Teresa Pitman shares her own 3 ways for a new mother to mother herself.
Reading articles about “mothering the new mother” would always make me cry. “Have your partner take some time off work and help you out after you give birth” … “See if your mother can come stay for a few weeks” … “When people come to visit, ask them to do some laundry” … “Pamper yourself. You deserve it” … Here’s the thing: I was willing to believe that I deserved it, some support, some mothering. I was exhausted, overwhelmed, struggling to figure out how to be a mother. But there wasn’t anyone lining up at my door offering to do laundry for me. My mother might visit for a day, but she wasn’t staying any longer than that, and my partner went promptly back to work the day after I gave birth.
My sister would tell the story about how, when she was pregnant, her friends would say,
“Oh, when you have the baby, I’ll come over all the time; it will be so great!”
Then once the baby was born, they’d stop by—once—and see the dark circles under her eyes, her spit-up-stained T-shirt, her unwashed hair, and the crying baby with yellow poop running down its legs. The friends would drop their cute little baby gifts on the table and be out the door as fast as possible. With luck, they’d send a few text messages over the next few weeks. That’s what it was like for me, too, at least with some of my friends. The rest already had their own little babies and were putting all their energy into just surviving. Who was there to mother me?
I’m thinking you probably don’t need to be convinced of your need to be mothered as you make your own giant leap into motherhood. That need usually feels like a very obvious big hole inside you, begging to be filled. How can you take care of your baby when you really just want someone to take care of you? It’s a hard question to answer.
If you do have people there to support you, take all the help you can get. And not just practical help, like making meals and scrubbing bathrooms. Ask for hugs, for kind words, for whatever it is you need. Take everything they offer. And for those of you who are without support, here are just three of the things that helped me.
1. Words of encouragement
If you have a fussy or colicky baby, you may feel like nothing you try is working—he just keeps crying and you feel terrible. Isn’t that your number one job to keep the baby happy? And you feel even worse when your partner gets home and says,
“Couldn’t you at least have vacuumed?”
On top of that, if you had a less-than-wonderful relationship with your parents growing up (yeah, been there), becoming a parent yourself tends to bring up a lot of emotions that might have been buried. Those critical voices can echo in your brain, pointing out every mistake or failure.
So if there is nobody to tell you what a great job you are doing—and you are—you might just have to tell yourself! I started keeping a journal when my first son Matthew was born. I’d write down what I did, what seemed to work, what didn’t, the little ways that he was changing and growing (and the ways I was changing and growing). I didn’t skip the bad parts, but tried to make sure I included the good ones. Pretty soon, I could look back and see how much I’d figured out over the past few weeks. It gave me just a tiny bit more confidence.
One of my colleagues liked to print out encouraging signs and post them in our offices, “Today is going to be awesome.” One of my inspirational quotations was from Dr. Spock. I didn’t agree with everything he wrote in his famous Baby Care book, but I did love this one,
“You know more than you think you do.”
I had that taped near the change table. Others that I cherished were, “Trust your baby, trust yourself” and “People are more important than things.” When I felt criticized and discouraged, reading these would give me a little boost.
2. You gotta eat
Nothing saps your energy and makes everything seem worse than trying to get by eating soda crackers and canned soup, or worse, potato chips and cookies. But who can make a decent healthy meal with a fussy, nursing-all-the-time baby and no help?
So, start early. My babies seemed to be at their best first thing in the morning— possibly because they had nursed ALL NIGHT LONG. I’d start dinner right after breakfast. Then, when the late-afternoon meltdown—for both of us—began, I had at least the foundation of the meal ready and could tuck the baby in a wrap while I finished up. If I threw some ingredients into the slow cooker in the morning, some in the bread machine after lunch, we’d have soup with a fresh loaf for dinner. It gave me a good feeling to smell my meal cooking itself while I snuggled with the baby on the couch.
Many of the healthiest foods require no cooking at all. Raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. What could be easier? I’d keep a container of nuts, raisins, and sunflower seeds to munch on when it looked like lunch might be indefinitely delayed.
3. High school teens can save you
Regular paid help was beyond my meager budget, but I just needed someone occasionally to come after school and stay until dinner time. My helper would hold and rock the baby while I had a shower. Helpers can tidy up, put in some laundry or wash dishes, while you take the baby for a walk. They can start dinner under your instruction while you sit and nurse the baby. Perhaps they can weed the garden, or walk the dog while you have a nap. If you get someone who can drive, he or she can do grocery shopping for you and put everything away. Even two hours one day a week can make a big difference when you are struggling. Can’t afford that? Many school systems require high school students to do volunteer work in order to graduate—and helping a new mother (for free) counts. Think how much they learn from hanging out with you for a few hours.
Nurturing the nurturer when all that nurturing is being done by yours truly is not easy. Be gentle with yourself. You are doing an important job.
Teresa Pitman mother of four and grandmother of nine lives in Ontario, Canada and has been supporting mothers for more than 35 years with birth and breastfeeding. She is a prolific writer and popular speaker, much loved by all whose lives she touches. Why not buy her latest book for a mom-to-be Preparing to breastfeed: A pregnant woman’s guide?