I guess I’m a slow learner. It took me lots of babies and births to finally start figuring it out.
- Our baby #1 (born in a hospital in Virginia) was in the NICU for a week, I had mastitis for a month, and then we packed up our apartment and moved across the country. WHAAAAT??!
- After baby #2 (born in a hospital in Texas), I was so overwhelmed by the (relative) ease of it (compared to NICU & horrible mastitis) that I hosted a game night in our home just a day or two after having him. WHAAAAAAT?!?
- After baby #3 (born in a hospital in Thailand), I got scolded by a Thai lady for being out at the market with our daughter when she was just a couple weeks old. “Oh come on, I’m not going to sit at home and knit!,” I thought, before flying back to China, packing up our apartment, and moving to a second apartment in a new Chinese city.
- After baby #4 (born in a hospital in Turkey), I was tired. I was stressed. I wasn’t just tired; I was exhausted. BUT! No rest for the weary. I hosted house church (cause that was easier than packing everyone up to go somewhere else), studied Turkish, and somehow kept 4 young children fed and clothed. I kept trying to go-go-go without slowing down.
- After baby #5 (born in a different hospital in Turkey), I broke down and hired a house helper for 10 hours a week. There was no way I could “do it all” and this was one small way I started admitting it. Language learning, homeschooling, cooking, and laundry was enough. A sweet Iranian sister in Christ came and helped me with cleaning my house once a week. What a treasure she was! She desperately needed extra income, and I needed help. God provided for both of us through my weakness during that season. But I still hadn’t really learned.
- After baby #6 (born in our home in Texas), my midwife gave strict instructions: “don’t get out of bed for a week. And if you can help it, don’t start doing chores for two weeks.” Though I was skeptical, I figured, I’ve tried “doing it all” and not really slowing down much. So, why not try what she says? She left a note on my door (like the one pictured to the right– click to enlarge) telling others to let me rest. When she came for my 3-day-later appointment, she scolded me for being up to answer the door. She was dead serious about this resting stuff. So, I was serious about it too.
Do you know what happened?
- Physically, I healed wonderfully– leaps and bounds better than any other postpartum time.
- I felt the best I’d ever felt — emotionally, spiritually, mentally — after any birth.
- I was converted to her way of thinking about the postpartum time. She was absolutely right. My whole world functioned better and felt completely different when I had adequate physical rest after giving birth.
And I just had baby #7, less than 8 weeks ago. You know what I did? Well, I’ll tell you–
Here are the things that help me fight postpartum stress:
1- REST MORE THAN I THINK I NEED TO.
Other cultures “GET” this in ways that ours does not. Cultures around the world require rest for the postpartum mother (typically for 40 days, which is why I got publicly shamed in Thailand for being out & about just 15 days after giving birth). I have a series of links at the bottom of this post with fascinating reading about that, for those of you who are interested.
Since our culture does not do this on its own, I have started purposefully building this in as something I need to do, and structure my life as such.
For my part, when I have a new baby, I stay off my feet and take it easy. “Rest more than you think you need to,” has become my most-repeated postpartum self-counsel. I try to go to sleep early, sleep whenever the baby sleeps, and take naps like a champ in these early weeks.
2- DO LESS THAN I THINK I CAN.
This means I severely limit my commitments and activities.
Can I teach Bible studies a few weeks after having a baby? No. I mean, technically, could I? Yes. But should I? No.
Can I attend all the women’s get-togethers and playdates and be on time for everything? No. I mean, technically, could I? Probably. (Well, maybe.) But should that be my top priority? No.
- Establishing good milk supply.
- Not yelling at my kids.
- Staying rested enough so I don’t end up pushed to my limits.
These are my priorities.
The truth is, if I push-push-push myself to do everything I “can” do, I will probably, eventually, burst into angry yelling fits. For some women, pushing themselves too much brings on emotional breakdowns. For some women, it looks more like clamming up and having a verbal/mental shut-down.
Whatever it looks like, when moms push themselves beyond what they are capable of doing, it’s never pretty.
Part of having godly self-control means controlling my self in what I say “yes” to. During this early period with a newborn, I need to limit my commitments and reserve my energies for my family.
3- BE 1000% OK WITH SURVIVAL MODE.
Stop expecting more than simple survival. I always end up disappointed, emotional, and/or angry when I expect more than this of myself, my home, and my family during this new-baby time.
Expectations of a clean house, fully-caught-up laundry, utterly-obedient children… these type of expectations will kill your joy.
Instead of having unrealistic expectations of myself, my home, and my family, I choose to be completely OK with simply surviving at first, while we find our way to a new normal.
4- MAKE PROVISIONS FOR YOUR WEAKNESS.
Suppose you were going to have complete knee replacement surgery. If you knew that, for six weeks, you wouldn’t be able to put full weight on your legs, you would make reasonable provisions for that weakness. You wouldn’t see yourself as incompetent or idiotic for not being able to “stand up, for goodness sake!”
No, you would make provisions in your home, schedule, and daily life, for that anticipated, temporary weakness.
So that’s what I do when I anticipate my postpartum season. That looks something like this:
- Accepting the church’s offer of meals (If your church doesn’t do this for new moms, you should! This site makes it sooooooo easy!)
- When I have energy at the end of pregnancy, I sometimes have put together some freezer meals.
- I post a list of “easy meals” on the fridge so my husband, kids, or ME, have ideas at the ready when we need to feed the crowd with not much work.
- When I need it, I consider how and where I might get help. Sometimes that’s been from my mom, sometimes from my husband, sometimes from friends, sometimes from hired help, sometimes from my older kids tackling lunch-making or laundry-folding.
- Simplify & do what’s “good enough.”
Simply put, I don’t feel bad for being weak. Of COURSE you’re weak after having a baby. That’s why your body is bleeding and tired.
Don’t feel guilty for making provisions for a temporary time of weakness.
5- PUT IT IN PERSPECTIVE.
Put today in the 6-months-from now perspective, the 10-years-from-now perspective, and the 20,000-years-from-now perspective.
By that, I mean something like this:
“Today, I am tired. Today, I am overwhelmed. Today, the mess in the kitchen feels like more than I can stand. 6 months from now, it will not still be this way. 10 years from now, I will not even remember the mess in the kitchen. 20,000 years from now, I will be so very glad to have loved my family well and brought little Luke– an eternal soul!– into the world.”
Putting today’s postpartum stress in perspective of time helps me not feel so overwhelmed. It helps me get my head up out of this moment to see the “big picture.”
6- REVEL IN THE LITTLE JOYS.
- Kissable toes.
- The tinyness of newborn diapers (and bottoms!).
- Hats and hairbows.
- Coos and squeaks.
- Watching my husband and children love on this new little person.
- The first smile.
What’s the one thing old women say to new moms? “Enjoy every moment; it goes so fast,” right?
Well, I don’t want to miss these moments. So I work hard in these early days to really take in the way my newborn smells, the swirls of their hair, the puffiness of their lips, the first time I notice a discernible amount of chunk on the thighs, etc.
Rejoicing in the beautiful things helps me not sweat the stressful things quite so much.
7- REST MORE THAN I THINK I NEED TO.
Yes, this is the same as #1, but really, it’s by FAR the most important thing on the list.
REST, mama, REST! Your laundry will be OK unfolded. There is always more work to do, but these days with your sweet little one will not come back to you.
Whenever I feel the postpartum stress rising, it sounds a little alarm in my brain and I ask myself: am I resting more than I think I need to? Usually the answer is, “no.”
And I don’t think that’s unusual- I think many (most? all?) American/Western postpartum moms are apt to expect WAAAAAAAY too much of themselves and not rest as they should. Perhaps you’re one? If so, let me urge you to put these things into practice and not feel guilty about it. Don’t do like I did, pushing yourself and convincing yourself you can and should “do it all.”
While you care for this new little baby God’s blessed you with, don’t forget to treat yourself as a person worthy of care.
And with that, I need to go and rest.
Luke’s doing pretty well now, sleep-wise, and I’m thankful. But at less than 8 weeks out, my body is still recovering. I need to rest more than I think I need to, and right now is an opportunity to do just that.
IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS & POSTPARTUM EXPERIENCES.
- Why Are America’s Postpartum Practices So Rough on New Mothers?
- How Other Cultures Prevent Postpartum Depression: Social Structures that Protect New Mothers’ Mental Health
- Mothering the Mother: 40 Days of Rest
- Cultural Traditions in Postpartum Rest
- Understanding Postpartum Care and Recovery from Cultures Around the World
- Postpartum Care & What We Can Learn From the Dutch
- Postpartum: The Care and Feeding of a Newborn Mother