The norm of a community of aunties, grandparents, and close friends stepping in to assist with the birth of a new family without being asked is long gone for most of us. Which means we are left freaking the hell out about how we’re going to wing it in the first few weeks after having a baby.
Integrated support is still very much alive in communities with intact traditions. But when we swapped out interdependence for individualism (thanks, in large part, to colonization and globalization), we shifted into nuclear family structures that make it all the more difficult to maintain any sense of real community.
What a new family needs most is community. Going without it may be a huge factor in postpartum depression, unplanned supplementation, and serious postpartum complications. The global norm after birth is to have people feed you, shield you and your baby from the public, and take over your daily routine so you can rest, heal, and learn your baby. It’s a stark contrast to the way new families have been forced to adjust in modern times.
If you’re feeling like you’re being set up for failure, you’re not alone. And if you feel like it’s within reason to reach out for support so you can recover during the first few months after birth, you’re right! For better or for worse, you’ll probably have to rally this support from scratch and you’ll need some strategies to do so.
So, here are a few simple things you can do before your baby comes to rewrite the story and get the support you deserve:
#1: Fix your mindset.
So many of us sit around wishing for more support, but when it comes to actually seeking it out, we’ve got big issues (myself included). Before you go out mucking the waters between the people around you with your hang-ups about not knowing what you need, or asking for help and actually receiving it, you need to get clear.
First, identify what it is you’ll need help with. This will be trickier if it’s your first baby, so here’s a list to get you started thinking about what other people can do for you:
Bringing over meals
Putting clean dishes away and emptying the sink of dirty ones
Starting a load of laundry
Picking up groceries (you can often call in orders to a store)
Putting clean sheets on your bed
Vacuuming, dusting, tidying the house
Taking your other child(ren) on an outing
...the list goes on.
Now before crossing everything off of that list because it mortifies you to think of anybody else doing them, I want you to really assess that hang-up. Most of us are trained to think we can do everything ourselves (and when you look at that list, it seems doable with a newborn, but it’s not). I’m here to ask you- where has this belief got you in life?? It’s got you to where you are now, knowing you need support.
If there’s any time where you’re most deserving of help, it’s right after you have a baby. In fact, I view postpartum as the perfect opportunity to rearrange some of your beliefs around receiving help. A lot of it comes down to self-worth: we don’t think we deserve to ask, inconvenience others, or even have real needs, and we definitely don’t think we’re worthy of actually receiving help without apology. It’s just so much easier and comfortable to take it on ourselves.
Does asking for help feel vulnerable and risky? Yes. Have we been trained by our mothers, the culture, and ourselves to try to do it all in order to prove our worth? Hell yes.
But asking for the help and support you deserve takes the kind of strength and courage that parenting requires. It shows the people around you what it means to you to be cared for and loved, so that they know how to best show you that they care. It starts by rearranging your beliefs so that when it comes time for your children to learn if it’s okay to reach out to others for help, they’ll get the right message, too.
#2. Farm your resources.
So many of us have resources of people that we sometimes overlook, even when we live out in the middle of nowhere and have no social life (like me). So I want to give you some ideas to get you to start thinking creatively about where you might reach out to people you haven’t before.
(And yes, it might be strange to have an acquaintance come do your laundry, so these people are PERFECT for adding to your meal-share or running errands.)
Your church or spirituality group is the perfect place to start. I know we’re not all religious, but do you have a community group or non-profit that you’re involved in that knows you well? Think of the communities that you’re a part of that are used to giving. I don’t know where I would have been after my first baby if it weren’t for the fact that my then-husband’s dad was a priest. Our fridge was full of food brought to our door by church members for a solid three weeks. This is also a great place to reach out to older generations who don’t have children in the house anymore, who remember what it was like, and who sometimes have more intact community values than others.
Next, get yourself out there to parents groups. I’m guessing that if you live in a city, there’s a play date within ten minutes of where you live. While this might be totally awkward, it’s totally necessary, especially if you are where I was and lost a lot of childless friends once I got pregnant. This is also a great way to ask what others’ postpartum experiences were like, what they wish had gone differently, and to start a conversation about creating something better.
Make sure to check and see if there’s a new parents group at the practice you’re receiving your prenatal care from. I’m still friends with people I met in my Centering group seven years ago. While they might not be in a position to help if they’re due around the same time you are, you can find people to call after your birth who are going through similar stuff. This alone can save you from those darker postpartum moments. Your provider may even have suggestions for you when you talk to them about rallying support.
The last place I’m going to suggest you recruit support is at your baby shower. HELLOOOO, all of your people in one place getting excited and wanting to give to the specific cause of you having a baby?? Yes, please. When sending out invitations, you can slip in a little note about accepting postpartum care gifts, including restaurant gift certificates, massages, ticket books for favors including the tasks from the list above, etc. You can also collect contact information for people who would be willing to be called after your birth when you need help. I suggest putting a little sign-up sheet next to your cake so people don’t miss it.
#3. Identify your support people.
After you’ve done steps 1 and 2, you’ll need to really hone down WHO is available for WHAT, how often they’re willing to come over, and what time of day they’re actually available. For example, I know my mom’s not coming over first thing in the morning to hold my baby while I take a sitz bath, because she works. But I know that I can call her at least every other day for what I need while my close girlfriends would be over-extended by that.
This requires you having very real conversations with the people you’re reaching out to. This alone is such a good practice for helping you get over your hang-ups with receiving, and I don’t want you to avoid it just because it seems needy, awkward, or uncomfortable. It can be very simple once you get over yourself and just do it.
Here’s how this conversation could potentially shape up:
“Hey, so-and-so! I’m getting pretty close to having this baby, and I know I’m going to need some help with X, Y, and Z after they’re born. Will you be available during this time to reach out for help?”
And then give people the choice to OPT OUT. You want your list of support people to only include people you really know are a Yes.
“What do you think you’d be willing to help with?” Give them ideas.
“How often would it be reasonable to reach out to you? Do you have any other ideas?”
This conversation doesn’t have to be awkward or shitty. Just be kind and direct, clear about your needs and desires, and okay with the fact that not everybody is going to be available, physically or emotionally.
Finally, you need a quick reference for your support crew to keep close during the first few weeks postpartum (on your fridge, at the bedside…). Make sure you include name, phone number, best time to call, as well as what they’re willing to help with. You might organize folks into three “tiers”, the top one being your first line of people that you know you can call for whatever, whenever. The second one can be folks that are available maybe 1-2 times a week for a meal and light housework, and the bottom one can be the list of everyone else (coworkers, friends of friends, etc.) who’ve expressed interest.
Because I want this to be EASY for you- and I really don’t believe that anyone should have to go without a network of support after their birth- I created a postpartum “call tree” for you to download (for free!). This is basically a worksheet that lays it all out for you. All you have to do is have those conversations with the people around you, figure out where they would go on the worksheet, and voila!, you have an easy guide for who’s available to help your postpartum recovery.
I hope you feel more empowered now to reach out and create your postpartum support system. Too many people figure they’ll call whoever when they get there, but that’s a good recipe for resentment, burnout, and depression.
You deserve to be supported. You deserve to be solid in your needs for rest, relaxation, and recovery after birth.