By Carolyn Hecken
Greetings from the nebulous midst of postpartum motherhood. We’re now in five weeks deep with our dearly loved little rainbow baby, Mæja.
Miraculously, we have succeeded in blindly muddling our way through each day. Our busy mornings blur into active afternoons which inevitably, and most reliably, end in overwhelming evenings – evenings full of utter chaos sprinkled with bouts of boisterous laughter and even a few brief moments of tranquility here and there.
This time I’m sharing my perspective, not as a doula, but as a mother of four in the here and now of the total emotional upheaval that arises with the birth of a new baby.
Before I begin, I feel compelled to share one most obvious pearl of wisdom that has become especially pertinent this time around: just as every pregnancy is different, every baby and every postpartum experience is different.
If I could go back in time, here are a few reminders I would have given myself:
- Don’t spend even a second worrying about inconveniencing anyone. This rings true not only for pregnancy and birth, but for life after the birth of a baby as well. It’s no time to be overly concerned with the feelings and needs of colleagues, extended family, friends or acquaintances. Allow your partner or another family member to muster up the finesse necessary to negotiate any potentially tricky situations.
- Ask for and accept help. I reckon this is perhaps one of the most challenging tips to follow through on. For us, the more kids we’ve had, the easier it has become to fully embrace any help in any capacity. Even the simplest of tasks can become nearly impossible to complete. To make your postpartum run more smoothly, don’t hesitate to ask a friend to organize a meal train, a neighbor to pick up some groceries, a family member to play with an older sibling or fold your laundry (and there will be a lot of it!).
- Allow life to surprise you. Free yourself of expectations of any kind. You may have some vague idea of what life with a newborn may entail, but you won’t truly fathom and appreciate the full extent of it until it is already upon you. And, believe me, it matters not how many children you have.
Surprise is a wonderful thing. Approach each day wondering what it may hold for you. Expectations, especially in the early days, can lead to increased stress, frustration and disappointment. These few precious moments with a newborn are all too fleeting to spend time worrying about dishes, tidiness and whatever else society thinks you and your baby should be doing.
- Keep your calendar clear. Be careful about making too many plans or commitments in the first couple of weeks. What used to take a few minutes will most likely take significantly longer. Consider dividing your day into mornings and afternoons, planning no more than one outing, chore or appointment per half of the day. This will ensure you have time to recuperate should your commitment take an unexpected turn or be downright emotionally or physically taxing.
- Forgive yourself frequently. Be patient with yourself. You are constantly learning about your newborn and your new role as a mother to this child. It will take time before you can successfully juggle the responsibilities you once tackled single-handedly. Welcome the plenty of mistakes you’ll make as it is these mistakes that will help you to determine your priorities and set new, healthy limits.
- Let intuition be your guide. There is no one way to parent. When it comes to your body, your baby and your family, you are the expert. You’ll find that a fair number of family, friends and, yes, even the Oma-Polizei have an ear load of advice for you. Choose what works for you and leave the rest. Listen to your baby. Together, you’ll figure out what is right for you – after all, it is not possible to spoil a baby in the first 12 months of life. Likewise, listen to your body. If you are taking on too much, trust your body to let you know.
- Fill your cup up. While moments of peace and quiet may be few and far between, use these opportunities to take care of yourself. Your ability to take of your baby and family hinges on your ability to make sure your physical and emotional cups are regularly replenished. Consciously dedicate 20 minutes each day to you and your health.
Carolyn Hecken is a mother to four energetic, inquisitive children. She holds a BA in Linguistics (University of Washington) and a MA in European Linguistics (University of Freiburg). Since June 2013 she has been supporting mothers and their families as a certified D.A.M.E. Doula and, more recently, as an AFS peer-to-peer volunteer breastfeeding counsellor (January 2016) and HypnoBirthing Childbirth Educator (June 2016). Click here to get to her website.