A lot is known by now about the Fourth Trimester aka the first three months of a baby’s life where they transition from inside to outside of the womb (read more here).
But what about the mother?
Everyone wants to hold the baby. Talk about the baby. Give the baby presents. BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MOTHER????
We've all been there. You're tired, might still be sore and really should be in bed taking in all that is your beautiful newborn. Then the visitors arrive who want to hold the baby! Obviously you're not going to show them that it doesn't suit or even that you don't have it all together. No, you look after them with cups of tea all the while your baby gets passed around like a doll. Sounds silly, doesn't it? That's because it is. EVERY new mother needs to be supported for her and her family's wellbeing.
Mothers, too, have just been born and are experiencing a Fourth Trimester. Some cultures have it nailed and women are being nurtured and looked after by friends and family. Our society? Not so much. We expect mothers to miraculously get back to normal as quick as they possibly can. All that is ever portrayed to us is how good mothers have their stuff together, look great, their babies sleep and never cry and the house is spotless all the while they are out and about in an immaculate outfit having coffee with their besties. And that attitude sucks. It’s unfair and it hurts. It does NOT reflect the reality of postpartum life and it creates a stigma around seeking support.
In order to create happier families, we need to start shifting the focus to mothering the mother.
What can you do to prepare?
Start early. Take some time while you’re pregnant to think about how your support system will work once the baby comes. You might even like to write up a Postpartum Plan. Remember to include the following things:
Plenty of rest. You have just grown and birthed an entire new human! Utilise as much adult help as you can to get some daytime naps in, take turns with your partner or work out other strategies that can help with sleep deprivation.
The first few weeks of transition can often feel chaotic and without proper emotional and practical support, it’s easy to feel lost. Emotional support does NOT mean being landed with a load of well meaning but unsolicited advice that leaves you feeling insecure. Find someone who listens to you, validates your feelings and helps you find your own way.
Nutrition is so important. Filling the freezer with batch cooked meals or asking family and friends to bring over food when they come to see the baby - either way, make sure you eat.
You need to remember what your preferences are. Do you prefer to stay at home with your baby? You can ask your friends to call over to you. Or would you rather be out seeing other people? Plan how you will get around with baby. Try to tailor your plan to that so it won’t leave you feeling under pressure to do something that you are not comfortable with.
Visitors after having a baby are nearly unavoidable but they do not have to be a bad thing. If they arrive and expect to be waited upon, don’t be afraid to ask them to make their own tea. You are under no obligation to further exhaust yourself with their wants, instead you could ask them to help you ahead of your baby’s arrival! If you prefer for nobody to call but don’t want to be in a position to turn people away at the door, consider putting up a sign saying “Mother and Baby sleeping”. Anyone with an ounce of respect will come back at a more convenient time.
Consider hiring additional help. A Postpartum Doula can provide invaluable support and hook you up with the right people if you need additional support.
Self-care and Relaxation in pregnancy (read more about that here) are almost expected, there’s a whole industry around that. Women invest in themselves and we all did the “just one last time before the baby comes” things like going for a romantic dinner or a night away. Enter baby. Investing in yourself now is accompanied by guilt, if it’s remembered at all. Your baby needs you but they don’t need a mother who is at the end of her tether. Looking after yourself is looking after the baby.
Everyone experiences their postpartum recovery in a different way. While some women may find they want to be independent of support pretty much immediately, others require a longer healing time, be that emotionally or physically. Whatever your needs are, it is ok to not only accept but to enjoy having help and support.
What all new parents have in common is that the foundations of what they used to know as their place of wellness are being shaken up. It’s all new to you, too, not just to baby and listening to your body, feeling all the emotions and learning your new reality are as important as looking after your baby’s needs. Being kind to yourself does not make you weak.