Thriving Through the 4th Trimester: Assembling Your Village

Welcome to the sixth post in this series, Thriving through the 4th Trimester. Follow me as I share what I learned applying traditions from other cultures to my own postpartum journey. It is my hope that this knowledge will serve as a guide for how to truly care for a woman, as she transitions from maiden to mother, in the most wholistic way possible.

Prior to having children, I spent a lot of time exploring what made me feel happy and whole. As a single 39-year-old woman, who had been in the holistic health care industry for 16 years, I had all the time in the world to cultivate my self-care routines. When my cup was empty, I would fill it. Easy-peasy.

When I had my first daughter, Morgan, she became the center of my world. Filling her cup was all I felt like I could handle. Taking care of myself felt next to impossible. I was that new mother who didn’t shower for days, because simply showering felt overwhelming. I wanted help, but I hadn’t set it up, and I really didn’t know how to ask for it. I truly believe I wasn’t ready to accept it. I wanted to somehow prove to myself that “I could do it on my own.”

By the time I was ready to have my second daughter, Mackenzie, my mindset had shifted all the way to: “Doing it on your own is bullshit!” So I asked for ALL the help, from everyone I could think of, and it was a much better experience.

Learning how to ask for help and how to accept it is one of the most important lessons of motherhood. It truly does take a village, or at least it’s a whole heck of a lot easier when you have one! So, the first step is figuring it out.

Who is in your tribe? Or more importantly, who do you want in your tribe? Are there friends or family that you can call upon in a pinch? People that you know, who just naturally make you feel at ease? Really think about who you would want in your space, helping you, when you’re at your most vulnerable.

I was once told that it’s great to have three types of friends when embarking on a challenge: one friend who is going through what you are going through, one friend who has been through it before, and one friend who is about to go through it. If you don’t already have that trio in your friend circle, pregnancy can be a great time to take the opportunity to forge some new relationships. I came to appreciate those friendships during my postpartum window. It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to reach out to someone with experience for advice, but it’s also really nice to commiserate with someone who is actively going through the same challenges that you are, and just gets it. It’s also a great feeling to share what you have just learned with someone who is about to embark on a journey you just went through.

Communicating clearly how you would like your tribe to help is important. And remember, you are giving people who care about you an opportunity to feel good about how they’re spending their time.

Helping others makes us feel good. It gives us purpose.

The more clear you are about what you need, the more accurately your tribe will be able to meet those needs, and the better it will feel for all of you.

But, figuring out what your needs will be, when you’ve never gone through something before, can be a challenge. Here are some ideas of things that many new Mamas need help with:

  • Making meals—It can be challenging to consistently feed yourself and your family!
  • Caring for older children—Part of the emotional stress of a having a subsequent child, for me, was splitting my attention. There’s some crazy mom-guilt that can happen with that reality. I felt guilty that my first child was being robbed of my attention when she so obviously needed it, and I felt guilty that my baby was rarely getting my full attention from day one. Day care for my toddler was a huge weight off my shoulders. (Consider setting this up a few months in advance if possible so the toddler knows their day care or their care-giver well, and it is already a part of their daily routine. It took my 2-year-old an entire month to transition into liking going to school.) Even if it’s not school, just having a trusted family member or friend take your older child/children out of the home and doing something special with them is, in my opinion, the biggest gift someone can give.
  • Household chores—Dishes, laundry, and tidying up the house can feel like monumental tasks with a new baby. (Baby wearing can be a great help when needed in the later stages of postpartum!)
  • House cleaning—Regular daily household chores can already feel difficult enough. Having someone do the deeper cleaning tasks can make a huge difference.
  • Talking about their birth experience—Processing how you feel about what you experienced during birth is an important part of healing. It can be helpful to share your birth experience with other women who have given birth. It is good for us to know what happens individually, and collectively. I believe it helps normalize the intensity of our experience when we share what we have been through with others, and hear their stories in return.
  • Talking through emotions—The fourth trimester is a time when you will likely feel all the feels. Your partner, family, and friends can be great sounding boards for the emotional waves that you may experience. Telling people you love and trust about what you are feeling is a healthy way to process emotion.
  • Finding time for self care—Most of us tend to put baby’s needs before our own. It’s nice to have help from someone who can simply hold and soothe your baby while you shower, go to the bathroom, take a bath, do a vaginal steam or sitz bath, sit with a pad-sicle/nipple-sicles, or just plain eat with two hands.
  • Body care—Postpartum aches and pains can be effectively treated with massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, and physical therapy. Self-massage and postpartum specific exercises can also be helpful. Finding the time to get away and do those things can be a challenge. It is important to have someone that you trust available to take care of your infant, while you take care of yourself.

Once you’ve figured that all out, it’s time to let your tribe know that they are wanted, and how you would like them to help. The more they understand about what kind of support you need, and when you need it, the better they will be able to serve you. Asking for these types of help and organizing it can feel overwhelming, but there are some great resources out there that can help you gather and organize your village of support!

  • Meal Train—this free site allows anyone who you share it with to sign up for days and times to visit you and the baby, and bring you a meal.
  • Meal Train Plus—This paid version costs $10. It allows you to specify what kind of help you will need on any given day. It includes all of these options:
    • They can sign up to help with specific tasks like taking older children to school, dishes, laundry, or even just baby holding (so you can make time for your self-care.)
    • People can send you gift certificates to order take out from restaurants.
    • You can even set up a donation fund and explain what the donations will be going toward. You might want someone to deep clean your house once a week, or twice a month. You might want to hire a licensed massage therapist to come give you a massage once a week, or a postpartum doula to cook, clean, draw you baths, and massage you. You might be looking forward to breastfeeding and would benefit from a home visit from a Certified Lactation Consultant. Maybe you feel the best use of your money would be to hire a babysitter for your older children. If you can’t afford to hire someone for these tasks, starting a postpartum care fund can be a fantastic way to receive support. Communicate to your family and friends that you would like them to donate to your fund instead of buying gifts for the baby.

Through the meal train website, you can set up an online calendar so people can see what you are needing on any given day. In my first postpartum experience, I used the free version of Meal Train. I wanted people to come see my baby, but I didn’t want to feel overwhelmed with visitors because I had heard that was hard. So I just asked for meals, and limited it to one visitor/family per day. Six weeks is a long time, one visitor a day can be enough, and I felt that spreading out the visits was a great tactic that allowed me to rest.

I decided in my second postpartum experience that I wanted more help from the people in my world. I was interested in the healing power of food in the postpartum window and I wanted to hire a Postpartum Doula to cook specific meals centered around Ayurvedic philosophies to help balance my hormones and increase lactation. I also wanted a house cleaner to come weekly. I saved up while I was working and budgeted for those things because they were important to me. When my sister-in-law signed me up for the Meal Train, I got on the website and switched it to the Plus version so I could customize it. Only a few of my close Mama-friends signed up to help me and physically come visit my second child, but a bunch of people made donations so I could afford to continue the length of my food delivery and my house cleaning. And that in itself was a blessing.

Let’s recap your Post-Partum Planning Steps:

  • Assemble your tribe. Decide who you would like to ask for help or hire to help you.
  • Decide what types of help you feel like you will benefit from the most.
  • Share this blog series with your tribe so that you are all on the same page.
  • Ask someone close to you to organize a platform like Meal Train or Meal Train Plus.

And if all this asking for help seems uncomfortable… You might have some work to do. Getting comfortable with receiving help can be even harder than asking for it. Doing some internal recognition work on learning to receive can be beneficial. Here are some tips:

  • Deem yourself worthy of receiving this level/kind of help.
  • Set boundaries for what you personally will feel comfortable with in terms of what people will be doing in your home and how long they will stay. It is difficult to anticipate what your needs will be when you’re embarking on a journey you’ve never taken before. It’s alright to ask for what you think you will want/need in advance, and you can refine it as you go.
  • Communicate your needs! The better you communicate with your partner, your parents, in-laws, friends and extended family, the better people will be able to meet your needs. After all, this is your tribe coming together to help you. They want to make you happy, but none of them are mind readers.

Mama, know this: There is no prize for doing this alone. I hope you get ALL the support you need, from ALL the people who love you. It really does make a difference.

If you are currently pregnant or have just had a baby, consider sharing this with your support group so that they can provide you with the kind of help you need to be able to focus your time where it’s really important!

Next post in this series—Thriving Through the 4th Trimester: Knowing What to Expect

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