Just like the journey to motherhood is different for everyone, so is the same for the postpartum experience. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines the postpartum period as the most critical yet most neglectful period in the lives of mothers and babies.
In my therapy work, I often have clients engage in a deep exploration of their reproductive story as part of the therapy process. It sounds a lot fancier than it really is. It’s simply exploring what the hopes were for the reproductive experience (getting pregnant, going through the pregnancy, having the baby, building a family and parenthood). Some women from a young age dream about becoming mothers and envision what this journey will look and feel like for them. It’s been my experience that even when mothers aren’t consciously aware of their reproductive stories or have a clear picture in their mind of what it will be like, they face deep disappointment when things go wrong.
The postpartum experience is one I’ve come to learn, from both personal and professional experience, that not enough time and effort is spent preparing for it. It’s an extremely delicate time for a new mother and I believe that all moms should have a postpartum plan. Obviously, you can’t plan for everything, but you can make preparations that involve planning for how you will care for yourself, not just your baby.
In the motherhood journey, sometimes things happen unexpectedly. An unexpected postpartum experience can include things like difficulty with breastfeeding when breastfeeding was desired, postpartum depression or anxiety, having a baby, not in good health, having a premature baby, health issues for mom resulting from a traumatic birth or the early loss of a pregnancy.
No matter what your postpartum experience is like, here are a few must haves that are non-negotiable. And yes, mothers who’ve experienced pregnancy loss, such as a stillbirth, need a plan to take care of themselves during this time as well.
A Support System
You need a person or a small group of people that you can turn to for support. This needs to be people who love and care for you, want to help and know how to help. That last part is important. Sometimes we have people in our lives who mean well and want the best for us but don’t quite know how to offer that. Sometimes they want to help but can’t or they can help but don’t know how to. Choose your support system wisely and intentionally.
A Communication Plan
Ask for what you need when you need it. If you need a break, alone time or more support, make no apologies about your needs. This is a critical time for you and an unexpressed need simply will result in an unmet need.
Be Kind to Yourself
You are amazing! Your mind will believe anything you tell it so feed it with love, kindness, and compassion. Are there things that make you feel good or feel like a treat? Do them and then do more of it. Make a list of these things and keep it handy. When you get stuck in overwhelm, you can reference your list and be reminded of the things that bring joy or calm. If you’ve got a favorite podcast or songs that you enjoy listening to, add it to your list. Also, write a kindness letter to yourself and read that daily as a reminder.
Doing these 3 things won’t change your postpartum experience from being a difficult one, but it will help you move through it with more ease, support, and self-compassion. If you or someone you know is having a difficult postpartum journey, please reach out and let’s talk about it.