Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Postpartum Dreams

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about a dream (surprise, surprise!)….of becoming a postpartum doula.  I don’t know if I ever will, officially (and if I do, I see it being down the road a ways), but an even bigger dream is to put postpartum doulas out of business.  (sorry, you wonderful group of people!)  It’s a dream to re-set howour whole culture thinks- how we view birth, motherhood, infancy, and thepostpartum mama.  It’s a dream to see new (whether they’re new for the 1st time or the 5th!) mothers pampered and cared for.  To have Super Woman expectations thrown away.  To see moms feel unburdened and freed- free to invest all their energy in bonding with their new little one and the rest of her family. 

We have so many expectations thrown on moms- and they aren’t just hurting mamas, they’re hurting our babies.  And that is most definitely a problem.  When it’s a big race to get back into your groove as quickly as possible, to be back to making all your meals within a few days, to be ½ expected to turn down any offers of help pretty quickly…it prohibits complete postpartum healing, it drains mama so she’s more prone to postpartum depression and (my biggest peeve) it means babies get thrust aside, tossed from one contraption to the next, so they don’t get in the way of normal life…of productivity, of being Super Mom.  (It’s no wonder companies like Graco thrive!)  Science has more to say all the time about how early-life experiences impact a baby for the rest of his life.  It’s looking likely, actually, that experiences we don’t remember might have a larger impact than ones that we don’t, for better or worse.

When a mama is free to enjoy her baby and other children, transitioning to a new family life can be truly beautiful and stress-free.  It can be a lovely time of bonding, of spending more time than ever with each of your children.  She can create a life-long impact on her baby as she touches, holds, and enjoys him. 

On the other side of the fence, I know what it feels like to be helpless; to let others do your work.  Part of it is my personality and that’s okay- I will always be the type of person who most appreciates a day where I accomplish something.  I love to be at work- it’s one of the reasons I love babywearing; so I can snuggle and move forward with my ideas and pursuits.  Provided we moderate ourselves so it doesn’t cause PP healing issues, I don’t think that’s a problem at all.  Nor is it a problem to sit back and enjoy your baby without worrying about a thing, if that’s your personality.  J  God’s blessed me with a natural check against doing too much- a long recovery period of not being able to move around.  It kind of forces the issue. 

But even if you’re a go-getter, high-energy, moving-type personality (me!), I still think it would be so helpful to have basic needs taken care of.  To know dinner wasn’t a problem, or maybe even that basic housework was done.  Then, if all the babes were having a good day, and you wanted to, you could tackle some extras, or a meal for the freezer.  Or you could use the energy to do fun stuff with your kiddos.  And if you were having a bad day?  If baby was up all night, having a fussy day, and mama was exhausted?  Well, then, no worries and no stress!  You can relax, take care of your family, and know that no one’s going to starve.

The transition into having a new baby around is hard.  And unless you’re super woman, I don’t think there’s any way around having stress involved if you’re expected to do everything for yourself from the get-go.  There’s just a learning curve to throwing another little person into the family-mix.  Not to mention, I think we forget how many hours are spent breastfeeding, changing diapers, and changing outfits in the early weeks.  (Does anyone else remember having to do a complete outfit change for you and the baby at least once in the night due to leaky boobs?!  I sure do, with both….because no matter how hard I tried, at some point I would fall asleep while nursing and hence not “close up shop”, complete with 3 nursing pads, which meant an uncontrolled letdown.)  Even if you’re doing great….it can feel overwhelming and you can wonder how you’re ever going to get anything done, besides going back and forth between changing the toddler and baby. 

But around 6-8 weeks, usually, a light switch-moment happens.  Suddenly everything gets so much easier (for most women).  Your baby might be nursing a little faster and leaking diapers a little less often.  You’re heading back to feeling pretty normalish (although full recovery from all the nutritional stores pregnancy/birth took out of you can take months more).  Baby’s gone through the 2 (typically) most difficult growth-spurts, and with 6 weeks under your belt, you’re starting to feel like you rock and can actually do this thing.  (You do rock, by the way.  Every mother does.)  Your other kiddos are adjusting well, especially if you’ve invested a lot of time in them and made the transition as smooth as possible (if not….you might still be facing a lot of issues).  Your hormones are starting to balance out again, which really makes everyone happy!  You are generally ready and capable to take back over the management of your home.  Relying on others for several weeks will in no way handicap you.  Those first several weeks have a lot to take in for you, your husband, your baby and your children.

Entry into the world would be so much more peaceful and loving for everyone involved if the postpartum season was a season of rest….figuratively (in a peaceful sense, where there aren’t any worries and are few have-to’s on the list) or literally (for those who can or have to sit still).  It would be better for everyone.  Babies would have a calmer pathway to learning the ropes of the world….dads wouldn’t feel so left out in the cold (or burdened by trying to do everything for their wife- I think we often forget about the transitions they go through, too!)….other children wouldn’t feel left out, either, as mama would have lots of time to shower snuggles on them….and mamas would be happier, more fulfilled people.  

And you know what?  It’s not even all about others stepping in and helping out, even though that’s a very huge and necessary part.  Another large portion is relaxing – or changing altogether – our expectations of new moms.  New moms need to feel like they’re doing an awesome job for burrowing themselves in their family for the first several weeks and nothing else.  Mamas need to know and understand that it’s not normal to be managing the house and getting everything done 1 week postpartum.  Women need to be educated about the damage that does for them and their little ones….and encouraged that investing in their baby’s lifelong emotional well-being is totally productive.  Women need to come to see it as okay to have a friend stop over and do their laundry or clean the toilets.

I have several friends that have recently stepped into the journey of motherhood.  And it’s hit them hard.  I can’t help but wonder why...or feel that our culture has a lot to do with it.  I would dare say in most cases it’s a mix of too many expectations on mama/not enough help and too many expectations on babies. 

That’s cause for a whole other article, but in a nutshell, we as a culture expect WAY too much out of babies.  We assume they’ll just fit into our old lifestyle and our plans.  We assume they’ll start sleeping through the night quickly, and that they can be thrown here and there and just be picked up to get fed and changed occasionally- sadly, a first-time mom once bluntly vented the latter expectations in not knowing why her (sick, feverish) baby was crying, seeing as how everything was taken care of.  That is so wrong in so many ways!  I have way too much to say to fit it all in here, so I’ll just say that babies are humans and yes, they do change your life.  If you don’t want your life interrupted, don’t have kids….it’s a pretty simple alternative with all the contraceptives out there.  But please don’t assume you can treat your baby like a piece of furniture and be doing everyone good.  Our culture has become so desensitized and I can only hope that as more research continues to show its face, we’ll start to see the damage we’ve done and are doing.  Babies need to be held and held and held.  They need to be loved, snuggled, soothed and walked.  They need to know you’re there- don’t forget that you aren’t the only one going through a major change!  Your baby was literally attached to you for 9 months, in a dark, warm place, right by your heart.  Being little doesn’t mean lack of awareness.

Okay, back on topic.  Regardless of cause (and sometimes, families get blessed with a really high-needs baby), it just seems to me, in looking around, that postpartum and adjustments to a little one are way harder than they should be.  Which is where I think it would be so awesome if more people would catch my vision and we could all work together to make a difference.  Although postpartum depression (PPD) is hormone triggered, I also believe we’d see huge drops in rates.  Though hormone triggered, PPD occurs most often in situations with no support and a lot of expectations.  Mamas need emotional encouragement and physical help.  And Daddies….lets not forget them.  I truly believe that supporting and mothering mothers more would have a huge (and positive!) impact on dads.  It would free them up in so many ways, and make the adjustments easier on them, too.

I hold a pretty passionate belief in preparing yourself for the postpartum season.  (I'm sure some of it's my personality which can't help but agree with Napoleon when he says (paraphrased) "If you want something done well, do it yourself.")  I’ve written fairly elaborately about what I like to do to prep the house and freezer.  And that helps hugely in achieving the postpartum season I want, without relying on others.  I still think it’s important, because obviously, our culture has many years, perhaps decades, before they’ll be ready to make a 180* and start mothering mothers to the fullest extent that they need.  In the meanwhile…joining forces between doing our own prep/encouraging others to do so and offering/receiving help afterwards (and, of course, continuing to spread the vision!) can help make strides.

And maybe someday….we’ll see change in a major way.  For today, I’m looking for ways to implement what I believe on the small scale one person can….and to share my vision, so others can catch it.  

Would you like to see changes in the postpartum world?  What are you doing to make it happen?

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