It’s currently week 10 since our fifth little love made her entrance into daylight. She’s got the sweetest face and she’s a pretty good nighttime sleeper (fifth time’s a charm). The kids are totally in love with her and she fits perfectly into our family’s beautiful chaos.
But no matter how often I’ve done it before, those long postpartum days and nights always bowl me over. (Especially now that I’m past 35 — which, apparently, means that I’m geriatric and need to be labeled as “Advanced Maternal Age.”Ha!)
That word always sends an unpleasant shiver down my spine and a sick feeling in my tummy. After three rounds of PPD and PPA, it’s a time I always dread — to me, synonymous with weakness and vulnerability.
The truth is, the postpartum time isn’t easy for any mama, new or veteran, at any age. It’s filled with little sleep and adjustments to family life and screaming toddlers who don’t understand why they’ve been demoted from mom’s lap. Throw in recovering from birth (a surprise c-section for me this time), and it’s a tough few months by any standard. And no matter your state of mental health, it’s a vulnerable time as you’re healing and processing and expanding your heart and home to welcome another life.
But, despite all of that, I can honestly say that this postpartum has been my best ever. It’s been a combination of grace and an amazing tribe of people.
My husband, my parents, and my church community have all surrounded me with love, as well as a slew of practical help that I don’t know what I would’ve done without. Grocery shopping, babysitting, meals, and a listening ear are just a few ways my wonderful friends and family have rallied to serve me.
Although they can’t eliminate every postpartum hardship, they’ve removed so much stress that we’ve sailed through most of the fourth trimester with a lot of gentleness and peace.
Sadly, I know that not all new mamas are able to experience such support.
“It’s like everyone forgot about me as soon as the baby was born. I felt like I was just expected to get it together and get back in the swing of life right away. I spent my entire postpartum cooking and cleaning for visitors who came to hold my new baby.”
I think it’s fair to say that most of us have felt this way to some degree or another after giving birth. Postpartum motherhood in America too often looks like this:
We think we need to be strong and independent. We want to feel in control and like we’ve got motherhood figured out, because we don’t know that we’re allowed to feel otherwise. But it doesn’t have to be like this, mamas!
There are are many cultures in the world that celebrate new motherhood by protectively nurturing the mama. When the mother is supported, the new baby and the entire family are all given the chance to thrive together from the very beginning. (You can read more here.)
I think American women long to thrive in this way. We want to be given permission to ease into motherhood, and we want to be gently nurtured and mothered ourselves during the first few weeks.
So what are some practical ways to put this nurturing into practice? Here are my top 11:
1. Be a safe space for her to share and process her birth story.
Labor and birth are monumental in the life of a mother. It’s natural for women to talk about it. You can listen without judgement as she tells you as much as she needs to about what happened.
2. Validate and honor her feelings as she adjusts to this new postpartum. Never minimize her transition.
The fourth trimester is one of many major transitions. Mamas have a huge range of feelings and emotions. None of them should be scoffed at or ignored. Instead, validate her. Support her with your empathy and understanding.
3. Give her time to rest.
This is huge! Don’t just offer to hold the baby so she can clean her house. Let her snuggle and bond with her newborn, while you offer to load the dishwasher or run an errand. Pregnancy and birth can be as exhausting as a marathon, and she needs to replenish, both mentally and physically.
4. Organize meals.
It helps a new mama so much to have the burden of meal planning taken off her shoulders. Even if she tells you that she’s fine and able to cook, give her the gift of meals for a few weeks post-birth. A free site like MealTrain makes is so easy to pull resources from church or a mom’s group, and get several families helping out.
5. Offer specific, practical help.
Often a postpartum mom feels completely overwhelmed by the everyday tasks that she’s just too tired to tackle. Instead of asking her, “Do you need anything?” maybe try offering something specific: Can I throw in a load of laundry for you? I’m happy to come get your other kids for a play-date. What’s your grocery list? I’m heading to the store.
6. Stay connected with her.
Life with a newborn can turn into an endless blur of milky snuggles and sleepless nights, and the mama sometimes feels like she’s under house arrest with her baby. Let her know you’re still there and that your friendship still matters, even though you may not have seen each for a while. A simple text message or even a snail mail note are perfect.
7. Encourage her.
It’s so easy for postpartum moms to feel anxious, incompetent, or less of a person than they were before baby. Sincere encouragement is so important to sustain a new mama’s courage and perseverance through the hard transitions of motherhood! You may be able to see what she can’t — that she’s an awesome mom. So tell her!
8. Bring her beauty.
Beauty is so healing, and reminds us of God’s goodness. Bring it to the new mama! Some ideas for beauty are flowers, prints, sacred art, a new bracelet or earrings, a houseplant, or a journal.
9. Help her practice self-care.
Sometimes a postpartum mom needs to be reminded of her own worth and her own need for nurturing, while she is busy selflessly caring for her sweet babe. Although self-care is difficult with a newborn, you can help her try a modified version. Encourage her to grab an epsom salts bath, get a deep-tissue massage, read a good book while breastfeeding, or get in some extra prayer time — and offer to help with the baby while she takes a few minutes to recharge.
10. Ask good questions.
As a three-time survivor of PPD and PPA, I can’t emphasize this enough. Postpartum depression and other mental distress can creep in and quietly take hold of a new mama, even right in front of her loving friends and family. It’s vital to ask her how she’s really feeling. And it’s ok to gently lead her to open up, even if at first she seems uninterested in having the conversation. Try these questions: Do you feel sad or anxious more than you usually do? Are you able to sleep? Do you feel supported? Has motherhood been a little overwhelming to you? –because I felt that way, too. When a mama is drowning in postpartum mental illness, a gentle conversation could be just the lifeline she needs. (This Postpartum Pact is really helpful.)
11. Pray with and for her.
It goes without saying that mamas need all the prayers!!! Let that exhausted postpartum mom know you are covering her in prayer — for her peace, her strength, and her joy. And if it’s comfortable for you both, try praying together!
BONUS TIP: Love to plan? Help a pregnant mama create a postpartum plan, to make sure all her needs are covered ahead of time.
I’d love to know — what would you add to this list?