There are many kinds of birth labor. Whether your baby arrives from your own body or by other means, the longest labor you will endure is the process of becoming a mother or parent. It's a major shift in your identity--who you know yourself to be. It can be rattling, disorienting, and exhilarating. So here are four things to expect the first year after you have a baby:
1. You will discover new things about yourself. Becoming a parent will stretch you beyond your known borders, and you will become more than you were before you had a baby. Your baby will grow at an astonishing rate in its first year of life, and so will your heart.
2. It will suck sometimes. There will be moments when you will want to quit. This is normal, and it is healthy to admit how much of a drag it can sometimes be to take care of a small human being. You'll hear people say, "being a mother/parent is the hardest job in the world." But this isn't a "job." You cannot quit, and you will always be your baby's parent, every hour of every day, for the rest of their life, and there really aren't any vacations. Expect that there will be moments when you will feel totally overwhelmed. In those moments of sleep deprivation, frustration, or anxiety, what will you do? That's the question, and that's where you will discover your edge--where you will begin to grow as a parent. In our culture we so often think we have to or should be able to do everything on our own, and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. We may even tell ourselves we don't deserve help and support. If that's a common theme in your life, you'll come up against that internal script over and over again during your baby's first year. Your baby relies on you entirely. We like to think we have an endless supply of energy and love, but we don't. We need other people. In your baby's first year, you will probably need to rely on other people more than you ever imagined. It's not weakness, it's biology.
3. You will need to lower your expectations. Preparing for a baby involves a lot of dreaming about what you want most for your child. Of course you want the best for him. Of course you want to give him everything, and BE everything he needs. And of course you want to keep doing the things you love, too. Before baby comes, it's hard to imagine exactly how much your life will change, but it will. And if you can allow some flexibility with your expectations going into it, you'll have a much easier time adjusting to the way things really are. Whether it's the way your house looks, the amount of time you'll have to spend doing the things you enjoy, or simply taking care of your body and eating well, things will change with the baby's arrival. Again, people say, "being a mom/parent is a full-time job," and in reality, it requires much more of you than a 40-hour-per-week job does.
4. You will parent your own way. You'll probably read some parenting books. You will find the "experts" that you are drawn to, and you will agree with a lot of what they have to say. You will reflect on how you were raised and decide how you want to do things differently with your child. You will notice other parents whom you admire, and you will notice parents doing things you know you don't want to do with your own child. Your parenting will not look like anyone else's, even if you are inspired to emulate someone else's parenting style. There is absolutely no "right way" to parent. Every family is unique, and you will find your own way. Trust yourself. You can do it!
Corvallis, Oregon has a great birth community. Oregon's laws support both home birth midwives and midwifery care in-hospital. The birth community state-wide is active, long-standing, and reaches across social and economic differences. We have a local doula network, a birth network, two birthing centers within an hour's drive, and another birthing center (hopefully) coming soon to Corvallis. "Who's your doula?" is a question pregnant women in this area are used to hearing. The full spectrum of childbirth education classes are accessible in town or just a short drive away. The hospital in Corvallis is used to women coming with a birth plan. There is a culture of support around pregnancy and birth.
After the baby is born, there are a ton of things to do with wee ones. We have mama-baby play groups almost every day of the week, and a plethora of possibilities for outdoor play with young babies and toddlers. You can even take your baby to an early childhood education class, starting from birth! There are so many things for babies in this town, I can't even come close to listing everything (but check this out).
So what's lacking in our birth community? Postpartum support for moms. Rachel Brinker has seen this gap for years, and in May she officially launched her business, Corvallis Proud Mama Support Services, to help address the need for in-home support for new moms and their families.
Unless she is under the care of a direct-entry midwife, a new mother typically won't see her healthcare provider for another six weeks after she leaves the hospital. She and her partner (if she has one) get the message that they are expected to handle life with a newborn on their own. If it gets to be too much, they might feel like it's because of a personal failing rather than a societal one. It's easy to see how these feelings of not being "good enough" or "strong enough" could set a new mom up for developing postpartum depression. But caring for a newborn baby as an isolated two- (or one-) parent unit is a relatively new idea, and one that does not best serve women, their partners, or their babies.
Breastfeeding support for struggling moms is available from lactation consultants and peer support groups like La Leche League, but that support is limited to online/phone communication or traveling to an office with a sore post-childbirth body and a newborn in tow. For some women, these hurdles are big enough that they decide to "make do" and not seek out help. Trying to "make do" without support for the breastfeeding mom and baby can increase a mom's stress and anxiety levels as she struggles to feed her baby, and can lead to a shorter duration of breastfeeding than she had originally hoped for.
Additionally, many women experience pelvic floor issues like incontinence and and abdominal weakness or instability after having a baby. These issues can easily be exacerbated by daily acts of mothering (lifting and carrying a baby around with less-than-ideal alignment, sitting a lot to feed and soothe a baby, babywearing, etc.) but they may not have been told by their providers how to protect their bodies and help it heal well from pregnancy and childbirth. Did you know that 53% of women have a diastasis recti immediately postpartum and 36% still have one at seven weeks postpartum? Do you know how to move safely and effectively if you do have a diastasis so that you don't make it worse?
And did you know that no, actually, you do not have to pee your pants every time you sneeze for the rest of your life? There are things you can do (Kegels are part of it, but not the whole answer). Many women retain the mindset from previous generations that incontinence is "just how it is after you've had a baby." Did you know there is just a thing as pelvic floor physical therapy and that in other developed countries, it's the standard of care that every woman leaves the hospital with a prescription for it?
Perhaps the biggest gap in our birth community is the fact that support groups for women who are experiencing postpartum depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, have been inactive in Corvallis for quite a number of years. Even the support group in Albany has recently been cancelled.
All of this points to the general lack of postpartum support in our culture at large, not just in Corvallis. Traditional cultures all around the world honor the postpartum period as a unique and temporary time that requires intensive rest, shelter from the outside world, relief from day-to-day responsibilities, and support-both practical and emotional-from others who are knowledgable and experienced in what to expect during this time, But in contemporary U.S. culture, it is rare that the parents of a new baby will have that kind of support in place. Rather, the typical postpartum scenario is that relatives come to visit from out of town for a few days after the baby is born (possibly making more work for the parents rather than less), and after that...well, there's not much. Of course friends can be a great support if they've read up on how to be helpful to parents with a new baby. But sometimes it doesn't work out that way.
Recent research supports what women already know; having practical and emotional support postpartum, receiving adequate childcare education, and making maternal sleep a priority helps prevent postpartum depression and anxiety. Studies also confirm that when mothers feel supported by their partners, it's one of the best predictors for successful breastfeeding. Guess which professionals provide all this kind of support--helping partners know how to support the breastfeeding mom and baby, assisting with practical support around the home, being available on-site to answer questions about newborn care, and helping parents get more sleep? Postpartum doulas. We are experts in what's "normal and typical" in the postpartum period, for babies, for breastfeeding, for moms, for partners. We support you through the transition to having a new baby. Having that professional presence can make all the difference.
We have a culture of talking to pregnant women about All The Plans: where they plan to birth, how they plan to birth, who will be in the room, whether they'll be revealing the gender of the baby before the birth, what color they are painting the baby's room, whether they'll be using cloth or disposable diapers, which prenatal yoga class they're going to, and on and on. If we care about the mental health and wellness of new mothers as much as we care about pregnant women and new babies, we need to add another topic to those conversations.
"Who's your postpartum doula?"
Proud Mama Support Services is the only doula service in the Mid-Willamette Valley that focuses exclusively on postpartum support. This means we are not on call as a birth doula or midwife for other client's births. This means more availability for postpartum support when you need it.
Exciting things are happening here at Corvallis Proud Mama Support Services. We are putting our mission into action. We are committed not only to support parents in those early days with in-home care, but also to addressing the lack of support for postpartum issues such as postpartum body recovery and postpartum mood disorders. We are very pleased to announce that a WellMama postpartum support group will soon be starting again in Corvallis, with Rachel of Proud Mama Support Services and some fabulous mental health professionals at the helm.
And as we've written about before, Rachel will begin teaching a mom + babe (pre-mobile babies only) mamalates core recovery class for moms and pre-mobile babies at Live Well Studio on Thursdays from 2:30-3:45, starting on September 24. Click here to learn more about group core recovery classes as well as private mamalates sessions.
So the next time your friend, acquaintance, or patient announces she's pregnant, don't forget to ask her, "Who's your postpartum doula?" New parents need support in their homes, and that's what we provide. We are proud to be extending our amazing culture of support around birth to the postpartum period and working to make our birth community the very best it can be!
Check out any pregnancy or parenting magazine and all you'll see are images of Pinterest-worthy homes with beautiful decor and perfectly organized baby clothes. They'll even be folded. The moms will be glowing, freshly bathed, and fit. There won't be any bodily fluids leaking out of them. Their boobs will be of a reasonable size--not completely engorged with milk; no blue veins, no stretch marks.
Does your life look like this? Mine doesn't either.
If you've just had a baby, no one should expect it to, especially you. You genuinely have more important things to do, like keeping a small human alive, and maybe finding a few minutes to take a nap.
Real life with a real baby does not look magazine perfect.
When I go to someone's house who's just had a baby, I do not expect it to be clean. I'll say that again. I do not expect it to be clean. I expect dirty dishes in the sink. I expect crumbs on the carpet. I expect water glasses everywhere. I expect piles of laundry all over the house. I expect things to be imperfect.
Because I've been there, and I realize now I was way too hard on myself. I was too concerned about what other people would think when they came over to visit. I worried that they would feel uncomfortable if the house was messy. I tidied. I put the laundry away. I picked up the piles of crap and put them in a bedroom and shut the door. But I was the one who had just had a baby! I vacuumed just a few days after giving birth and while I was recovering from a fourth degree tear.
Why do we hold ourselves to these ridiculous standards?
Part of my job as a postpartum doula is to give your family a hand with light housework. Don't feel bad about it. It's part of my job. Really. So don't pre-clean for me, or anyone else for that matter.
Looking back now, I don't know why I felt the need to make it look like things at our house were "back to normal." In reality, I was completely exhausted and in a ridiculous amount of pain. I had no business trying to do housework. When you've just had a baby, there is no "getting back to normal." There is only adjusting to the new normal.
So as your postpartum doula, I'm not going to clean to Pinterest standards. I'm going to help you adjust to the new normal and make sure you can see the bottom of your kitchen sink at least once a day.
My advice is to revel in the postpartum period and let go of whatever you are feeling guilty about, or feeling like you are failing at because this is one of the few times in life when you have the perfect excuse to let those things go.