The days and weeks following birth are an intense time of transition, learning, rest and recovery. The modern mother is often not able to take the time to focus on this important job of resting and recuperating in the way her body truly needs, nor does she have the support available. I believe women need to feel empowered to ask for this care and nurturing. Allowing yourself to be supported by family, friends and others in your postpartum gives you time to bond with your baby, learn to breastfeed, get much needed rest so you can cope with your baby’s intense night-time needs and recover after birth. So why don’t we prioritise getting ourselves looked after, so we can then care for our babies as well as possible?
In our Western culture, independence is highly valued. As new mothers we can look around and assume that everyone else is coping well with their new baby, so we think that we need to be doing it all alone too. Asking for help tends to be seen as “weak”, and that you’re not coping. What we often don’t take into consideration is that every baby is different, and every mother will have a different support structure in place.
I remember after my second child was born I was talking to a friend (who had also recently had her second) about how difficult the ‘one to two kids transition’ had been. She didn’t seem to be agreeing with me, which made me feel rather inadequate! But then later in the conversation she mentioned that she’d only had her two kids by herself for two days in the five months since her second was born due to the multiple layers of support she had in place. I then went from feeling inadequate to incredibly jealous! How different that incredibly hard first year with two kids would have been had I also had this level of support!
The thing is, I could been more supported had I been more mindful during pregnancy of my need to prepare for my postpartum (including being ok with asking for help) and proactive in making it happen. In the absence of a mother or mother-in-law and with the majority of my family interstate or overseas, I could have been more creative about what this support was going to look like. But unfortunately I didn’t learn from my past mistakes, and just as I was clueless during my first pregnancy about how my life was going to change with a newborn, I seemed to be equally clueless during my second pregnancy about how hard bringing a sibling into my 23 month old’s world would be! (Or I was probably just too busy working too much, moving house, breaking my foot and dealing with my son’s newfound love of late night partying, that I didn’t have the energy to even think about it). I was utterly exhausted already and the baby hadn’t even arrived – putting a plan in place for my postpartum was not something that even made it onto my ‘to do’ list!
Over time I have become better at asking for help, but it still feels awkward, uncomfortable and incredibly vulnerable. But what I’ve since discovered, is this can be a good thing, as vulnerability leads to connection. First hearing this concept from Brene Brown was such an ‘aha’ moment. Yes, it can feel hard, but when you open up to someone about the fact that you’re struggling, it can often lead to a deeper connection with that person who then feels safe to open up to you too. This can also lead to deeper compassion, listening and understanding shown to you. And when you feel heard and understood, it can make it easier to reach out for help.
Getting comfortable with asking for help can have a really profound impact on your postpartum experience. Being vulnerable in this way can also lead to deeper connections and a stronger sense of community, so what have you got to lose?! See my next blog on Asking for help for some practical tips on how to go about this.