A Happy Postpartum – Lessons Learned
I had four very different postpartum experiences. And when I reflect back there are a number of lessons I learned that I’d like to share.
I was nineteen when I had my first baby. I was very young by today’s standards. I was married, lived out-of-state and knew that after the baby was born I’d have my mom to help me. It never even crossed my mind that she wouldn’t be there or that I wouldn’t want her there. When she and her sisters had babies, my Grandmother lived in Vermont and her daughters were scattered from Connecticut to Hawaii. No matter, though, my grandmother, arrived on each postpartum daughter’s doorstep and took over the family life for a couple of weeks, giving the new mom a chance to heal, learn, and adjust to her new role. My mom did the same for me. She taught me about nursing and caring for my baby while making our dinner, cleaning the home and keeping the laundry going.
During my second postpartum, my mom had gotten very ill and was in the midst of her battle with cancer so I didn’t want or expect her to be there in the same way. I fortunately, though, lived below my best friend. She became my support. She cleaned and cooked and kept things going so I could rest and adjust to having two kids and my husband would work and not worry about what was going on at home.
With my third baby, I didn’t have my mom. She died during that pregnancy. I didn’t live below my closest friend. I felt “funny” about accepting any other help. “I’m a third time mom, why should I have help? I know what I’m doing” was my thought. I realized later that it’s not about knowing what you’re doing. It’s about being able to do it. The physical and emotional need every new mother has is to be relieved of your life for a little while so you can heal and adjust before taking on your life again. I was overwhelmed for a year after her birth. I didn’t feel depressed exactly but I felt like I could not catch my breath! Literally, when she was about 13 months old there was a day that I felt I had caught up.
Then…less than two years later I was pregnant with twins. “ Ugggghhhh”, I thought, “now what? How are we going to do this?” Have help? What? Super-Woman have help? My friend said “too bad for you, we are helping you!” and she gathered all my friends and made an organized plan to have people cook and clean for us for a few weeks before and a few weeks after the babies came. What was the impact on me? I had an epiphany! It came on a day in November when two of my friends came over. One said “We’re your doula’s” “My what? What is a doula?” I asked. She said a doula is a woman who helps another woman when she has a baby. Wow…I’d never heard of such a thing. They cleaned my house and cooked an amazing turkey dinner with all the fixings. So at 4:00 in the afternoon, I’m in my robe, in a clean house, with turkey wafting throughout and I thought “OMG, this is why rich people have help!” It was such a powerful thought to feel happy, not guilty, for having help and not doing it all myself. It was powerful to feel like people cared about me and my family to take the time to help me. It was powerful realizing that it’s okay to have help. This day was a catalyst for me to start MothersCare Doula Services with my very supportive friend in 1993! I realized that all woman need a “doula” when they have a baby.
We all need help at various times of our life. It’s human. And if one of those times is not when you have a baby, then when is it? We are not biologically programmed to be isolated when we have a baby. We’re not biologically programmed to physically care for our needs and our family’s needs while healing from delivery, trying to figure out nursing, getting little sleep, and adjusting to life emotionally with a new baby.
A doula can be your mom, your friend, your aunt, sister or any other female in your life that is available, non-critical, intuitive and willing to do whatever the family needs so you don’t have to. Just for a little while….just until you heal and get your footing with your new life with a new little person.
So what are the lessons learned?
- If you have a mom who is available and supportive, let her help you.
- If you don’t have your mother available accept help from anyone who offers with whom you feel emotionally safe.
- Understand that you need time to heal. You have a whole lot going on internally so you need help externally.
- Be gracious and allow others to help you without guilt or feeling like something’s wrong with you because you can’t “do it all”.
- Take off your “Super-Woman” cape – at least for a little while. You will be happier and your spouse and kids will be happier if you are realistic about your limitations and you honor them by giving yourself permission to rest and let others “do” for you and your family.
If you don’t have family or friends who can provide support, consider hiring a postpartum doula to come and relieve you of your life for a little while. For some women, having a non-related female for the first few weeks is emotionally easier than having a relative come during those first couple of weeks. I’ll talk about that in an upcoming blog.
- Please feel free to share your postpartum experiences or ask any questions you may have about your up-coming postpartum.
About Susan Shepard Keeney
I am the owner/partner of MothersCare Doula Services in CT. I am a Postpartum doula and my business partner, Sheila Marley is a Labor doula. MothersCare places both Labor and Postpartum doulas with CT Families. I am the mom of five beautiful children, one set of twins. The best quote for me as a young mother and the catalyst for MothersCare is “It’s not weakness to know you need help, it’s wisdom.”