be honest it still sometimes does).
It was tough and it’s tough for all of us. Giving birth is a trauma, even if everything goes smoothly and according to plan, it is a trauma for the body, for the nervous system. It’s traumatic and life-altering in all senses. New moms need all the support they can get not only around the mechanics of motherhood, but also about how they can support their own healing with little things. I remember being asked many times by the midwives about my stitches, but scarcely about how I felt. Being 10 months more experienced I know a bit more about the changes I went (or probably am still going) through and that is thanks to some very dedicated professionals on social media. I am so glad that this topic is slowly starting to get the attention it deserves.
Even though I am not a psychologist or a doula, but I would like to be of service and do my part in collecting some of the little things that I did or I wish I had done to support me in the first weeks.
From around day 14 postpartum it is highly recommended to get some fresh air. The way to get fresh air is of course going to depend on where you live, what season you’re in, the weather and if you have any help around to mind the baby. I gave birth in November, the weather was pretty awful, so sometimes I just went to the window, opened it and did a bit of mindful breathing there. (Walking did not feel great for multiple reasons, I had serious damage in my pelvic floor function and also I felt I couldn’t leave the house without the baby, not even for a minute.) It is not just about the outside air, but also about being exposed to natural light.
No rush hot drink
Hot drinks run deep into our core. Some experts say they remind us of our times in the womb, of nourishment and parental warmth. And they work. Having a hot drink (that is still at least warm while you are drinking it) is hard as a new parent. But when I had a chance to be just me and my favourite tea in my favourite mug… sipping it slowly… it not only warmed up your body, but a bit my soul as well. I still do this almost every day.
No rush meal
Similarly to the hot drink practice, having an easy-to-digest, nutritious meal without the stress and hurry felt healing to my body, and had an affect on my mood. Soups are the most recommended meals for this period, because they are hot (for comfort) and full of fluids. Many times food was the last thing I wanted to think about, and there was noone around to cook for us. But the no rush meal does not need to be a gourmet one, many times a simple toast gave me the biggest joy.
No rush shower
Vaginal or Cesarian birth, most probably we all have a scar to heal, so a hot bath is a no-no. Because of my scar, because of my bleeding, because I was sweating a lot during nights, I felt constant need to have a shower, but if it was possible at all, I had to be quick. So I started scheduling a bit longer ones, while my husband was minding the baby. Having a shower (to me for a few weeks) got associated with being alone just a tiny bit, with taking a breath, with processing and sometimes crying. It was comforting and healing.
No rush toilet break
I don’t see this topic being discussed very often, but it’s super important. Going to the toilet after giving birth is super painful. (Stitches, Cesarian scar, hemorrhoid from pregnancy or from birth, damaged pelvic floor function just to mention a few of the possible scenarios.) Most probably you try to do your businesses as quickly as possible to rush back to your baby (just like I did), which in the long run delays your healing, elongates your pain and discomfort (which happened to me). Try to take as much time as you need, especially for your number 2.
List the people who can support you
I had thousands of doubts, questions, scary situations in early motherhood. An extra pair of hands, a few reassuring words, a good advice, a warm meal, a back rub or a hug could have saved me from extra stress, worry or anxiety. So I wish I wrote a list when the time came to call someone from my support system. Such a list does not have to be long, it’s not a reflection of our social lives, but it’s about building a support and safety net(work).
List the tasks that you need help with
The list of things to do around a family with a newborn feels sometimes longer than the Encyclopaedia Britannica and it is impossible to do everything alone. Make sure you don’t fall into the same trap as I did by not asking for help with certain tasks more. Now I know there is plenty to delegate so that the new mom can rest and worry only about the baby and herself. Just a few examples: cooking, shopping, cleaning, doing the laundry, ironing, doing the household admin… all tasks that can easily be done by your partner, a family member or friend. I really should have sorted the things that needed me personally and what could have been taken care of by someone else. My experience is that people around a new mom are eager to help and support, all we need to do is let them.
What do you want your partner/family/support system to do differently? What do they do well?
Having help around a new mom is a great thing, but in my opinion having the right kind of help is the best. Generally people are very enthusiastic to give a hand and be around the new family, but sometimes their ideas of help are not meeting the help needed by the new mom. I wish I had spelled out more precisely what was working the way it was good for us and what wasn’t. At certain points I felt a bit uncomfortable mentioning things that I wanted to change with my in-laws for example, so I asked my husband to help me communicating my needs gently and politely. Giving feedback is a difficult task in itself without considering the postpartum period, but letting people know what needs to change and what does not work will save a lot of stress and anxiety on the long run. The aim is not to create conflicts or offend anyone, but to make this early postpartum period all about baby and mom, mom and baby, and their right kind of help. I also find that highlighting the things that feel great is super important, so that people around us get the positive feedback as well.
How do you feel?
This is a little exercise that helped me many times to take a step towards reconnecting with myself and with my emotions. My birth trauma left me like a war zone both physically and emotionally. I felt like an empty shell sometimes and I found it difficult to process what was happening to me. By taking a few minutes to actually think about how I felt helped me to acknowledge what was happening. (I was mostly doing this exercise while pumping or holding my sleeping baby.) I sat down and I imagined myself as my own best friend sitting by my side. I imagined this best friend being absolutely loving and non-judgmental, so I could share anything. Then I started putting into words either in my head or by writing down every physical sensation and emotion that I could recognize with no filters on. On some days it was only one short phrase ‘I don’t know’, on others thoughts were pouring out for long-long minutes. Being aware of how I felt physically and emotionally, bringing these sensations into the level of consciousness gave me a bit of perspective and created space for new emotions to surface.
This is a big one. It is hard because at the beginning it seemed impossible to talk while I was unable to find the words for that I was feeling or had been going through. Calling someone or talking in person, does not matter, just make sure you talk somehow. Even if you text and send only emojis, keep communicating in some way and don’t stop. These talks do not necessarily need to revolve around the baby and your new life. For me the best talks were the ones where I was distracted by my friend’s love life or her silly jokes. Talk to your partner, talk to your family, talk to your friends, talk to your midwife, talk to your doula, talk to your support group members, talk to your social media companions. Talk.
With lots of love from one new mom to another.
Original of thumbnail image is from Pixabay.