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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 here

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
  • Singing
  • Music
  • Movement
  • 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.

From The Fourth Trimester by Kimberly Ann Johnson, © 2017 by Kimberly Ann Johnson. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO.

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As a mid-Spring holiday, we never knew exactly what to expect from the weather on Easter when I was growing up in Michigan: Would we get to wear our new Sunday dresses without coats? Or would we be hunting for eggs while wearing snowsuits?

Although what the temperature had in store was really anyone's guess, there were a few special traditions my sister and I could always depend on—and it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me that my favorite memories revolved around food. After all, experts say memories are strongest when they tie senses together, which certainly seems to be true when it comes to holiday meals that involve the sounds of laughter and the taste of amazing food.

Now that I'm a parent, I'm experiencing Easter anew as my children discover the small delights of chocolate, pre-church brunch and a multi-generational dinner. While I still look forward to the treats and feasting, I'm realizing now that the sweetest thing of all is how these traditions bring our family together around one table.

For us, the build-up to Easter eats is an extended event. Last year's prep work began weeks in advance when my 3-year-old and I sat down to plan the brunch menu, which involved the interesting suggestion of "green eggs and ham." When the big morning rolled around, his eyes grew to the size of Easter eggs out of pure joy when the dish was placed on the table.

This year, rather than letting the day come and go in a flash, we are creating traditions that span weeks and allow even the littlest members of the family to feel involved.

Still, as much as I love enlisting my children's help, I also relish the opportunity to create some magic of my own with their Easter baskets—even if the Easter Bunny gets the credit. This year, I'm excited to really personalize the baskets by getting an "adoptable" plush unicorn for my daughter and the Kinder Chocolate Mini Eggs that my son hasn't stopped talking about since seeing at the store. (You can bet this mama is stocking up on some for herself, too.)

At the same time, Easter as a parent has opened my eyes to how much effort can be required...

There is the selection of the right Easter outfits for picture-perfect moments.

There is the styling of custom Easter baskets.

There is the filling of plastic eggs and strategic placement of them throughout the yard.

But when the cameras are put away and we all join together around the table for the family dinner at the end of the day, I can finally take a deep breath and really enjoy—especially with the knowledge that doing the dishes is my husband's job.

This article was sponsored by Kinder. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


Our Partners

Bestselling author, professor and researcher Brené Brown is well-known and loved for her inspirational approach to life's challenges (and for her Netflix special The Call to Courage)‚ but even she acknowledges that the coronavirus pandemic presents a whole new set of challenges for families.

"Collectively, what I see is a growing weariness. I think we're tired, physically, emotionally, spiritually exhausted," Brown said on Monday in an interview for the Today Show, adding that part of the challenge is acknowledging that we're in it for the long haul. "We're going to have to settle into a new normal, while grieving the old normal, which is a lot to ask of people."

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With schools and workplaces closed and social distancing measures in effect across the country, many parents are pulling triple-duty at home right now as full-time caregivers, homeschool instructors and workers. At some moments, it can (understandably) feel as if parenting through coronavirus requires more than we have to give.

Enter Brown's "family gap plan," which can help families bridge the gap during tough moments.

As Brown explains it, "I'd say (to my husband), 'Steve, all I have is 20%.' And he's like, 'Hey, I've been holding down the fort here. All I got is 20.' So we'd say, 'Okay, we've got a gaping 60%. What are our rules when we don't have 100% as a family?'"

Brown stresses the importance of keeping lines of communication open as a family: "Let people know where you are." She and her husband have a policy of being honest with their children about moments when they feel low-energy or high-stress.

"I'll say, 'We have to make 100 as a family. I've got 20, and your dad's got 20. What do we do to get to 100?' And it's about the way we talk to each other, the way we show up with each other, extra kindness...and takeout."

In fact, Brown's kids helped come up with the set of rules their family follows whenever there's a "family gap" and things aren't adding up to 100%:

  • No harsh words
  • No nice words with harsh faces
  • Say you're sorry
  • Accept apologies with a "thank you" (as opposed to "okay," which can sound frosty)
  • More knock-knock jokes and puns

Every family is different, and your family's way of bridging the gap may call for a different set of rules (and the truth is, it's okay to not be okay sometimes). But as tactical, actionable advice for keeping the peace at home goes, the more humor and kindness, the better.

News

It was 8 pm on Sunday night and the kids were in bed. I was in the middle of urgent work emails for my mental health clinic to ensure we were prioritizing the health and care of our clients in light of the novel coronavirus spread. My work demanded my attention.

My partner walked into the room. I looked up and paused and saw the uncertainty in his eyes. I could see that he needed me.

This was one of those moments. This was a bid for attention.

Bids for attention are our attempts to connect with our partners—to be seen, to be appreciated, to be acknowledged, to be given affection. They can be small bids (like making eye contact and smiling) or bigger bids (like asking for help). Often it is not about what someone says or does, but rather the meaning behind the action.

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When your partner asks, "How was work today?" (or even just, "What's up?") what they are really asking is, "Will you talk to me?"

If they glance over and smile at you, what they really want to know is, "Will you notice and connect with me?"

For some, reaching for connection with our partner takes the form of actual verbal requests for help, as in "I need help" or even "I feel like you don't love me."

For others, nonverbal expressions are how we attempt to connect—for affection, care and engagement.

On that Sunday night, my partner didn't say anything. It was all in the look on his face.

I could have said "I have to do this!" and dismissed him from the room. I could have made a list of the things that were necessary to get done. I could have ignored him altogether.

But how we respond to these bids for attention in our relationships is key.

We can either turn towards our partner and see these bids for attention, or we turn away and shut them down. Dr. John Gottman, the relationships researcher, clinical psychologist and founder of the Gottman Institute, found that couples who were still married six years after their initial research meeting turned towards each other 86% of the time, while couples who ended up divorced turned towards each other 33% of the time.

So how do we respond to bids for attention?

One way of responding is by turning towards your partner. This is you seeing your partner's attempt to connect. This is you deciding that whatever is going on for you can wait because you can see that your partner needs you. This is you, at times, putting aside your own feelings, and seeing your partner's.

What does turning towards look like?

  • Smiling back and holding eye contact.
  • Sharing the feeling that comes up at that moment.
  • Responding to touch and letting your partner know you feel them there and appreciate their efforts to connect.
  • Asking what your partner needs in the moment.
  • Seeing your partner's emotion and reflecting it back to them.
  • Asking how you can help them in this moment.
  • Asking a following up question.

The challenge, of course, is that during times of stress and overwhelm, or when we feel disconnected and distressed, we get stuck in turning away from our partners.

Turning away takes a number of forms, too. Sometimes it looks like walking away and not acknowledging your partner, or passing each other in the hall and not meeting your partner's gaze. It may also look like staying away from your partner instead of going to them, or changing the topic when difficult things are brought up. It may also be minimizing the other person's experience ("it's not a big deal") or coming back with a defensive response. Maybe you don't even respond to your partner at all.

Missing these bids for attention sends our partner the message that we don't see them and that they are not important. This slowly erodes the health of your relationship.

We all miss bids for attention at times—particularly during times of stress and struggle. We must learn to tune into our partner and see them when they are asking—silently or out loud—for connection. What are the ways your partner tries for your attention? Have you shared with your partner how you try to get their attention?

On that Sunday night, in the middle of a pandemic, I chose connection. I paused my work and connected with him. I asked him what was going on for him, and I held him close.

You can choose to respond to your partner during this difficult time. You can choose to see your partner in front of you and create closeness and responsiveness. Because this is a time when we all need to create connections.

Love + Village

Chances are, social distancing boredom is starting to set in. You've cleaned your home, watched your favorite Netflix movies (several times), cooked several meals from your stockpile and you've managed to do this all while homeschooling your little one. Good job, mama!

While we can manage our own boredom, trying to keep our kids entertained has been a real challenge. These days our saving grace has been a host of indoor activities, and now, neighborhoods are creating "bear hunts" to help kids minimize boredom even more.

The idea was inspired by the children's book We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury and is exactly how it sounds. You walk around your neighborhood in search of stuffed bears in windows. Put simply, it's the perfect way to get fresh air while practicing social distancing. Even more, it's the perfect distraction that unites neighborhoods and families.

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To get in on the action, visit the "Going on a Bear Hunt" website to find out where the bears are near you or how to start the hunt in your town. Once you've decided your path, sing "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" song to add some fun to your experience.

Shanna Bonner Groom, who spearheaded the recent bear hunting initiative in the Stewart Springs neighborhood of Murfreesboro, Tennessee told TIME that she got the word out by posting the idea in her neighborhood's private Facebook group after seeing it floating around on social media.

"Within hours, everybody was responding and wanting to join in," she said. "Everybody's trying to enjoy this time at home with each other but do social distancing at the same time. So we're trying to come up with some fun activities."

The bear hunt isn't stopping in the United States, in fact many have spotted bears in cities as far as London and New Zealand.

"To the parent (it's gotta be a parent) who came up with this idea, THANK YOU. Explaining to a 4-yr-old why playdates aren't allowed anymore is heartbreaking, so "Going on a Bear Hunt" during our walks is the distraction we needed," says London-based mama, Daniele Hamamdjian.

Indeed, the world needs as many furry friends as possible right now.

News

Breastfeeding can be incredibly challenging in and of itself. Learning how to get the baby to latch properly. Figuring out any lip or tongue tie issues. Wondering if they are actually eating anything and gaining enough weight. Questioning how you'll ever leave the house. If you will ever be brave enough to figure out breastfeeding in public when they demand milk. Constantly wondering about your milk supplydo I have enough? Not enough? Should I pump too? The questions can take up a lot of mental space.

Not to mention the physical aspect of it all. Slumped over on the couch for hours during and in between feeds. Craning your neck in strange positions to try to read or watch something while you nurse them. Tweaking something in your back to reach for something while they're attached to you.

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And breastfeeding while sick, as I've found out, is a whole other level of physical exertion.

It's a hidden reserve of energy you didn't know you had until you need it.

It's having to rest your body after your child's needs are met.

It's realizing you're totally drained, but it doesn't matter—there's a tiny beautiful person counting on you for nourishment.

It's feeding through a fever, worrying your milk isn't going to let down. Having to utilize deep breathing exercises in order to trick your mind into relaxation mode hoping it'll help.

It's considering pumping between feeds just to maintain your supply that you're so scared will diminish as your body fights off infection.

It's watching your milk quickly disappear for a few days during mastitis then magically and miraculously return again.

It's sitting awake for hours at night even though you should be sleeping because your little one wants to cluster feed.

It's trying to rest during the day as much as you can because you're physically exhausted and mentally drained.

It's having to know you can't offer help to all your family members who need it and rely on it because you have to get better—and you have to be available to keep feeding your baby.

It's not wanting to leave the house in case you catch something else—because you can't be sick for much longer.

It's having to go to the doctor so they can listen to your chest, X-ray you and medicate you.

It's realizing the medication you are taking to get better is now upsetting your baby's tummy with gas and changes to their bowel movements.

It's being in pain and wishing your baby could understand that knowing full well they have no idea that anything is bothering you. Knowing you will soldier on.

It's being told constantly "You need to rest," "You need to focus on you," "You need to get better," but mentally not being anywhere near able to do that.

Breastfeeding while sick seems impossible.

But yet—doesn't loads of aspects of motherhood seem impossible at times? Being super pregnant seemed impossible to me once—but I did it. Birth seemed impossible to me once—but I did it. Figuring out a newborn baby's cries seemed impossible to me once—but I did it. Transforming into a mother seemed impossible to me once—but I did it.

When I am breastfeeding my 7-month-old, feeding her sometimes three or four times in one night, constantly feeding her on demand throughout the day—even while sick—sometimes seems impossible at that moment. The moment I'm in it. Because, honestly, the mentality it takes to drag myself out of bed when my head is swimming and it feels hard to breathe is intense.

Because it's hard. It's really hard.

But just like every other aspect of impossible motherhood, we rise up to the challenge. We figure it out. We have the confidence to know what to do, what's best for us and our baby, underneath any insecurity or fear.

Because we are strong. We are resilient. We are mothers.

Life
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