As I’ve mentioned previously, Mike and I took a Bradley class in the Fall before Isaac was born. The class was filled with mostly first-time expectant parents, and one other pair of second timers, all brought together by the hope for a natural, partner-assisted birth. Our birth plans varied, but most of our fears leading up to our pending deliveries encircled the day of – what would birth feel like, could we tolerate the pain, and how would we negotiate our birth plans with our providers if need be, with the exception of one particular concern – what would happen after baby.
I was the only person to say that I was terrified of the postpartum period – as far as I’m concerned, birth, however momentous and intense, pales in comparison the the sleepless days and nights that follow.
With Marin, her marathon birth was followed by her marathon postpartum period. I remember hearing that at one month, things would get easier. Then at six weeks, my Aunt said her co-worker told her, it gets better. And I didn’t feel that way at either checkpoint – I felt completely overwhelmed.
The hazy memories I have of that period were far from positive or elated. They weren’t blissful, and I felt little gratification from waking up in puddles of milk in our bed when Marin slept a 4+ hour stretch knowing that the best sleep of the night was behind me. Did I mention sleep?
Yea, this whole “sleep when the baby sleeps” concept made me resent so much advice from well-intending family, friends, and books. BabyWise, and the Baby Whisperer to boot, gave me completely unrealistic expectations for myself and for my baby. I remember thinking when she was days old, how anxious I was that at one week, BabyWise was already telling me to get her into a patterned routine.
I should have thrown it and picked it up when I could get my head on straight, but I was naive. Aren’t we all? Aren’t many of us sooooo obsessive about birth plans that the lack of planning postpartum seems ironic? How is it that we pour so much time and energy into one event (which mind you, I don’t mean to downplay in significance whatsoever) and neglect the following weeks, months, and years (yes, years) to follow?
Why are we neglecting postpartum?
Now, I’ve already hinted that I find the postpartum period in America to be absurd – but why? Let’s start with the initial fact that prenatal or antenatal care leading up to birth has come a long way (by existing) and is attributed to decreases in infant morbidity, low birth weight, and delivery complications. Muy bien, America.
But what happens after baby? Do we really know what we need before our babies arrive and is there a way to prepare ahead of time? I think the answer is a mixed bag, but for now, I’ll simply say, “yes”.
I think that women should make postpartum plans with akin flexibility and determination to their delivery plans – with a bit of an open hand, but still taking the time to set up guidelines, think out wishes, and create supports before that inevitable period takes place. Because a mother’s care shouldn’t end with birth, it should continue (in my opinion) after the climax of birth cascading downward over the next year. I like to visualize it as a pyramid, increasing prenatal care till birth followed by frequent postnatal care that a mother is equipped to properly wean off of. Instead, I think we’re leading women to their births and forcing them to jump off a cliff into new mothering. And the results aren’t looking too good – “according to a CDC survey, 8-19% of women reported having frequent postpartum depressive symptoms” (0r more than 3 million cases per year) in 2014.
So with Isaac, I made a plan and I called it “The Postpartum Playbook”. It was compiled with the intent that 1) I wasn’t happy with my initial postpartum experience with Marin, 2) I now had a toddler to take care of, and 3) I believed that having a means to vocalize my needs without having a communication with every guest in our home was key. The breakdown of this binder was simple and totally doable for other expectant parents (specifically those with older children) –
- Home Birth Plan (or hospital birth plan)
- Hospital Contingency Birth Plan for Ashley and Michael Bennett (incase we transferred)
- Calendars for the next two months (filled with toddler-appropriate activities with times and locations)
- Daily Task Sheet (with a thorough breakdown of household chores, laminated, and therefore, easily reusable for each day)
- Mom Support Sheet (outlined with ways you can help me specifically as a new Mom)
- Older Child Support Sheet (with breakdown of child’s typical schedule and meal ideas)
- (Ideally, Dad Support Sheet, but Mike did not make one.)
- Nearby Attractions (in two categories: walking distance and by car)
- Indoor Play Ideas
- Standard Grocery List
- Nearby Takeout & Delivery Locations (with type of food, location, distance (by car), hours, phone, website, and specific notes (i.e. delivery minimum is $20).
- 25 Days of Christmas Crafts (We did this with Marin along with an Advent Calendar for the holidays since Isaac was born the end of November. I’m sure you could find age-appropriate crafts for any age/holiday/season if desired too. Pictures in this post are from the craft packets we made to do with her.)
I’ll share my specific forms in the next blog with a detailed review, but I’ll say this: It was absolutely worth doing, and I now feel a dedication to other Moms to help them too.
I recently got to share the Boston Globe home birth story about Isaac with a local online community, Mass Doulas, and my Bradley childbirth teacher (apart of this wonderful group of birth professionals) said this about me in a follow-up email to our group, “I do want to tell you all that Ashley for sure should go into the business of postpartum consulting and support. She created the most awesome binder (aka The Postpartum Playbook) I have ever seen (she’s been a Bradley instructor for over 17 years), with detailed directions on everything any friend, neighbor, or family member could and should do to support them and their older child in the postpartum period. It was an eye-opener for all the first-time parents in my class! Ashley, maybe at some point when you have some time you could share a list of the various components of that binder. As we all know, there are never enough ways to try to convey to parents what the postpartum period really will be like, so the more tools the better.” I was really taken aback by her feedback on my simple creation, since Ann Marie Lindquist is someone whose been a very active voice, participant, and teacher in our local birth community. I actually got teary-eyed.
I’m sad to think that compiling something so basic is actually extremely unconventional for new families. I know it was for me when I had Marin, and I think it’s time we – society, men, women – start to rethink postpartum care and advocacy. I think it’s time to push back on the photoshopped, tummy-tucked-or-wrapped, post-baby-weight-loss-obsessed, get-back-to-normal-immediately postpartum expectations we have for Moms (and their partners), and we start making a place for mothering the mother, every time she’s a mother (again). I hope the Postpartum Playbook serves as just one avenue to do just that, but I’d love to hear your feedback too.
What is something you wish you did differently postpartum? Do you think that routine postnatal care should last more than one month postpartum? How did your postpartum care affect your postpartum period? Share below. All responses welcome.