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The 4th trimester is a bear. How is it that we forget this? We plan so much for the birth of a baby. There are birth plans. There are showers. There are registries. All of these things represent the joy and hope that accompanies new life. Given the amount of planning that accompanies the impending birth of a baby, it is interesting to note that in the United States, most formal methods of support fall off almost immediately after the birth.
They do exist – but they are largely ad hoc and tend to over-rely on the mom to self-advocate for help of all kinds.
What if she’s too tired?
Birth is exhausting. Learning to feed a new baby (breast or bottle) sets a new parent off on a steep learning curve. There are all the other things – the diapers, the laundry. The psychic toll compounded with the physical toll only amplifies what we all know to be true – that is to say that making decisions when fraught and exhausted makes people cry and doubt themselves.
In the United States, extended networks to support women postpartum seem to have fallen by the wayside sometime after the Western frontier was settled. This, in stark contrast to traditions in most other regions of the world (Asia, Africa, parts of the Americas) which tend to provide ample and organized support for mothers following the “trauma” of birth. We are talking food, rest, massage (yup, massage) and the rest. Women are tended for up to three months following birth. Various traditions such as “Lying in” and “sitting the month” involve feeding a new mom healthy food and guarding her sleep to promote her recovery.
Give InKind Founder, Laura Malcolm recalls her life after the birth of her third child:
“Nobody talks about the gaping wound that is inside our bodies after childbirth. It’s not just recovering from swollen parts, uterus shrinking in size, but there’s literally a scab the size of the placenta in there, and it can be disrupted – as happened to me when I had to make a sudden dash after a running toddler just a few days postpartum. Then the healing starts again.”
The birth of a baby is, under any circumstances, a real shock to the system. When my first child was put in my arms I remember the breath going out of me and a visceral observation that was literally, “oh so this is love.” I was blown away – but the stakes were never higher.
I remember feeling real trepidation upon discharge from the hospital. I was recovering from prolonged labor and then a C-section. I had never taken care of a newborn before. My surgical scar needed to heal as I shifted to try to learn to nurse. How would I know that he was getting enough milk? Was the rash he had normal? Should I let him sleep or wake him up to feed him?
I had so much to learn and I was exhausted. I needed people to come and help me. I needed a village to bring me food, run some loads of laundry, and tell me I was doing ok.
Parents are tired. Mothers are recovering from birth. Partners are stepping up to support the mothers. Often these partners are balancing housework, jobs, childcare – and everything in between. It is so important to remember that moms and their partners need support as they find their sea legs as families.