I’ve been educating expectant couples about the importance of support for years, encouraging them to prioritize care for themselves as they adjust to a new reality. Over the past 6 months, the need for support has increased, while the norms of physical distancing have made many of the practices that are typically helpful - cleaning, cooking, baby holding, etc – challenging, if not impossible.
Most couples find themselves fueled by adrenaline for the first few days of their baby’s life, and then the exhaustion settles on every level: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. A day can drift by before you realize you are still in your pjs and haven’t eaten anything since breakfast.
It can be hard to get the nutrition or sleep you need, meet the needs of your baby, find time and energy to care for yourself (bathe, eat, cook, get dressed, brush your hair and teeth), and do laundry/dishes/housework…let alone shop for groceries, deal with work obligations, maintain relationships, etc…
In a society that prides itself on independence and self-sufficiency, most of us are more likely to tough it out on our own rather than seek support.
You CAN do it all, but it is likely that your healing and recovery will take longer, you’ll get depleted and worn down, and you’ll feel isolated and lonely. I believe support is key to thriving in this special fourth trimester. This means allowing people to visit and help. Lack of social support and loneliness are huge risk factors for postpartum depression and anxiety.
Covid 19, and the ways in which we are all seeking to keep ourselves and families safe, is changing what postpartum care looks like currently. For some, forced distance and a slower pace of life is just what they need in these early days with their baby. For others, these factors increase stress and fear.
So, what might support look like with Covid-19 precautions?
Here are my suggestions:
Have an Expert on Call. Maintain regular phone or virtual contact with someone you trust who is wise about postpartum recovery, baby care, breastfeeding, and emotional support. Talking with someone who has familiarity with all these things will help your troubleshoot challenges, and give you reassurance at a time when few people are seeing what is going on with you and your baby. It will also help you know when further referrals may be necessary (lactation consultant, doctor, chiropractor, physical therapist, etc). This is precisely what my Virtual Coaching is for. Many other postpartum professionals are offering virtual services these days too.
Create Clarity Between You.Converse with your partner and get really clear about what you are comfortable with and uncomfortable with on issues of visitors, who holds the baby, quarantine requests, wearing masks, etc.
Ask for Quarantine Before Helping.You may want to have one loving caregiver (like your mom) quarantine for 2 weeks before the birth and then come stay with you for the first weeks to keep the household going and help you learn new skills, while you both rest and recover. A New York Times article published June 16, 2020 entitled “When Can Grandparents Meet the Newborn?” recommends protecting elderly family members and friends by quarantining yourselves for the first 2 weeks after your baby is born, especially if you give birth outside your home.
Call in Safe Support. Have an honest conversation with good friends, neighbors, or postpartum doulas who might be willing to limit their social circles in order to be able to spend time with you. While wearing a mask (and washing hands upon arrival), they can assist with washing dishes and laundry, light housework, giving you a break from baby care, and generally being of service. Note: If you feel uncomfortable about anyone coming into your home in your baby’s first weeks or months, and that is fine too. Do what works for your family!
Ask for Food. There is more evidence coming out that Covid is hard to transfer in food. Put a cooler in your porch, set up a meal train, and ask folks to drop the food off at a certain time each day. Order takeout with delivery or ask someone else to pick it up and bring it to you. If you are worried about the germs that may come with food, ask for soups or things you can heat to high temps before you consume them. There is a great episode of the Splendid Table talking about the low risk of Covid Transmission in food.
Ask for Delivery.Text a friend your grocery list, Target list, etc. Ask them to leave the goods outside your door, and reimburse them electronically with PayPal, Venmo, Apple Pay etc. No touch support, yeah!
Ask for Pickup. Trash and recycling can get overwhelming and are easy things for friends or neighbors to keep track of. If you live in an urban area, ask a neighbor or friend to put your trash out on the street before the city comes to collect it. If you live in a rural area where you need to take out your own trash and recycling, ask someone else to come get it from your porch or garage and take it away.
Have Physically Distant Visits. Invite friends or family to visit on your porch, on your lawn, through a glass front door, etc. as you maintain at least 6 feet of distance. Be honest about what you feel comfortable with. Even if these special people can’t hold your baby, showing them the baby, and being witnessed as parents by those close to you makes a world of difference and can pull you out of loneliness and overwhelm.
Connect with Other New Parents.Find virtual parent groups online, or reach out to an old friend who has kids, wants to hear how things are going for you, and is willing to share their experience as well. Sharing your experiences, hearing others' experiences, and realizing that you are not the only one who has gone through this is a powerful antidote to the shame that a lot of new parents feel during the isolation of the 4thTrimester.
Get outside.Wearing your baby to keep them distant from others, go for walks with friends and family outside. Wear a mask, or maintain physical distance of at least 6 feet without masks. Meet up with friends at a park, woods, hiking trail, swimming spot, etc and visit at a distance – heck, you can even have a picnic together!
These are challenging times for all families. I truly worry about the long-term costs to families going through postpartum recovery without support. Let’s all pitch in. Share this list with those you love and come up with a plan that assures you won’t be totally alone, overwhelmed, and exhausted in the first precious weeks of your baby’s life. Everyone, including the helpers, will benefit from the connection you initiate.
Life Beyond Birth provides support for expectant parents, and new babies & their families, online and in-person. Find a class or contact Molly at www.lifebeyondbirth.com.