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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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So far 2020 has been a year of big changes for Meghan Markle and her husband, Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex. Earlier this month the royal couple announced their plans to step back as senior members of the royal family. Initially, the plan was for the couples to retain their royal tiles and raise their "son with an appreciation for the royal tradition into which he was born" while also give themselves the space to work and live in North America. Sometimes young parents have to make tough choices to do what's best for their new family and that can mean making changes that impact your family of origin.

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On Sunday, during a speech at a charity event for Sentebale (an organization Prince Harry co-founded to get support children living with HIV in Southern Africa), the Duke of Sussex explained that stepping back from being a senior royal wasn't easy but had to be done.

"The UK is my home and a place that I love," he explained. "That will never change...The decision that I have made for my wife and I to step back is not one I made lightly," he said. "It was so many months of talks after so many years of challenges. And I know I haven't always gotten it right, but as far as this goes, there really was no other option."

This follows the Queen's announcement earlier this weekend. She stated that her family has found a way for Harry and Meghan to move forward, and it means they're not only not senior royals anymore, they do not have HRH titles (His Royal Highness or Her Royal Highness) anymore and "are no longer working members of the Royal Family."

The statement from the Queen reads, in part: "Following many months of conversations and more recent discussions, I am pleased that together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family.

"Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.

"I recognise the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life.

"I want to thank them for all their dedicated work across this country, the Commonwealth and beyond, and am particularly proud of how Meghan has so quickly become one of the family.

"It is my whole family's hope that today's agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life."

The Queen's statement explains that Harry and Meghan have "shared their wish to repay Sovereign Grant expenditure for the refurbishment of Frogmore Cottage, which will remain their UK family home."

Basically, they're serious about being financially independent and they're going to pay rent on the cottage.

Untangling family issues can be hard, and it is difficult for anyone to imagine what it must be like to live this out on the world's stage. In her statement, the Queen said she understands the role the intense press scrutiny has played in the couple's decision to forge a new path, and that they will always be her family.

Whether you're leaving the royal family to move to Canada, or just trying to explain to your parents that your own family needs to move to another state, the challenges are real.

Here's to a new chapter for Harry and Meghan and all the other new parents writing their own stories.

[This post was originally published January 18, 2020. It has been updated.]

News

Motherhood is a juggling act. Whether you have one child or many, work outside the home or don't, have a partner or are doing this whole thing solo, you are always juggling something. So how on earth do we keep up the act? How do we ensure no ball gets dropped?

We don't.

All of us, every single one, lets something slip through our fingers on some occasion or another. And that's totally okay.

A friend from college recently commented on Instagram how peaceful and sweet my children seemed. I laughed out loud, and not an endearing chuckle, a wholehearted cackle. What a glorious and erroneous idea that my children are peaceful and sweet. I have three of these beautiful monsters, ages 12, 5 and 4 months. Our house sounds more like a child run circus than a zen meditation retreat.

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It is true that my children are sweet at times. And I will admit I try very hard to create a peaceful life and home, but those are not the two words I would ever use to describe our family. I might choose words like rambunctious, spirited, passionate and intense.

What I realized as I simultaneously smiled and snorted in laughter, was that I put a lot of work into creating a life on social media that looks just like that. Peaceful and sweet. I choose my words carefully, I edit my photos and of course choose only the best ones, the ones where everyone is smiling and we appear to love each other. The pictures of my children pulling each other's hair, stealing snacks and shouting that they hate each other don't get quite as many likes.

Don't get me wrong—my children often smile and we do love each other very much. But by carefully curating the life I post on social media I have unintentionally created something laughable. What a jolt to realize the very thing I'm striving for makes me laugh out loud when someone names it. Is there anything more inauthentic than that?

I am working to strive for authenticity and perfect imperfection.

I make mistakes, hurt those I love, burn dinner and that is what makes me human.

I drop the ball every single day in some large or small way—and that's okay. It is to be expected really.

It's what can give us the gift of connection. We can connect with one another via our faults and our vulnerabilities. We starve ourselves of this by pretending to be perfect.

As I write this I'm sitting in the front seat of my car in the parking lot of our local skate park, my youngest is napping in his car seat, my oldest is wearing a helmet and pads and is driving his new BMX bike as fast as he can up and down hills and ramps set at odd angles with weird curves among them.

This moment feels ideal t. The breeze blows through my open windows as my oldest is getting a great workout and my youngest slowly wakes up cooing.

We can only enjoy the moment if we are present within it. When I live my life constantly in a state of distraction, constantly keeping my eyes on all the balls I'm juggling, I'm not enjoying any of it.

I am not a master juggler at this moment in life. I don't think what I'm doing even looks like juggling. I do not have my eyes on all the balls, I am not even attempting to catch or toss them all in that perfect arc that looks so magical.

I prefer to relish these kinds of moments, soak up their joy, their peace, their sweetness and to do that I have to let go of the charade, I have to accept imperfection in the form of letting some balls drop.

I want to live a life full of authenticity and joy in the simple moments.

I want to live without the pressure of doing it all.

I want to give myself the gift of not doing everything the way it should be done by the imagined deadlines that cannot be met.

I want to enjoy my rambunctious, passionate children.

So I let the ball drop—and I'm okay with that.

Life

Feeding your new baby can be a beautiful experience, but it can also be really hard. We at Motherly have talked about it. Amy Schumer has talked about it. And now Kate Upton is talking about it, too.

Upton and her husband Justin Verlander became parents when their daughter Genevieve was born in November 2018, and in a new interview with Editorialist, Upton explains that while she loves motherhood she didn't always love breastfeeding.

"Having VeVe has changed my life in such a wonderful way," she explains, adding that in the early days of motherhood she felt "so much pressure"..."to be doing all these things, like breastfeeding on the go—when the reality, for me, was that breastfeeding was sucking the energy away from me. I realized I needed to calm down, to allow my body to recover."

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Breastfeeding can take up a lot of a mama's time and energy in those early weeks and months, and while Upton doesn't explicitly say whether she switched to formula, combo fed, pumped or what, it's clear that she did give herself some grace when it came to breastfeeding and found the right parenting pace by taking the pressure off of herself.

Upton took the pressure off herself when it came to her demanding breastfeeding schedule, and she's also resisting the pressure to keep up with a social media posting schedule.

"I want to be enjoying my life, enjoying my family, not constantly trying to take the perfect picture," she says. "I think my husband wants me to throw my phone away. We talk about it in the house all the time: 'Let's have a phone-free dinner.' We don't want [our daughter] thinking being on the phone is all that life is."

Whether the pressure to be perfect is coming from your phone or from society's conflicting exceptions of mothers it's a force worth rejecting. Upton is loving life at her own pace, imperfect as reallife can be.

News

After the treat-filled sugar rush of holidays and birthdays, it can be hard to get back on track with eating healthy as a family. (What can I say, I love cake—and my kids do, too.) It's totally okay to hold your boundary for sugar in your kid's diet, no matter what that boundary is. And you can do it without being the bad guy.

Putting a positive spin on "the sugar issue" (letting kids know that they can have treats sometimes, but not all. the. time.) will help prevent sugar becoming an ongoing power struggle, which nobody wants.

Here are a few phrases that can help your kids eat less sugar, without creating a power struggle over treats:

1. "Holiday and birthday treats are so fun, but they're not for every day."

Acknowledge that all of the extra treats were fun (they were!). You can talk about how some foods are for special occasions and others are the ones we eat every day to have strong bodies and feel good.

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2. "I feel so much better when I eat lots of fruits and vegetables."

Instead of putting the emphasis on why sugar is bad, try focusing on all the good reasons to eat healthy foods. You can talk about how eating carrots gives us strong eyes, eating oranges keeps us from getting sniffles, or eating kale helps us feel good and have lots of energy for playing.

3. "Which fruit would you like to have with your lunch?"

Keep it fun by letting your child choose which healthy foods to eat. Two or three choices are fine. You can let them help pick at the grocery store or let them pick from the options you've selected—the important thing is to offer choice.

4. "Let's see if we can make a rainbow on your plate!"

Who doesn't love rainbows, especially among the under-six crowd? Use their universal appeal to your advantage and encourage kiddos to make their own edible rainbows.

Make it extra fun by writing a checklist with colored pencils, one checkbox for every rainbow color, and bringing it with you to the grocery store. Let your child choose one item from the produce section for every color.

5. "You can choose one treat with dinner, but candy isn't a choice for snack today."

Make sure kids know that they will still be able to enjoy treats sometimes. Instead of saying "candy makes you crazy," or "sugar rots your teeth," just let them know when you're okay with them having a treat. It may be every night after dinner, only on Friday nights, or it may not be until Valentine's Day, but having a clear boundary will help reduce the constant pleas for sweet treats.

6. "I think treats feel more special when we don't have them every day."

Talk to your child about how part of the fun of holiday treats is that they're out of the ordinary. They are special traditions we get to enjoy each year and they help make the holidays feel magical. Just as it wouldn't be as fun if we had a Christmas tree up all year or wore a Halloween costume every day, treats aren't as fun if we eat them nonstop.

7. "I hear that you really want candy. I can't let you have it right now, but it's okay to be disappointed."

Let your child know that you empathize with their feelings about not being able to eat what they want all of the time.

Sometimes children just need to be heard. It might be more important to them to know that you understand their feelings about treats than to actually get a treat.

8. "Let's think of a healthy treat we could get at the grocery store next week."

Brainstorm with your child and come up with a list of healthy treats you could bring home from your next grocery shopping trip. This might be a kind of fruit they haven't had in a while, a granola bar you don't usually buy, or the makings of a fun trail mix.

Part of the fun of treats is the ritual—you can still enjoy the sweetness without the extra sugar.

9. "Would you like to bake with me?"

Carry those fond memories of making Christmas cookies together into the new year to help wean kids off the holiday high of constant treats. Just find something you're okay with your child eating regularly, like a healthy muffin recipe, baked oatmeal, or energy bites—whatever meets your own nutritional guidelines for your family!

10. "I noticed you didn't sleep well when you ate those treats before nap time. Let's think of a better time for treats together."

You can explain the effects of sugar on the body without vilifying it. Sometimes just saying sugar is bad makes it all the more desirable or pits you against your child. But that doesn't mean you can't give them the facts. Just tell them plainly that sugar makes it harder for them to sleep well, makes it harder for them to concentrate, or whatever other effects you've seen.

Here's to a healthy 2020—you've got this, mama!

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