By Molly Remer, MSW, CCE
**Originally published in the Spring 2008 New Baby issue of The Journal of API
When my first baby was born in 2003, I made a classic new mother error – I spent a lot of time preparing for the birth, but not much time truly preparing for life with a new baby.
I had regularly attended La Leche League meetings since halfway through my pregnancy and thought I was prepared for “nursing all the time” and having my life focus around my baby’s needs. However, the actual experience of postpartum slapped me in the face and brought me to my knees.
Hurrying to Rejoin the World
My son’s birth was a joyous, empowering, triumphant experience, but postpartum was one of the most challenging and painful times in my life. I had not given myself permission to rest, heal, and discover. Instead, I felt intense internal pressure to “perform.” I wondered where my old life had gone, and I no longer felt like a “real person.” A painful postpartum infection and a difficult healing process, with a tear in an unusual location, left me feeling like an invalid. I had imagined caring for my new baby with my normally high energy level, not feeling wounded, weak, and depleted.
And yet, at five days postpartum, I was at the grocery store, at seven days at the post office resuming shipments for my small online business…at two weeks attending meetings and fulfilling responsibilities with an organization (though I still had difficulty walking normally due to pain)…at six weeks hostessing at a fundraising ball…at eight weeks teaching a volunteer training workshop.
In retrospect, I have no regrets about how I cared for my baby. He was always with me, and I was sensitive to and responsive to his needs. What I regret is how I cared for myself, what I expected from myself, the demands I placed upon myself, and how I treated myself.
The Importance of a Babymoon
I actually slightly delayed having a second child, not for fear of mothering two, but for fear of experiencing the overwhelm of postpartum again.
In 2006, I gave birth to my second son at home. This time, I had planned realistically and specifically for a “babymoon.” My husband took four weeks off of work, and I stayed at home for the majority of the first month of life with my new baby.
Though I again experienced an unfortunate tear and a painful recovery from it (which was still much quicker and less traumatic than the first time) and also some rapidly shifting mood changes along with some tears and anxiety, I look back on this time with my second son with fondness instead of regret. Instead of rushing to rejoin the world, I allowed myself the time, space, and permission to rest and cocoon, knowing that I would be “real” again soon enough.
Planning for a restful, nurturing “time out” with your new baby is a way to honor this new stage in your family’s life cycle and a way to honor yourself as a woman and mother. I hope you will create space in your life for a time in which vulnerability is accepted. Postpartum is a time of openness—heart, body, and mind. I hope your experience is one of tenderness and joy.
Tips to Planning Your Babymoon
Reflecting on my two postpartum experiences leads me to offer
the following suggestions for postpartum planning:
- Try to minimize your out-of-home commitments in advance. Put a hold on projects and “retire” from committees and responsibilities. I joke that with my first baby, I thought I needed to get my responsibilities squared away for six weeks and, with my second, I realized I needed to try to get them squared away for two years.
- Have a good book on hand about postpartum. When my first baby was born, I was well stocked with baby care and breastfeeding books, but none about the transition into motherhood. My favorite postpartum book is After the Baby’s Birth by Robin Lim. It offers such gems as, “you’re postpartum for the rest of your life” and “when the tears flow, the milk will flow” (with regard to the third day postpartum). Other good postpartum readings are The Post Pregnancy Handbook by Sylvia Brown and The Year After Childbirth by Sheila Kitzinger. A classic for support people is Mothering the New Mother by Sally Placksin.
- Prepare and freeze a lot of food in advance. Batches of nutritious muffins are a favorite of mine – freeze them and then reheat one, as needed, for a quick breakfast or snack. These are great for nursing mothers!
- Plan to spend three to seven days just in bed with your baby. Skin-to-skin is even better.
- Everyone is familiar with the “sleep when the baby sleeps” advice, but even if you don’t feel the need to sleep, stay in bed and use the quiet time for reflection or to read or write in your journal. Rest is definitely essential every day, but it doesn’t have to be actual sleep to be restorative.
- If you have other children, arrange for plenty of help caring for them. Do not feel like you “should” be able to handle them all right away. Of course, you could do it if you had to, but you and your new baby will benefit from an extended period of cocooning together. Plan quiet projects that you can do in bed with your older child while the new baby sleeps. (A favorite with my older son was making puppets and masks out of felt. I cut them out while still lying down. He actually started calling our bed the “party deck” because we did lots of fun projects there while I was resting with the new baby. I have no idea where he got the phrase!)
- Give yourself permission to rest and be off duty.
- When people ask what they can do to help, give them a specific task (go grocery shopping, pick up pictures, bring me dinner, etc.).
- Ease back into “real life.” Resist the temptation to catch up with e-mail and so forth. Respond to e-mail or phone requests for time or help with a firm, “I just had a baby, and I’m not available right now.”
- Become comfortable asking for help. (I very much prefer being the helper to being the helped, and this is particularly hard for me.)
- Similar to a birth plan, make a written postpartum plan that includes a list of the people in your support network, arrangements for help with household duties (or a plan for what can be left undone), people to call for meals, and so forth. List what each person is willing to do—laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning, child care, meal preparation. (Notice that “holding the baby so you can work” isn’t on the list!) An example postpartum plan is available on the DONA International’s website at www.dona.org/resources/doula_practice_postpartum.php.
- If you have relatives coming to help after the baby is born, make sure they know that their job is to take care of you and the house, while you take care of the baby. It is not acceptable for you to be fixing meals and sweeping floors while Grandma “helpfully” rocks the baby – it needs to be vice versa!
- Prepare your partner and anyone else in your support network that you will be Queen for a Month, and let them know what you will need from them. (Also, get it fixed in your mind that being Queen is OK!)
- Expect to be “nursing all day long.” It is OK and good for you both. (Ten to 14 nursings in 24 hours is perfectly normal and acceptable!)
- Encourage your partner to take as much time off as possible – either saved-up vacation time or unpaid family-leave time. He can benefit from an extended period of cocooning with his newborn, too!
- Explore the idea that postpartum can be a time of postpartum expression, rather than postpartum depression – letting all of your emotions flow, expressing your needs clearly and assertively, and being aware of and accepting of your continuum of feelings are ways to be expressive. (This concept comes from the excellent, but little known, book Transformation Through Birth by Claudia Panuthos.)
- Plan a few special things for yourself – a little present for yourself to enjoy during postpartum (a new book, good magazine, postnatal massage, whatever is self-nurturing and brings you pleasure). Personally, I do not encourage TV or movie-watching, because it can become a passive time-filler that distracts you from enjoying your babymoon. Some people may include favorite films as their enjoyable postpartum activities, though.
- As postpartum stretches on, if you experience decreased libido, it is OK to honor and accept that.