How many new mothers have heard this? Holding your new baby, unsure, emotionally drained, sleep deprived, half-scared, days or hours after you have delivered. A friend or colleague is visiting and you look at her with a million questions in your eyes and she looks back at you with a condescending, all knowing smile, and says "you'll figure it out". What? You're not going to tell me how to do this? You're just going to leave me to FIGURE IT OUT? ALL ON MY OWN? That's just mean.
This is the equivalent of starting a brand new job and your new boss plops you down in front of new equipment and new software and doesn't tell you any of the rules and while you start to panic she bubbly says, "You'll figure it out"! Just mean.
What if we can't figure it out? And why should we have to? Because somewhere within the last 50-60 years everyone decided that moms didn't need the help anymore. Today we have short hospitals stays, our moms live far away, our husbands go back to work within days of coming home. Women are left alone and told to handle it. Granted, if we are left alone long enough to struggle and weed our way through all the mistakes and mishaps, we will make it. But that is really so unfair. And how much better could we come out on the other side if we were taken care of and escorted down this journey of early motherhood. We don't start any other job without training or guidance, so why, when we are faced with raising a new generation of humans are we supposed to start out with no guidance? I have actually heard a nurse casually make this statement to a new mother and I've heard people whisper behind their hands "Boy, has SHE got a lot to learn!" How about somebody give these moms a hand?! These offhanded statements are some of the biggest reasons I became a doula. We have to take care of our new mothers.
New mothers struggle to learn how to do this incredibly stressful and demanding job and when they can't figure it all out, they become, anxious, confused, nervous, angry, and depressed. Being left alone and having no support in early motherhood is one of the top contributors to postpartum depression.
It is a common philosophy in American culture that women are built naturally to be mothers, therefore we should naturally know HOW to take care of our babies. Not true. Motherhood is a big, full-time job and like any other job, we should have training and learn the skills needed to perform this job to the best of our abilities. We need to watch other moms in action and should be able to ask questions and get helpful answers. Telling women to wing it will not yield the best results in our healing and adjustment and certainly is not the best scenario for our babies.
When I tell women what I do as a doula, the most common response I hear is "Where were you when I had my baby?". After we, as mothers, have gone through the world-tilting experience of early motherhood, we realize how much this type of support and education could have helped us. But the mom's-to-be have heard "you'll be fine" and "it'll come to you" so much that they think they shouldn't need help. But we deserve guidance, support, and an education in motherhood. We not only deserve it, we should demand it.
And I believe that women are so strong and courageous. If we weren't, we couldn't tackle motherhood at all. And needing help doesn't make us any less strong or courageous. Sometimes we just don't know. Sometimes we need somebody to show us. We need guidance. And a little reassurance really does go a long way.
Your baby cries and you just don't know why. She seems hungry but you just finished feeding her 30 minutes ago. Last week, she slept all day but now she cries unless you hold her and you can't get anything else done. What do you do?
In almost every culture, besides America, new mothers are given support, training, and education from their own mothers, grandmothers, older sisters, aunts, and other knowledgeable women of their community after their babies are born. These mothers are cared for, have meals prepared for them, allowed to rest and bond with their babies. They are taught by the older and experienced mothers how to care for, feed, and soothe their babies. Many new mothers in America today haven't had any experience caring for babies and families are commonly living farther apart from each other so the generational support isn't available.
I have learned from experience that motherhood can be an absolute joy and is a God-given gift. But it took me a little while to get there - especially after bringing my first child home. Your whole life dynamic suddenly changes by bringing this little person into your life and your home and you have to take some time to find your balance again. And typically, when you are going through a life altering experience, you have someone to help you along that journey. Why is early motherhood treated so differently?
So how do you find this support that is so desperately needed while you heal from delivery and learn to care for your baby?
Ask your own mom to spend some time with you and her new grandbaby. It's wonderful if you have your own mother close by to help in the first days and weeks. She can be a comfort to you and help you get settled at home while you watch her work her magic as Grandma. I say this with the disclaimer that it is wonderful if you have a good relationship with your mother. There really isn't anything worse than having a demanding, opinionated, know-it-all telling you what to do or what you are doing wrong during this rocky transition. That isn't the help you need right now by any means. But having a helpful, generous, and experienced hand around can help you get through those foggy days a lot easier.
Other moms with baby experience are great resources. If you have a trusted women in your life who has experience with babies, see if she can help out. Ask her to stay with you for a few days so you can ask questions and practice caring for your baby with knowledgeable support close by. Ask her to stay with the baby for a few hours so you can catch up on some much needed rest. Ask friends to coordinate some meals for you or have dinner delivered.
Hire a postpartum doula. If you don't have those trusted women in your life that you can ask to support and educate you or you feel uncomfortable asking them for the help, hiring a postpartum doula is an excellent resource for you. A postpartum doula is an experienced, non-medical, non-judgmental support that can gently guide you through your adjustment into motherhood. She can educate, support, and care for you so you can rest and heal. Feeling more confident and relaxed allows you to more calmly care for your baby. You can check out my website for more information on the work of a postpartum doula. www.resiliencepostpartum.com Or email me anytime if you have questions or just want to talk!
If you are a new mom and someone offers to help you, don't be proud. Be brave. Say Yes, Please! Be open to letting them wash your dishes and bottles for you. Maybe they can throw in that pile of laundry that has been lying on the floor since you came home with your baby.
And if you aren't the woman struggling with this life adjustment but you know someone who is, offer her real help. Not the "let me know if you need anything" kind of help. Mean it. Go over to her house. Tell her you have come to help not just visit. Tell her you will hold the baby while she gets a bath. Let her talk. Sometimes just getting to share your true emotions and fears can be very freeing.
We need to be a sisterhood. We need to be united, helping to get each other through this strange and, lets face it, life altering stage. We don't have to believe the myth any longer that we have to or should do this alone. The next time you see a new mother who is obviously struggling, don't be flippant. Instead of "You'll figure it out", offer her "you know what helped me when I was struggling with this?" or "Would you like me to come over and show you some tricks that really helped me when my baby was new?"
Let's give new motherhood the respect and dignity it deserves. Let's embrace each other. Be kind. Be helpful. Be a sister.
"She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teachings of kindness is on her tongue." Proverbs 31:26