By Katie Wise, Childbirth Educator, Doula, and Prenatal Yoga Instructor at Yo Mama Yoga Studio in Boulder, CO
If you’ve followed this three-part series, you now know how to receive help, you have your village gathered, including friends, family, co-workers and a professional postpartum doula, and you’ve figured out what you'll likely need want to thrive. Now comes the most important step: making the requests and setting expectations. It’s important that your village knows exactly what you need. Without proper training, they will ALL show up on day three with lasagna. So you’ll have 25 lasagnas, visit for 14 hours straight with no naps, and then pass out in a gluten and dairy fog only to wake up wondering how you'll make it through the next six weeks with no further support.
One of the simplest ways to organize postpartum support is through the use of an online organizer like Care Calendar (there are a handful of others, too). Your "Care Calendar coordinator" (see previous post for details) will set it up for you, but she/he will need some guidance in terms of what you want and how often. TRY (I dare you) to get too much support. Ask for the moon to try and get what you really need. The following are my suggestions for specific needs of each time period and who might fulfill those needs.
Weeks 1-3 -- "The Trenches"
FROM THE VILLAGE: 3 meals a week, an errand every 4 days, housework 2x a week (same days as meals, so folks could sign up for those together). Sibling care (substitute dog-walking or whatever special need you might have) 2x a week.
FROM THE DOULAS: 3 visits a week of about five hours each (which includes meals, cleaning, and massage, along with so much love, support, and guidance, if requested)
During "The Trenches," I suggest you choose only your closest friends and family members, and postpartum doulas. In other words, people who wouldn’t be shocked to see your naked breasts, and people that won’t be alarmed if you cry randomly or for the entire visit. During this particularly raw first couple of weeks, you want only the most nurturing people. Others -- even those most important to you and the baby -- can wait till you’re a little stronger.
Weeks 4-6 -- "Fussier baby, Happier Mama"
FROM THE VILLAGE: 3 meals a week, errands 1x a week, housework 2x a week, and childcare 2x a week.
FROM THE DOULAS: 2 visits a week
Weeks 4-6 can be both beauty-filled and challenging, depending on how fussy your baby is, how tired you are, and how breastfeeding and sleeping are going. It’s still a pretty tender time, but you’re likely to have clothes on, so less-than-best friends and family can come at this point.
Weeks 7-10 -- "The Weaning Off Period"
FROM THE VILLAGE: 1 meal a week
FROM THE DOULAS: 1 visit a week
In weeks 7-10, you are generally (usually) getting the hang of it. For the most part, anyone can come and visit, but do take care not to overdo it -- you are still in a tender phase of life with a newborn.
What’s especially great about using a service like Care Calendar is that people can sign up for what they want. The cooks will bring food, the clean freaks will scrub down your bathroom and take out your garbage, and the kid-lovers will take your firstborn to the zoo (or Fido to the dog park). And those that don’t know what to do will sign up for an errand. It's easy to swing by the store on their way home from work or while they're running their own errands.
And you — the queen of your domain -- will blissfully breastfeed, love on your baby, heal your body, and get ready to be a mama practices self-care before letting everyone else suck you dry.
It's also important to set appropriate expectations for your village. For example, be careful in telling anyone (yes, even your mother) that they can "definitely be at your birth." Because what if, at the last moment, you change your mind? You have the right to choose who will be with you as you give birth. Let a family member or friend know that you "might" want support during birth and you will let them know. Similarly, for after your birth while you're at home, let family, friends, and co-workers know that if they bring a meal, it's likely that the visit will be short. This information can be included directly in your care calendar. A note, similar to the one below, can be tailored to fit your needs:
“The postpartum period is a very special and challenging time. It is up to friends and family to nurture the new mother, baby and family during this time. Many times, nourishment and rest are the most important things, so if you come to visit, please expect to stay no more than 20 minutes, and if it’s not a good day for a visit, please be prepared to leave your meal in the cooler on the porch. There will be plenty of time for baby-holding and bonding after this initial time is over. Please also refrain from visiting if you or anyone near you has been exposed to illness, or is actively ill, and we ask that all children under 10 wait to visit until the little baby has a chance to build up some immunity (usually after 6 weeks). Mama is avoiding/allergic to gluten, dairy, cruciferous vegetables, garlic and tomatoes. If you need cooking suggestions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Share with your village the things you’ve learned about postpartum period. Encourage them to read this blog post! Or, suggest some books you're reading and have some close friends or family attend an appointment with you. Anything you can do to encourage learning and excitement about supporting you postpartum will be helpful!
And if your partner is worried that there won't be anything left to do, rest assured there will be plenty! Even if you magically get everyone else to cover all of your needs after baby arrives (I dare ya!), there are all the fun new things like diaper changes, sitz baths, herbal tea preparation, bringing you supplements, washing new baby laundry, heating up the amazing food that everyone else is bringing, and of course, telling you how beautiful you are and what a great mom you are.
Congratulations, again, on expecting this little miracle, and congratulations for shifting your view of being supported and learning to make requests for what you need. Welcome to a whole new way of receiving, mothering, and being part of a village. It is SO worth it. Years from now, you’ll pay it forward when you see a friend with a beautiful baby bump and ask "How can I help?"