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Asking for help; why it’s crucial and how it helps

For lots of reasons, being on your own for long periods when you have a baby is not ideal. In my own case, when a scary incident occurred, I had no neighbours, no one to run to in an emergency. 
One afternoon when I was in the kitchen with my 3 month old in a sling, I turned around and saw my toddler choking on a piece of bread.
Luckily I had done a paediatric first aid course and I knew what to do, my heart was pounding as I put her face down along my thigh and thumped between her shoulder blades with the heel of my palm till the piece of bread dislodged.  But oh my god, the “what ifs” ran through my head for so long afterwards.

Living in the city, I no longer had the coffee mornings that had been so great when I had my first child. I found that there was very little for small children to do, and anything suitable was a long drive away. Finding the location of coffee morning was extra challenging because I was navigating sprawling city suburb housing estates and with two teeny passengers. I had less energy and ‘get up and go’. I was away from friends I grew up with and still a bit of a drive away from any family. 

I think I get a weird kick out of not asking for help. Is this an Irish thing?

We get a kick out of doing it all ourselves, which may be fine when we are young but it bites us on the arse when babies arrive, because this approach just doesn’t work for us any more.
I have a vivid memory of being on the stairs in a store trying to change Tessa’s nappy while Cara was wailing because I didn’t know where the nearest nappy changing facilities were.
People were just stepping over me. It felt awful. We were all crying. It was only after all of this that I finally called my mother-in-law to come help me. 

I felt bad calling her but she was really kind. I was so relieved.

Often we are going to be far away from family and friends so we really need to be creative and think outside the box to ensure we have as much help and support as possible during the postpartum resting period.

So how do you start asking for help?

Start by imagining how you would prepare for a couple of weeks or months after a serious operation where you had a lot of recovering to do, you would not be able to sleep very well as a result of the operation, and you would not be able to cook for at least a few weeks. 

It’s so essential to slow down,to  ease gently into motherhood. It’s not about getting back to your old life, you are changed forever. In every traditional culture around the world there is a period of time afforded to the new mother, usually around 40 days and these very diverse cultures do this in remarkably similar ways: 

1: Rest! a new mother is allowed a time of complete and utter rest.

2. Food, always made for you, served to you with love, typically warm food, no cold food, well cooked and very nourishing. 

3. Massage. In most cultures the new mother is massaged, often every day.

4. The new mother must keep warm. 

5. A ritual celebration around the end of this time where she becomes a mother. All about the mother, celebrating her, nurturing her, loving her, so that she can give all of that in turn to her baby. 

6. Social support; the new mother is surrounded by her female relatives and cared for by them.

How on EARTH can we even begin to replicate this is out modernised western culture? Here is where a postpartum doula can help to bridge the gap and provide care for you and your family while respecting your role and identity as a mother.

  • Retreat from your tasks and to do lists for a few weeks. What can you drop or delay?
  • Before your baby is born, start to prepare ahead of time. Look around and think about who can help.
  • Plan with your partner. Who will you call on to support both of you during this time? Make sure your partner really knows how much you will both have to pull together and that you will need outside help too. 
  • If you do not have a partner, figure out who can help you in the way that you will need. Who can really look after you and respect your identity as a mother? Postpartum doulas are a brilliant choice here as they are specifically trained to care for you during this really unique and intense phase of you and your baby’s life,while respecting you as a mother and building up your confidence all the while giving you tools that will serve you well as a mother. 
  • Find an extra pair of hands to help you at home. How about an au pair for the first 3 to 6 months as a resource for the mother/family in that really intense baby period? Find them before your baby is born, the right person could really be a great help. I’m imagining someone who would be looking after your baby or your toddler while you are in the house. This may be a better option for when you have more than one child. 
  • Be specific with people who are helping you and write down what you need…do you need a shopping done, a hot dinner, dishes done, floors mopped, someone to chat to and keep you company, someone to come on your first trip out with you, to your first baby group with you , first feed in public.
  • Consider setting up a meal train for your first days or weeks at home. Write down a list of meals that you like and divide them up between friends and family. 
  •  Its ok to have things that you REALLY don’t want anyone else doing; the thought of someone else doing my washing doesn’t appeal to me but i DO like the thought of getting healthy meals delivered in or my house being cleaned. 
  • The help you need when you have your first baby may be different compared to what you need with subsequent babies. For many Mams, their need to get out and meet other Mams increases once they have their second baby. You may find that you need more help around evening/ bedtime as you are more frayed and the challenge of getting two smallies to sleep really kicks in. especially if you are on your own at these times. If your partner works late it’s really important to have someone come in around 5pm, as you will particularly need company, support and help and to just see a friendly face at this stage in the day. It doesn’t need to be any kind of special help, just someone to hold one child while you make dinner, someone to chat to, to tell about your day, someone to play with your toddler, someone to hold a cranky baby who just does not want to be put down…

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