Two big things are happening for mums that make being a new mum just plain hard.
Services provided to mothers during pregnancy are often all focused on the pregnancy and the birth. Fair enough. Both are absolutely important. But what about when baby comes home? What about the birth debriefing that most mums don’t get? What about the village of support that doesn’t really exist for most mums anymore? Where does she find that? How does she build it? There’s often no physical support but more times than not, there’s also no emotional support either. How does she know that her newborn baby’s behaviours are normal? How does she know that it’s okay to cry because of sleep deprivation or not knowing what she’s doing, or missing her mum who lives interstate or overseas?
I asked the mums in the Mama Village mothers group this week about this. They pretty much all agreed that this was their experience – a lot of focus on childbirth during pregnancy and none on what happens when the baby comes home. Here’s what they had to say:
- “I didn’t have connection with other mums”
- “I needed meals provided so I could be fed and nourished”
- “Covid restrictions made me feel really isolated”
- “I struggled with sleep deprivation and I didn’t know about baby development”
- “I needed help with chores like housework and cooking”
- “I needed support so I could sleep; I needed someone I trusted to look after the baby”
- ‘I just needed an extra set of hands”
- “I didn’t know if what my baby was doing was normal; is he sleeping okay? Is he breathing okay?”
- “I felt like it was my responsibility to care for the baby (and not wanting others to do so)”
- “I struggled with the lack of routine and predictability when this was how my life was before baby”
- “I didn’t have the ‘right’ support – when a family stays to ‘help’ and it causes additional stress due to conflict and judgement”
We know that mums often feel incredibly emotionally vulnerable after giving birth. Even if the birth went really well for the mum (and baby), all of the raging hormones postpartum make for an emotional cocktail. Add to that the sleep deprivation that comes with newborns and hello… Can we say tears and tears? Sound familiar? I remember those days well, even 13 years down the track.
“Motherhood intensifies everything. It makes the good moments better and can make the challenges far, far harder. It has rocked me to my core in a way that nothing else has. It has asked more of me than anything and has also given me a great chance to grow.”
A number of studies have found that when mums feel unprepared or are struggling to cope with all the changes to their physical health after they’ve had a baby, they are more likely to feel overwhelmed, stressed, anxious or depressed.
We need to do more to support mums.
We have lost our physical villages that existed for mums many generations ago. Modern society isolates nuclear families. We don’t want to impose on families. We want to give them space. We leave them alone. And that’s how they end up feeling. Alone.
Harvey Karp is an American paediatrician who has authored many books on babies and parenting. He says “it used to be that young women would be with other young women, helping take care of their babies, and there was this automatic transfer of knowledge.” We’ve certainly lost that.
Asking for help
How does the thought of asking for help make you feel? You might feel guilty for putting someone out, you might not want to burden others, you might feel that asking for help is a sign of weakness, that you would look incompetent, like not a good enough mother. You might be afraid the person will say no.
It’s really hard to ask for help. I know this! I truly believe it comes with practice. We often don’t need any help before we have our first baby. It can be such a pride thing in not wanting to ask for help. But what could be the worst thing that could happen if you ask for help? They might say no. They might judge you and think that you can’t cope. You know what? Support with judgement is not support. It’s just judgement. People who judge you don’t belong in your village. It can absolutely be hurtful. It can be disappointing. But we need to emotionally care for ourselves by including supportive people and moving unsupportive judgemental people a bit further away, or completely away from our lives if you can.
People usually offer to help because they want to. I have learned that it’s easier to say yes to offers of help if people are specific. Saying to me ‘let me know if I can do anything to help’ is probably really genuine, but if I have a hard time asking, I probably never will. Someone who says ‘I will drop a meal off to you’ or ‘would you like a meal?’ is more likely to hear an ‘okay’ from me. It’s a great tip to remember when you are the one offering help! The other thing I’ve done is don’t give the person a chance to say no. Take a meal to a mum and pretend you are busy and can’t stay – “I really can’t stay but just wanted to drop this meal to help out”. You don’t overstay your welcome and she will be ever so grateful. And you know what? She’ll probably repay the favour when you need some extra help. You might not have a young baby anymore, but you might have another, or you might be sick as a dog one day and can’t get out of bed to cook dinner. It goes around in circles.
We need to be vulnerable and sometimes a little brave. Brene Brown says that vulnerability leads to connection and that asking for help gives the opportunity to form deeper connections with people. Isn’t that what forming this village is all about?
We need to normalise honest motherhood and keep being real. The more we keep the facade that all is okay, the less permission we give to other mothers to be honest.
So now it’s time to build our own village. But how? Here’s some tips!
I don’t want you to think of villages as just a handful of people who give you practical hands-on support in your home. Let’s think big!
I’ve broken it down into a few categories or parts.
- Your phone village
- Who could you call? Think of 3 people you would call that you could be real, honest, and vulnerable with – they don’t have to be in your physical village.
- Also include professional resources – Panda, Parentline, a child health nurse, ABA, GP
- Online village
- Facebook groups like the closed group for the Mama Village, the public group for Making Mama, or other community mothers groups
- Create a Messenger group or WhatsApp group with friends
- Listen to podcasts on mothering or parenting
- Do online shopping for groceries or other things
- Set up automation of your bills – stop paying late fees!
- Join a book night
- Join a craft night
- Start a walking group, go to mums and bubs yoga or an exercise class to make friends
- Join a mama bake (get together and cook)
- Go to kids activities (library rhyme time, music classes, swimming lessons)
- Help each other out at home (washing dishes together, washing and folding laundry – rather than hosting their visit)
- Hold pot luck dinners where everyone brings a plate to share
- Have babysitting swaps
- Mums groups
- Connect with old friends
- Organise a girls night out
- Coffee dates
- Lunch dates
- Mums and bubs movies
- Takeaway dinners/pot luck dinners
- Pay for your village
- Get a cleaner
- Hire a babysitter (which also builds your kids village by having other adults in their lives)
- Hire a postpartum doula
- Attend a mums group to find the friendships and connections
- Go to counselling – which helps maintain your emotional wellbeing where your counsellor is part of your village of support
- Think local
- Cafes where you get your regular coffee and the barista knows your order
- Parks where you can make new friends (be brave and invite someone for coffee)
- Child care
- Schools – help out in the classroom, join the tuckshop, go to the park plays and social events for parents
- Neighbours – host a street party, ask them for a coffee, bake something and visit
- Give and take
- Offer meals
- Babysit another child
- Clothes swaps
- Mama bake – all cook/bake together
There’s a lot we can do. My village has changed throughout my journey of being a mum. It started with 2-3 other mums from my hospital antenatal class who were my ultimate support in the first year. Then I joined the Australian Breastfeeding Association and the mums there were my tribe for the next 10 years. During this time my kids started school and I made mum friends there too from my kids’ classes or from the tuckshop mums I met with each time I volunteered. In the mix I also had my sister and mum for great support as well. Think big, and form your village of support – motherhood is not a journey we are meant to do alone. We are meant to do it with other people. It will make a difference.
If you don’t have a village, if you are struggling with any part of mothering, please reach out to me. I’m happy to chat about the services I offer to see which is the best fit for you. You don’t have to do mothering alone.
Join the Mama Village now: https://makingmamavillage.com.au/mama-village-babies-term-3-2021/
Contact me for counselling to help support you in your adjustment to motherhood: https://makingmamavillage.com.au/individual-counselling