Updated: May 23, 2022
Getting the support you need during the Postpartum period
Here you are, you have been handed this precious little being and you are feeling all sorts of emotions. Maybe you are at the hospital or perhaps at home. The moment you have been waiting for, preparing for, has finally arrived. And then it hits you. You are completely responsible for this tiny human, they completely dependent on you and you have no clue what you are doing. Cue sleep deprivation. Cue crying spells that leave you exhausted and frustrated. Breastfeeding isn't as easy as you thought. In fact, it hurts like hell.
So many well-meaning people look you deep in the eyes and remind you to "soak it in" because the "days are long but the years are short." This flabbergasts you. You are well aware that you have this precious baby, that they will grow up, and that time passes on yet you are completely exhausted, at the end of your rope, unable to soak anything in because you just want to take a shower and have one second to yourself. So how do you manage this paradox?
The first step is to acknowledge that parenting is hard, especially in a culture that expects you to basically do it yourself without communal/village support. Actually, this cultural norm may be biologically abnormal. Many scientists believe that humans were not meant to parent alone (see article). Most hunter-gatherer societies rely on alloparents and it is actually advantageous for humans to raise their young collectively since there is less of a chance for caregiver burnout. Communal care positively addresses many of the risk factors for Postpartum Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs) such as sleep deprivation, adequate healthy food intake, hygiene, exercise, social connection, healthy breaks to recharge, etc. With communal support, there is always someone to hold the baby so that you can take a shower, grab a bite to eat, exercise, or socialize.
I hear you, you don't live in a communal village of helpful aunties and grandmas, and yet you want to find a sustainable and realistic way to be present while engaging in the impossible task of raising a baby with minimal support. So how can this be done? This is a question I have pondered over for years. The only sustainable solution I can think of is to recreate a village-type network of care that can provide some of these benefits in a modern context. This can look different for different people and situations but here are some ideas:
A quick disclaimer that any of these services can be provided for free by friends and other social connections. It might feel awkward to ask for help but the postpartum period is a time to ask and receive help. You can pay it forward later when your kids are older. You may look at this list and think "I live far away from family or I just moved and I have no connections where I live." I would suggest joining local parent groups on social media and asking to connect with other parents in your local area. Ask family and friends that live far away to contribute to paid services that can replace some of these communal supports.
Recruit alloparent(s) for your child. These could be aunts/uncles, friends, grandparents, Godparents, etc. Invite them to share meals with your family and watch your child while you go for a walk or take a shower. Your child is not meant to just attach to one or two primary caregivers,
Hire a personal chef or meal delivery service. Ask family, friends, coworkers, to create a meal train for you. Ask that the meal train last at least 6 weeks. The postpartum period is a special time in your life to be a receiver. You will have many opportunities to give back in the future.
Hire a postpartum birth keeper (Doula) to help support you with a variety of tasks like changing diapers, doing some laundry, preparing a postpartum sitz bath, and more. For a full list, check out this website: Link.
Hire a house cleaner. Again, this is your time to receive. Allow family/friends to come in and clean for you. I understand that it can feel awkward to allow others into your home to handle your dirty laundry or dirty plates. When we return to our biology and our evolution as a species, we are social animals and we bond by helping each other. You are on the receiving end this time, allow your community to become healthier through reconnecting to our communal care roots.
Hire a Nanny and/or Babysitter. This could be a formal paid arrangement with a professional or just allowing grandma and grandpa to come to watch the baby so you can take a nice walk with your partner or take a shower. Your baby is wired to connect with multiple caregivers, not just one or two. Your baby does not need to be by your side 24 hours a day, it's ok to take a break and recharge. Your baby needs you to be healthy and have your needs met.
Join a parent support group, La Lecha League meeting, or lactation support group. You can conduct a simple google search for local groups in your area. Many of these groups are free and help recreate some of the parent support circles that would be present in a more connected, communal lifestyle.
Consider couples counseling or psychotherapy, if needed. In a healthy communal village care system, there would be incredible amounts of social and emotional support. The postpartum period can push us to our breaking point. Many of us have never experienced this level of stress, sleep deprivation or lack of personal time or space. Surround yourself with supportive friends and family, and see them often. Professional therapy can provide a supportive, nonjudgemental space to process your feelings and make progress toward your goals.
If our ancestors looked back at us and how we are trying to raise our children in nuclear families without much support, they most likely would be shocked. It is easy to tell us to enjoy these precious moments without acknowledging that raising children without a village support system is incredibly taxing on the parents. If you are taxed and stressed to the max, being told to soak it all in feels almost insulting. You might just be trying to survive. Yet, what they say holds some truth to it. Our children WILL grow up and it would be wise to show up to your life now since these moments are all we get. One day you will wake up and your children won't need to be held to sleep or read to. The investment into creating a communal care village for yourself can help you get the support you need to be able to show up to your life. We were never meant to this do this alone in small families, disconnected from support.