Planning for birth is both daunting and exciting. Women, couples, and health-care professionals usually cooperate and carefully consider what they want out of the birth experience. But our society would be a different place if there were as much attention given to the post-birth transition as there is to the birth itself. I venture to say that fewer women would be depressed, more couples would survive the first year, and babies would be calmer.
Just as your birth plan allows you to think through and communicate your ideal birth, a postpartum sanctuary plan is an excellent way to anticipate and plan for the support you will need to have the smoothest sacred window possible. I recommend that you create your plan with your partner in your third trimester. But before I guide you in putting together your postpartum sanctuary plan, there are a few things I want you to know.
First of all, you are going to need a lot more help than you think you will need. We tend to think that if we can do something ourselves, then we should. This is absolutely not true postpartum. All of your energy needs to go toward healing your body and learning about your baby.
Just as you are providing unlimited food for your baby, you need someone to be nourishing you. And as tempting as it is, relying on partners for this care isn't the optimal set up for success, as they are going through their own journey into parenting.
Second, the purpose of receiving support at this time is not to help your baby—it is to help you. It is to support you in getting your basic needs of food, comfort, and unconditional love met, and also to support you in deepening your self-confidence and trusting in your instincts as a mother.
You will go through a range of emotions that you have never experienced, sometimes all in one day. You will experience periods of doubt. You will need companionship that you can rely on, assuring you that everything is okay, that you will reemerge. You need someone who can reflect the richness of the process to you.
Having the support you need will allow you to immerse yourself in the experience as it is happening, so when it is time to surface, you will be completely intact. I have never heard a woman lament about having too much postpartum support. I have only heard women regret that no one told them they should have invested more resources in postpartum care.
Start with this question: What would it be like to set yourself up to have everything you need, and maybe even spoil yourself, during the sacred window? What would it be like to feel like a queen, to have your favorite healthy meals cooked and served to you, to have someone else doing the laundry and straightening up the house, to have a massage every week, physical therapy and dreamy sleeps throughout the day with your best girlfriends and relatives around whenever you need them?
Pause for a moment. Close your eyes, and notice what that idea feels like in your body. Some women may experience a joyful, uplifting feeling. Others might feel discomfort because it seems indulgent or simply impossible to orchestrate. Yet others might feel dread at the thought of so much interaction and what feels like an invasion of privacy. Someone may experience a bit of all of them. Pay attention to your inner reaction: it has wisdom for you. Although for most of us receiving this kind of help seems like a luxury, postpartum, it is a necessity.
Create your sanctuary
After having a baby, you will want your home to feel like a refuge. You'll be spending a lot of time there, so it is important that it feels good to you and that the people and the energy they bring also feel good. Consider now: Who do you want to visit you in the first three days? In the first two weeks? In the first month? Discuss this with your partner so you are in agreement, and then he or she can honor your wishes.
Here are some things you may want to consider about who should visit and when.
Primed hormonally to protect your baby, you will be more sensitive than usual to energy and words. Things that wouldn't normally bother you may get under your skin. This sensitivity is actually great news, it means that your mothering instincts are awake and that you know what you and your baby need at this time.
Minimizing visitors is a good idea during the extended rest period. This may seem confusing in light of how much support you need. People who come to contribute are different from people who come to sit on the couch and admire your baby. Fortunately, with a little guidance, we can help people come into our home sanctuary in a way that will be helpful and supportive to us.
Although there are the universal needs, support looks different for each woman. Contemplate the questions: What makes you feel supported and calm? Is it a straightened-up house? Is it a beautiful home-cooked meal? Is it a hug? A massage? Is it time to read a chapter of a book? Is it a bath drawn for you? A conversation with a friend?
When you know the answers, it is easier to ask for what you need.
A special note is required here for managing technology. Most of us are already well aware of the challenges of technology—the onslaught of text messages, e-mails, incoming calls, and the time suck and allure of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. This is a great time to reflect on how you want technology to work for you.
Many of us are accustomed to browsing Google or playing games on our phones or scrolling through messages when what we actually need is downtime. Screen time complicates sleep patterns and often doesn't give us the mental break that we are looking for. Decide now what the optimal relationship to your phone, computer, and social media would be for you postpartum.
Would you like to look at your phone three times a day, in the morning, midday, and in the evening? Would you like to check e-mails once a day? Whatever you choose, you can let the people you are communicating with know so they know what to expect from you. This is huge in protecting your undistracted bonding time with your baby, as well as facilitating your own ability to rest.
Research shows that having a cell phone in sight changes the tone and topic of conversations, affecting our willingness to go deep and to concentrate. Better to keep your phone out of reach or, better yet, out of the room that you are resting or sleeping in, so you can concentrate on your baby and both of you can sleep soundly. Also, you will then be choosing when you want to use your phone or iPad, rather than picking it up mindlessly out of habit.
New moms are often tempted to use the Internet to research questions and clarify doubts. As you know, it is easy to fall into the online pit, spending more time than intended or becoming completely overwhelmed by the amount of information to sift through. Now is a good time to return to the old-fashioned way of gathering information about mothering: Talk to trusted mothers, grandmothers, friends, and health-care providers. Be courageous and reach out. Don't be afraid to use the words: "I am ____. (confused, afraid, in pain). This is what's happening. What do you think?"
Nourish your body
Making sure you are well fed is one of the priorities of this postpartum period, and a great way to build and lean on community at this time.
One of the easiest places to start is with a meal train. It's great when the organizer of your baby shower or mother blessing is willing to organize the meal train. A baby shower is a gathering where people offer gifts for the baby. (A mother blessing is a ritual that honors the passage of the pregnant woman into motherhood. At a mother blessing, women gather together to share stories and lessons about birth and motherhood, making a piece of art together and creating a ritual for the new mom to gather strength for birth and motherhood.)
If you don't have anyone to organize the meal train, go ahead and begin one yourself. It's worth it! There are free apps and websites, so you don't have to do all the asking and scheduling: www.mealtrain.com, www.mealbaby.com, and www.takethemameal.com are just a few options.
Start by brainstorming who in your family, neighborhood, or community may be able to help you. Women are often pleasantly surprised at the people who participate whom they would not necessarily have considered part of their support system. If you want to minimize the number of new people coming in and out of the house, you can have a basket or cooler outside your front door where people leave the meals. If you have specific food needs, state them. It's also great to give examples of your favorite meals, so people know what you like.
In addition to a meal train, which usually lasts four to six weeks, set yourself up for success for the whole fourth trimester and beyond. Make a sample grocery list of the foods you like. With a list, someone else can easily shop for you. Also gather takeout menus, information for delivery services, and a list of restaurants that deliver. There's no quicker way to a meltdown than being hungry and tired while nursing your baby.
Gather your village
For many people, having a baby is the beginning of building their village. Babies bring people together like nothing else. This is a chance to build a community to start supporting now that can accompany you on this journey. The bonds that you form with other young parents, who you may not have had much in common with before, can evolve into rich and rewarding connections now that you have common questions and needs arising through parenting. These new connections are often one of the most memorable and nourishing parts of this phase of life.
It's also a great time to assemble a wider village or network of care providers. Likely, you have already started this process, but there may be resources that you haven't considered, like lactation support, postpartum doula services or a night nurse.
It's best to get these recommendations now, so there is one less step to go through when you feel stressed or overwhelmed. The best place to find these resources is from your friend network. If you are new to an area or the first of your friends to have a baby, venues where there is lactation support, birth centers, or midwifery collectives often have extensive references and contacts for postpartum services.
Remember what brings you joy
Now that you know your body will be nourished, how will your mind and spirit be nourished? When you feel a little off, what gets you back on track? Here are some ideas to get you started.
- Turning attention to your breath
- Reading inspirational words
- Watching great films
- Talking with a dear friend
Make a list of your own resources so you can visit it when things get rough. Be specific. If inspirational words soothe you, download podcasts or dharma talks so you have them readily accessible. Make a list of uplifting shows, films, or documentaries that you would like to watch. Have reading material available that is not on your phone or computer so that you are not dependent on, and then possibly distracted by, other features of your phone.
These small course corrections can make a big difference. When you start to get overwhelmed, you can pause, visit your list, and figure out which way sounds best to get the connection you need at that time. Place your list on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror, someplace that will remind you to check in and take a small action.