You’ve got a baby on the way and friends and family who can’t wait to meet your new arrival.
Planning for how to include those dear to you when your baby arrives is quite a bit more complicated than planning your shower guest list for most expectant families.
Supporters or Celebrators
You are endlessly grateful to your dad for his sage financial advice and come to him for guidance on life’s big decisions. You adore your mother in-laws’ gritty wit and her amazing ability to throw together the best soirees. You can’t wait to visit your sister this next summer for your annual girl’s weekend and won’t even mind missing sleep to stay up laughing and telling stories . But each of these dear people may or may not be the right support to help you as a new family. If they are not support person material they can be celebrators! You actually might find that the less intimate the relationship, the better the fit for the postpartum helpers. And with some forethought, and some honest communication, you’ll find that you’ll enjoy the visits more if they are the right kind of visit at the right time. It’s not about how much you love the person it’s about who is the best fit for the job.
As you think about your circles of friends and family, you often will instinctively know what role you might want each person to play. But perhaps, it’s hard to envision your needs, or you are afraid of hurt feelings. And if it’s something you and your partner can’t agree on, you’re in good company. It’s a common issue for couples to navigate.
What should you expect?
Weeks one and two are the most vulnerable, overwhelming, and sticky times to have celebrators. Best to stick with supporters! As the weeks go on, babies get cuter, you get more confident, you’re less anxious about the germs and your baby has developed a stronger immunity if you’re breastfeeding. Speaking of nursing, you’ll be more and will have a handle on how to nurse with your appropriate degree of grace! Research tells us that the opinions of those that are helping the new mother play a significant role in breastfeeding success. And breastfeeding or not, you will be less emotionally vulnerable and raw and you’ll have more trust in your own language with your baby.
When I’m working with families, we talk a lot about the delicate inner workings of our brain chemistry, and some of the common behaviors and experiences that new parents will have in the first days and weeks after welcoming a child. With all these changes in motion, how do you anticipate what you will need?
The Picture of Support
I know it’s hard to imagine all of this, but here are some considerations. If you can answer these questions in the affirmative, you have found yourself a wonderful support:
I can nap during the whole visit and not feel like I should be entertaining. They will give my partner and I the privacy and intimacy we need.
I can let my shadow side out and a) be ‘not nice’ as much as I need to b)feel really sorry for myself and complain extensively about my hemorrhoids or c)say out loud “what was I thinking?” and I won’t feel judged.
I can imagine breastfeeding and letting it all hang out around this person (or at least can create a comfortable zone to meet my own need for privacy with them).
They can run to the store, fix themselves and me meals, snacks, and tea and clean up after themselves.
They will sweep up dustbunnies and make my bed and I can ask them to help with anything that would make life easier. Exceptional cooks are a bonus!
If they don’t hold the baby for a week because I can’t stop clutching her to my chest they will not tell me they wasted their time visiting and will congratulate me on being so strongly attached.
I can also ask them to hold the baby when I need those extra arms and time to regroup and I will feel at ease.
They will tell me I’m the best mom/dad they have ever seen in the history of the universe, even when I always get the snaps wrong on the onesies or order a dozen pacifiers with rush delivery online at 3am.
They will not resent me if I show little to no interest in anything they have to say if it doesn’t have to do with my baby and my experience. (Thankfully, this passes and you can have normal conversations again someday!)
They will point out how plump and satisfied my breastfed baby is and will not give me advice unless I ask for it, it’s evidence-based and current.
They will not get frustrated with me if I don’t take their advice about caring for my baby.
If they see me struggling, they will educate themselves about perinatal mood disorders and give me permission to find resources and self-care strategies to help me find my ground again.
It’s All About You and Baby!
Does this sound unfair? One-sided? Self-centered? We should allow the new family to be in the center of our loving care for at least this fleeting time! New babies and their beginnings are a special time in the life of the family. We have many models the world over for honoring and caring for the new family and we find that this nurture pays off in greater attachment, improved breastfeeding outcomes, greater infant wellbeing, improved recovery of the new mother and that we can perhaps prevent or lessen the impact of perinatal mood disorders when we care for new mothers well. A stronger beginning can mean the individual and the couple are better able to wear the challenges of the year ahead with greater resiliency.
We have many in our lives that we want to celebrate with that don’t fit this checklist. It doesn’t mean you have to shut them out, but plan to have these visitors come after the most tender of the postpartum weeks. Usually by 3-4 weeks we are experiencing greater confidence and are feeling more resilient. By 5-6 weeks we are often ready to burst this bubble and actually crave more interesting conversations, getting out, seeing friends and family and are happy to have our babes loved on and fawned over by their community.
I wish you a wonderful babymoon- a time to cuddle up and learn about each other, a time to be fed nourishing foods and be surrounded by sweet words of encouragement and the loving support of your community. You and your baby deserve it!