Feelings of disappointment, depression, anxiety or bonding issues from a birth not going as planned or complications occurring beforehand, during, or even after the birth can greatly impact the postpartum experience. No matter what, helping families be realistic and prepared for a variety of scenarios and ensuring a variety of tools are in the hands of the new parents’ repertoire can be essential in helping them develop coping skills for their transition to parenthood.
As a doula, I reside mostly in a culture where birth is seen as a beautiful transformation. In Birth Matters, Ina May Gaskin states, “No matter how much pressure our society may bring upon us to pretend otherwise, pregnancy, labor and birth produce very powerful changes in women’s bodies, psyches, and lives, no matter by which exit route- natural or surgical- babies are born. It follows then that the way that birth care is organized and carried out will have a powerful effect on any human society.” Birth has a way of taking you to the depths of your being and challenges you to move past all fears and uncertainties, to trust in the process of moving forward onto a new adventure; releasing your infant and leading you into parenthood. While giving birth can be a rite of passage that leads to empowerment, triumph and strength, it can also be one of disempowerment, leaving women feeling stripped of their own power and strength of self, mind and body.
The majority of families come through their birth experience with the discovery of personal strengths and endurance that they never thought they had in them. Most parents find their adjustment to this new role with ease and grace. For others, however, it just isn’t the same path -- every step comes with more challenges. Every step requires learning new ways to cope and manage the ever changing moments that life with a newborn brings. Every step is a struggle to find new approaches to stay on top. For these parents the phrase, “ease into parenthood,” isn’t one that they would use to describe their experience.
As doulas, we sometimes are and sometimes aren’t, privy to what unfolds upon new parents returning home. When we come for visits, we can see only what our clients wish for us to see and hear only what they wish to share with us. It is a privilege that leads us into the lives of families and glimpse what their journey with their infant looks like, for that moment. However, we may never see the daily struggle to keep their heads above water in the current of sleepless nights and crying babies. Sometimes a lack of support around them can strain relationships between spouses or friends.
Holding space for our clients’ reality and helping them to find balance in a world that may have been turned upside down, may help our clients process. Gaining acknowledgement from others, may also help validate their experience.
During my career, I have supported families, seen a variety of experiences, situations and dynamics. Each are as unique as the families themselves. Over the years I have noticed common elements and traits that may help contribute to a new parent’s adjustment and transition.
1. CREATE COMMUNITY
Create your support network. This can be your immediate family, friends or other mothers you may have met prenatally or through a related event. Isolation is a huge factor for new parents and getting out of the house is essential to mental health and wellbeing.
2. PLAN, ORGANIZE & PREPARE
Before your guess date take the time to prepare and stockpile food for the freezer. Prepare your lunches or arrange a meal train from friends for the weeks following birth. Organize a postpartum plan that addresses who is responsible for what in the house. Arrange visits from people you can “be real” with and find activities weekly or even daily for you to do with the new baby and someone who will keep you accountable to attend. Read all about breastfeeding, newborn care and night time parenting, more than birth preparation, so you’re fully aware of all possibilities.
3. OPEN & RECEIVE
Allow yourself to receive help and to nurture yourself. After all, you are healing from giving birth. If you have someone you can rely on to help out, go and grab a tea at a nearby coffee shop by yourself or take the time to have a bath, the trusted people in your life are capable of caring for your baby for a short period of time.
4. PROCESS YOUR EXPERIENCE, OVER & OVER
Talk to someone who is a good listener. Let them hear your story and your parenting experience. Do not be afraid to let it all out. Ask questions of your provider if something is bothering you or you are unsure as to why it unfolded the way it has. If possible, debrief with those who were present at birth. Let all the feelings out and look for ways that lead you to a place of peace in your situation.
5. REACH OUT
Seek professional support from a therapist, counsellor or postpartum specialist if you are not finding resolution and peace from your birth experience or struggling with your adjustment to your new role as a parent.
6. BE REALISTIC. LOWER EXPECTATIONS
When we truly let go of expectations of a clean house, dishes done and laundry folded, our focus and priorities change. Allow yourself a grace period. You are transitioning into parenthood. If it helps you stay sane and money isn’t the issue, hire help in the first few weeks or enlist friends and others when they ask you what they can do to help. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you really need.
7. STRENGTHEN RELATIONSHIPS
Find a way to connect with your partner and your friends. Discuss what you appreciate from one another. It is easy in the chaos of parenting to lose touch and shift into survival mode. Your relationships, particularly your relationship with your partner, are the foundation that everything rests on. Do what you can to keep them strong.
8. RESIST THE URGE TO COMPARE
It is natural to want to compare your experience, your baby, your body, your healing period and recovery to the experiences of others. Remember, this is your journey, not theirs. Everyone and every thing has its own way of unfolding, and in their own time. Remind yourself often.
9. PARENTING IS A PROCESS. NO ONE KNOWS IT ALL
There is no genetic template to being a parent. We all question ourselves and attempt to analyze a better way or solution to our everyday concerns and struggles. Be realistic and honest with yourself and accept mistakes as a part of the learning curve. Trust your intuition first and foremost; it doesn’t matter who told you this way or that. Only you are the expert on what is best for you and your situation and trial and error is part of the learning. Be gentle on yourselves. No one is perfect.
10. ACKNOWLEDGE WHERE YOU’RE AT
Know that not everything will have a solution or reason all the time. Those around you who care may not know what to say or do at all times. They may not have the knowledge or skill to help. Those around you may say the wrong thing; after all, they are only human. Don’t feel like you have to accept what doesn’t serve you. Be truthful with what your feeling and where you are at emotionally with everything. Dismissing your feelings or stuffing them inward will only compound matters more.
The above list is not the end all and be all. Each and every situation will lend various methods and approaches for postpartum healing and recovery. The road to recovery is a complex process influenced by many factors and processes. Not every road is paved smooth, however if you take the steps forward, any path can be navigated.
As doulas the best thing we can do for those weathering the storm is be available for them -- not for just a short period of time, but for as long as needed. Check in with your families often, even just to say hello and show them that you care about them. Help families develop resources and skill sets that may help them better cope with the changes they are enduring. Listen attentively, without feeling the need to voice an opinion or solution. Most of all, be genuine, authentic and compassionate. After all, people can sense otherwise.
Sonya Duffee is a certified labour and
postpartum doula, doula trainer, childbirth educator as well as placenta encapsulator with Full Circle Birth Collective. She is the founding member of Full Circle Birth Collective and has been serving families since 1998.
Click here to read more about Sonya