As a postpartum doula and educator, I witness so many first time mums struggle with the juggle that is Motherhood. In an attempt to be everything to everyone, and romanticising preconceived ideas, they can lose themselves and often go into burn out and survival mode for a time. So much energy is invested into the birth that perinatal exhaustion is something I see regularly. From my own experiences in motherhood and my coaching and support work at Routachment with FTM, if as much planning, preparation and awareness was injected into the transition into the Fourth Trimester and beyond, I believe the postnatal journey could be so much smoother and the realities of motherhood would not come as such a world altering shock.
I’m not talking about sinking a load of cash (especially when cash might be tight with a new baby) into aids, devices and contraptions that may or may not serve you. I’m talking about long term, renewable and sustainable resources that don’t need to cost you the earth but can absolutely save YOU.
I think its super pertinent to remember that birth is just a phase and a stage. It is one day, maybe two but the inevitable will happen and your baby will be born! Amazing!
You trust that your care is placed in professionals and so much of the experience can’t be fully planned, no matter how much you would like it to be! You need to place your faith into your chosen LMC and be guided through your journey.
It’s after baby arrives that the real challenges begin. You might be wondering if your baby manual has got lost in the mail as you certainly can’t find any reliable instructions!
The antenatal period: Use your antenatal time to plan for the fourth trimester and beyond. Your mind, body and soul will need preparation.
Antenatally and as a FTM you have time. You have a far more regulated schedule during this period so choose to use this time wisely. You might feel time poor but please trust me…you are not.
Get a few basic steps sorted antenatally and learning some effective strategies to help you navigate first time parenting. This journey isn’t linear and your limits will be tested.
Antenatal Connections: Get connected with other women who are due at a similar time as you. This may be: antenatal classes, postnatal education classes, pregnancy yoga, hypno-birthing classes, anything that educates and specially targets you in this season sets you up in establishing your village.
The Village: The village of care and support used to occur naturally. Our sisters, mothers, aunts and grandparents all lived nearby and had the capacity to help ‘raise the child’ and in turn; raise a new mother. However, societal changes and a move towards more insular and independent lives have meant we need to create our own village. A village made up of people that get it. Who want to help. And in turn, you are also an active member in their village. Not only will the social connection and interactions with people traveling the same road as you be super beneficial but no one gets the way in which you feel, until you are deep in it.
Empowering your partner: He/she is a new kid on the block too and even if they do not have lactating nipples; you could make your job more challenging by not letting them find their own method and way of doing things. If they are constantly given feedback they are “wrong, slow, incorrect or ineffective” this will on lead you towards the path to martyrdom. This is not a cool vortex to be sucked into.
Be each other’s biggest cheerleaders.
Make them feel seen and so appreciated.
Your realm of control: The need to control will not eliminate or help your levels of perceived stress. Surrender and letting go can actually reduce stress and can improve immune function systems. Stress is fear and of lack of control. Motherhood can be jam packed with fear until we surrender and receive help as well as realising that we are not superhuman.
Reduce sugar and caffeine: Caffeine (and sugar) are a temporary stimulant. And what goes up, must come down. It’s a band aid and can inhibit a decent sleep cycle to occur. It also has been shown to increase anxiety.
Meditation and mindfulness: Grounding yourself when things start to feel overwhelming. Stop. In your tracks. Right where you are. With your new baby and ground yourself.
Identify: what can you see, smell, taste and hear? Identify the feeling and thought rather than running from it. State the feeling or thought aloud. Recognising it helps to take the power out of it.
10-minute meditation/reset: Taking 10 minutes to calm your mind might feel like a challenge but it’s a challenge worth accepting. It will set your day up so much more enable you to cope, flex with change and give gratitude. Mindset is everything. You are not working towards getting your ‘old life’ back. That would be a regression and lady…you are ALL about evolving!
Nutritious foods and so much water: This is your fuel source and like a quality car…you want to fuel it with high quality fuel. This requires a small amount of prep that will pay off throughout the day with more level energy levels and sustained release.
Accepting help: What are your obligations? What can you outsource and share the load in? You’re only alone and isolated if you choose this path. People also don’t know unless you put your hand up and accept people’s genuine offers.
Routines: These require preparation. Like us as adults, knowing a familiar pattern of events creates a sense of security. Keep things simple. Babies don’t need loads of stimulation. Yes, it may feel like Groundhog Day but it’s a season. It’s not forever. Keep things simple. Overcomplicating an already challenging season will see you burn through the small reserves you may have.
Before implementing anything extra such as sleep aids or devices to help with baby’s settling, think can I maintain this? What is the admin involved? Is this sustainable in the long term and big picture? If you can sustain it long term, awesome! But don’t introduce things you can’t sustain.
It’s ok to say no: Saying no and putting boundaries in place. People pleasing needs to be abolished! It will set you up for a victim mentality which creates resentment and even fear. Establishing boundaries enables you to nip the cycle right at the start before you start to spiral. Visitors are welcome but when works for YOU and your newly established family.
The pace of life: The pace of life changes. You now skip to the beat of a small persons (loud) drum! Accepting that your days do not look like they used to is essential. Remember it’s only a season within your life.
Connection to the land/nature: Connecting back to the whenua (the land/nature) is a basic and often primal need. We come from the land and getting back into nature is so grounding. The change in environment creates some space for both you and baby. It’s like a natural ‘factory reset’ button. Just 10-20 mins in your local nature can help you to regroup and flip any situation. It’s creating space, both physically and within your mind.
Acceptance: Acceptance that some days will be a write off needs will occur. These days happen. You follow your baby’s cues, you prep, you set your day up with meditation, you do ALL the things and it still turns to mud. Feel annoyed/confused/frustrated is absolutely normal and should be acknowledged. Use some of these cost-free ideas to ‘flip it’ but this I mean refocus on the awesome aspects and give gratitude.
Gratitude has simply changed my life and I’ve seen it change others.
Comparison: Comparison to social media and to other mothers and babies is dangerous.
You are only ever getting the smallest snapshot and momentary glimpse into anyone’s life with a social media following. You don’t see the poo-nami that occurred halfway around the supermarket, where the baby looses it, mum/dad’s anxiety begins to peak, a fumble occurs and a dozen eggs slip through their fingers, smashing everywhere with far too many ‘Susans’ looking on with disapproving eyes and wishing the floor would just open up and swallow you!
If someone you follow doesn’t add value to you, simply unfollow. Even with your closest friends, you won’t ever see the full picture and backstory.
(Massive disclaimer: postnatal depression and postnatal anxiety is far more than a passing feeling and needs to be treated in a more multifaceted manner.)
Remember that not only has a child been born, but a mother and a new family have been born. The continuum of emotions from delight and wonder to overwhelm and outright intimidation and everything in between, might be experienced each and every day.
Be patient and kind to yourself.
Motherhood changes everything. You will find you are stronger than you ever knew but you never have to be alone, your heart might burst and break in within a few hours, you might feel you are failing at times but know…you have a village, you are courageous and you are so wise.
Congratulations and welcome to the exclusive club called ‘Motherhood’.