Myth: Little Preparation Is Necessary for the Postpartum Period
Fact: Pregnant mothers and their partners are usually so focused on the anxieties and excitement of pregnancy and birthing that they give little or no thought as to how they will manage after the birth. Ideally, parents will have considered the lifestyle changes that they will be faced with before becoming pregnant, but if not, now is the time to consider the needs of the postpartum period.
While diverse cultures the world over offer an infinite variety of customs and traditions to support women and their partners growing into their new role as mother and father, parents in America today are usually left to make this transition overnight and with little or no support. Childbirth classes often ignore the nature of the postpartum period and the need for a network to support the new family through this transition, although by far the best time to arrange this support is pre-natally
From the moment the newborn enters this world, life changes dramatically. Many new parents find themselves unprepared when suddenly faced with the emotional and physical responsibilities of caring for a newborn. Overwhelm and exhaustion may emerge as our almost constant companions. I found it impossible, prior to Siena's birth, to conceive of how such a tiny little creature could consume our energies so fully, just as we had not conceived of how much love and joy--the sheer elation--she would bring into our lives. Although it is nearly impossible to appreciate the momentous changes we will be faced with until the newborn is with us, talking with other parents about their early weeks and months with an infant may provide a reality check.
While perhaps nothing changes life as dramatically as having a child, remarkably little tribute is accorded the range of all that the new mother--and father--experience emotionally, psychologically and spiritually as they become responsible for another human life.
The close-knit communities and extended families that supported women in earlier times are absent for most women today. Unlike our sisters of only a generation or two back, most women become mothers having had little or nothing to do with an infant before. It can be terribly difficult to grow into motherhood--as with fatherhood- without the support of those who have been there before. Many face the stress of juggling mother, wife, homemaker, and wage-earner roles. And with the Superwoman Syndrome alive and well, many women don't feel comfortable asking for help.
Sacrifices become the fare of the day. It will help tremendously if parents have considered well beforehand what they can most readily let go of during these early days and months when it is so important to be there for the child. Nurturing the newborn, family and "mundane" housekeeping tasks, will often take priority over self-care. What to sacrifice? Lengthy dinner preparations, frequent restaurant dining, daily workouts at the gym, a tidy house, making love, pleasure reading and writing, entertaining? Work-related and cherished personal interests may need revising, and personal, financial and career goals and commitments renegotiated. While parenting brings joy and elation, it may also bring neediness, fear, ambivalence, even anger. Given the strong social inhibitions on expressing these feelings, new parents may not feel able to admit to having them. Rather than recognizing their feelings and needs as valid, many view themselves as deficient. A home-based support system can be crucial during the early weeks--better still, months--of the postpartum period.
The most productive attitude is to understand that, at least for a while your former productivity may be just a memory.
--Carista Luminare-Rosen, PhD
Suzanne Arms, Immaculate Deception II: Myth, Magic and Birth
Lucia Capacchione and Sandra Bardsley, Creating a Joyful Birth Experience*
Barbara Harper, Gentle Birth Choices
Sheila Kitzinger, The Complete Book of Pregnancy and Childbirth
Carista Luminare-Rosen, Parenting Begins Before Conception
Sally Placksin, Mothering the New Mother*
Thomas Verny, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child