By Katie Wise, Childbirth Educator, Doula, and Prenatal Yoga Instructor at Yo Mama Yoga Studio in Boulder, CO
Picture this: Your milk came in two days ago, but it came in with a gusto that could likely feed two sets of twins. The milk is so abundant that it’s leaking all over your belly and sometimes down your legs. The incessant sucking on your nipples has gotten them so red and raw that you no longer can stand clothing on your breasts. Your postpartum bleeding (lochia) is going strong, but because of the stitches in your perineum (sorry about that one), you’ve decided that adult diapers are way more comfy than a maxi pad moving around (they really are!). So you’re rockin your double Ds, wearing a robe that’s completely open in the front, and sporting a pink flowery Depends diaper as underwear. Your angel baby is asleep on your chest, and you think you might actually explode into a thousand pieces with so much love, so you just start weeping uncontrollably. Then, the doorbell rings. Now think: who might this be and what might you want?
If you read the first installment in this series, you'll know that you're planning for postpartum. You’re now ready to receive help, you know you’re not a burden, and you’re pretty sure this village is happy to show up for you. Now it’s time for part two: "Gathering the Troops." Who should you ask to help you, and what do you ask for?
Let’s start with the "who."
Who is your village? My first response to that question is "anyone who is willing to be!” When a random grandmother who lives down your street (whose actual grandkids live in Phoenix) reaches out to you and says, “you just let me know if you need anything at all” -- take down her phone number on the spot. When "just-out-of-college dude" who works at your company says, "so if there’s anything you guys need I’m so totally there,” write down his email. And then of course you have your super-close friends and family members, hopefully at least a few love near by. When coming up with your troops, list all the people you can think of and task a good friend or family member with being your "care calendar" coordinator to tie it all together and invite your troops to help with different items.
A note about family: family members can be amazingly supportive. When you’re on your way to urgent care at 7pm on a Friday night, they will bring you comfort food and a warm hug. When you’re crying for no reason at the beauty of your baby’s smile, they will cry right along with you. They are excellent at holding baby, bonding with baby, and providing love to you and baby. But there are times when family visits are not great. Sometimes, family visits can overstay their welcome, begin to feel intrusive, and create tension and anxiety during a time when your sensitivity is likely heightened. It's important to know your limits, set your boundaries, and protect the space for you and your baby.
This brings me to a brief talk about the "pros." A good postpartum doula can be amazing. They come into your house and their entire focus is on your needs, not theirs. They will grocery shopp, cook meals, and are easy-going, but over-the-top helpful. A postpartum doula might rub you down with warm sesame oil while your baby snoozes nearby. She can make you feel nourished in a way that no one ever has in your entire life. When she leaves, your house is cleaner, and you are left glowing with the inner warmth of feeling totally taken care of.
In short, if you want someone to hold the baby while you take a shower -- family and friends rock. But if you want to feel deeply nourished on multiple levels, hire a postpartum doula.
Let's talk now about what to ask of your village. You could go willy-nilly on this one, but I suggest getting strategic. Think about everything you normally do around the house (meal prep, laundry, dog-walking, Swiffer-ing the dog hair off the floor, changing the toilet paper roll, etc.). Think about the things your partner normally does, and how often he/she will be around after baby is born. Now, try to delegate ALL of that. Yes, all of it. Well, you could probably still Swiffer. It’s just a baby -- they sleep all the time, right? NO. They actually never sleep. Just kidding! They do sleep… when they’re four. Years old. Ok, all joking aside, the reality is that yes, most babies do sleep a lot. But, you'll be surprised at how much extra attention and work is involved when you add a mostly-sleeping baby to your day-to-day mix.
In addition to household tasks, think about what you need as an individual. Sleep is crucial to your mental health and overall health. While you can "sleep while the baby sleeps," having another person around to keep watch over the baby while you nap can make a huge difference, and could buy you an extra 15-45 minutes sleep, without worrying about the baby.
Other things to consider include your pet. For example, if you have a high needs dog, Fido may benefit from a little "vacation" with a loving family member or doggy daycare who can give them the attention needed. If you are taking a break from a career that feels hard to disengage from, even while on maternity leave, figure out well in advance who you will delegate responsibilities to so you can remain hands off without much worry.
Here are a common ways your village can help:
- Errand running
- Housework -- No, you are not allowed to Swiffer! This is time you will never get back with your baby. Either delegate the housework, or let go of the things that can be put off (and lots of it can). Helpers can help with simple stuff like taking out the trash, emptying the dishwasher, folding and putting away laundry (man is there a lot of laundry).
- Sibling childcare. If this isn’t your first, the simple act of taking big brother to the park can rock your world.
- Dog walking and cat care
Now you know the members of your village and helpful things they can do. There’s one last step: actually asking them to do it. Stay tuned for the next installment of Train Your Village!
Katie Wise believes that women's bodies have the wisdom to give birth, and her role as a doula is to help uncover and foster that instinct and faith. She currently serves families in the Boulder area through her doula practice, The Boulder Doula Circle, and mentors and trains new doulas. Katie also is the owner of Yo mama Yoga Studio, and loves creating communities for women in the childbearing years. She believes that birth itself is a divine teacher, showing women their strength, and the beauty of surrender. Katie has served at over 200 births, and her doula work was featured on NPR. She is also the creator of Yo Mama's Signature Birth Class, Inspired Birth, and her very own Hypnosis program for labor and birth, Hypnomama. Katie is a Boulder native and is thrilled to bring her work back to her home town. She and her husband enjoy their family of four in Lafayette, CO. For more on Katie's story and thoughts on motherhood, you can view Katie's personal blog here.