Posts tagged the fourth trimester

The motion of motherhood showed up unannounced. I was in the direct path of a storm that had slipped under any radar detection. The movement seemed to rev in the groggy hours of the sleepless night and swirl into the distorted hazy afternoon and around again into the dizziest moments of dawn. All measure of time was an illusion as the days and nights and weeks twisted into one continuous thread. This movement, this spinning whirlwind, it had no regard for stamina or sanity or the shaky ground beneath. It was a perpetual movement, and any sense of stillness was a felt mourned memory. Life had arrived, life was anew, and living was in motion. 

I was in no way prepared for this motion of motherhood. The physical part, the swaying, the rocking, the walking, the spinning, the carrying and the jiggling, it all seemed endless. A few weeks in I can remember wearily turning to my husband and in a deep dying-animal voice dramatically conceding, “I just can’t bounce anymore!” I peeled myself off of the big yellow physio exercise ball, handed the baby to his father for a round on Old Yeller, and googled “why do babies like bouncing?” I mercifully came across an article on vestibular stimulation explaining the biology of movement in soothing a baby. Finding solace in the science, I was then ready to digest what had been recommended to me only a few days prior.

“Take a walk,” my doula told me, “Even if you just go around the block,” she said. She was my labor doula, but being the grounded and knowing woman that she is, she continued in support long after delivery. I suppose after you so intimately experience a person it would truncate a relationship to then suddenly disappear, or perhaps she had seen undoubtedly the unspoken reality of first time motherhood understanding only after birth is a woman ready or in need of this timely advice. All of this leaving the house persuasion seemed like a grand unnecessary feat initially, but over time and with enough practice runs of round-the-blockers we gently put tired Old Yeller to sleep and stepped out. Baby hated his stroller and was never one for sleeping in his crib, or sleeping at all really, so we stayed close. I wore him, and we walked. We walked, and walked, and walked. So began my experience as a mother. Hoofing it, as most New Yorkers do. There were pounds of excess baby gear in one hand and a strong cup of coffee in the other. I would laugh at the thought of being called a stay at home mother, because for us very little happened within the four walls of home; I preferred to refer to myself as a keep it moving mother Sherpa. Schlepping, as the locals say.  

I know now that the sleepless nights and the days in action are an inbuilt part of motherhood, but in the moment it seemed absurdly excessive. I found myself waiting, walking, waiting, and walking. I was waiting for the day my body would come to stillness. It felt like going to an exercise class where the instructor yells “sit ups” without saying how many, making the whole process seem limitless with a sole focus on anticipating the end. The commercials about, “No deep couch sitting” or “Moms don’t take sick days” would bring me to tears as I mourned the very simple comfort of my bed. I found myself pushing out the option for ease until the day came that my body would find physical stillness. Then, I thought, when I make time to sit still, then I will be calm, happy, quiet, sane, kind, smart, rich, and beautiful.

Then the day came when the rain soaked Trader Joe’s bag broke on the half-mile walk home with baby kangarooed. I waved the white flag and humbly accepted this life in action. It dawned on me that the idea of quiet inactivity was clearly divergent from reality; I had a choice to accept this hurricane of life in motion or forgo my present happiness in awaiting a future seated day.   

I had outrun the storm for months, but it finally caught up. I had no choice but to step toward the storm. The outer bands had worn down my strength, and I finally allowed the wind sweep me around and around. The strength of the storm did not let up, but in the surrender the centripetal force of the whole drew me nearer to the middle. It had escaped me that even the most ferocious hurricane had a calm eye of low pressure at its center. The storm was not just whipping wind, but the bands of wind and the still eye were both parts of the whole. The motion and the stillness were one, and it is only when we find center can we find unwavering stillness; in motherhood there was no separation of calm and motion, and I had to approach life as that ancient Eastern paradox of stillness in movement like yoga or tai chi. Life is movement, movement is life, but in the midst of a whirlwind there always stands the core of unshakable stillness.

In a new season the winds did eventually slow. The movement again had peaks of momentum and valleys of rest. Sleep returned. Days had beginnings and ends. The whirlwind calmed, and it was like it never was. The only remnant of evidence remaining was the tapped space of stillness now prepared for all the movement of life. This was my initiation, the motion of motherhood.  

Doula reference: @redtentdoula

JOURNALIST: Kelly Van Zandt (@yourmothernyc)

10 Ways to Help a New Mother

Dear Friends, Fellow Mothers, Grandmothers, Great-Grandmothers, and Friends,

Today I write to you from my heart. As a once new mother, an expecting mother, and as a friend of many mothers, I know there is wisdom to be gleaned from this tribe about how to support the new mothers joining our ranks. I write about the friend, mentor, and mother I want in my life during this season. I write as a reminder to myself and to all of us about what a new mother really needs during those precious first weeks of Motherhood.

So, here I will pour my heart out to you in 10 ways we can support each other through the season of early Motherhood.

1. Listen

Listen to my story. Listen to my confusion. Listen to my pain and my joy, my complaints and my revelations. If you are a mother and have walked this road, then none of these words will be new to you. You’ve heard them before when you spoke them in your own new-mother haze. You have your stories, and there will be a time for us to bond in our shared experiences and worries and joys and journeys. But for now, in these first precious weeks, please just listen to me. Whether I’m crying tears of joy for all this moment meant to me, or tears of exhaustions for the lack of sleep, please just listen to me for a while.

I know I may not make sense and that my body is raging with hormones. Likely many of these moments cannot be fixed and you know, because you’ve been here, that there is another side: a side where the feeding schedule becomes like a 2nd nature, and sleep comes back, and the body recovers. So please, just hold this space for me. Come hold my hand, hand me a box of tissue, and just listen for a while.

2. Be the friend with no expectations of her for this season

New Mamas are overwhelmed with expectations put upon them. Whether it’s the first or fourth baby, that amazing woman has demands on her body, sleep, emotions, home, family, and soon enough maybe her work too. So be the friend with no expectations of her in this season. Let it be all about her for a while, even if you don’t understand. Don’t expect quick responses or initiation of conversation. You may serve and listen a lot in this season and feel like you are getting nothing in return, but that kind of service in friendship with a new Mama could truly be a lifeline for her.

3. Be the one who doesn't need to hold the baby

This may sound silly, and Lord knows we ALL LOVE holding babies. There are few things more precious than having that warm bundle in your arms, all floppy and smelling like a slice of heaven. But, poor Mama, she needs to hold, and smother, and feed and bond with that baby, and after all she’s been through, she deserves it!

Family and friends will likely be visiting and waiting in line to hold the baby. This is only natural and truly there is nothing wrong with it. But you, you can be the one person not asking to hold that bundle and focusing on what Mama may need. Be the one person not asking anything of her, not even to hold her baby. Likely, this will make her want to offer up that sweet smelling bundle to you anyway. Trust me.

4. Serve her practically when she’s not looking

Sneak in her house and load the dishwasher. Stick a load of laundry in when you visit. Wipe down the bathroom sink after you pee. Grab some extra groceries and drop them on the doorstep. And if you really want to go crazy, grab a few friends and spit clean the whole house before the weary parents and baby come home from the hospital, complete with fresh flowers.

The point is, if you ask what you can do, she will likely say, “Nothing!” So don’t wait to be asked. Just do something, big or small, to serve this Mama in a practical way when she isn’t looking. No guilt. Just love.

5. Come bearing food, and make sure others do too

Along the lines of serving practically, whether it is homemade or her favorite take out, bring on the food! Ask if anyone is setting up a food train, and if not, jump in! Please make sure that family is fed and that no one has to cook.

I always think this is a given, and in some communities it is, but when a Mama is the first of her friends to have a baby, or if her mother isn’t around, no one may have thought of this. Or maybe it’s a Mama’s 3rd or 4th baby and you think she might have it down by now…but she REALLY needs that food.

You don’t have to be her best friend to jump in and make sure this simple task is taken care of for 2-3+ weeks. Ask her likes and dislikes. Take note of allergies and sensitivities. Steal the baby shower email list and send a meal train. Ask people to include disposable plates and cutlery and bring everything in disposable containers. Dinner with no clean up? It’s like all their dreams coming true.

6. Take her other kids (human or animal) out for a walk

Another practical idea, but this one is really about creating a moment of quiet for Mama and baby, especially if her house is crazy. Try and help Mama remove herself from the crazy for a quiet moment to bond with that baby. If she doesn’t have a house full needing to be entertained, offer to watch the baby so she can have a 20-minute nap or shower. Help her break up the crazy somehow and get a little peace and quiet. She probably misses the sound of all the voices in her head.

7. Buy her practical things most people don’t think about

This one goes out to you veteran Mamas! While everyone else is buying cute baby clothes and blankets and toys, be the savior and put a basket together for the shower or hospital full of everything she will need, but doesn’t know how to use yet.

Some ideas: witch hazel pads, nipple shields, pacifiers in every brand and shape so she has options, her favorite snacks, a big pack of granny panties, travel toiletries for the hospital, nipple cream, a bag of snacks for the nurses station, a big box of Oxi-Clean for all those poop stains, Chapstick, big fuzzy socks for nighttime rocking chair sessions, honey sticks for labor, and anything else you can think of.

These are some of my personal favorites, and I always get the funniest looks at showers. But seriously…you, and the Mama, will thank me later.

8. Keep tabs on her long after those first 6 weeks. Commit to being her person for the long haul

Babies come with a host of excitement, expenses and accessories, but eventually life moves on. Grandparents go home, everyone stops asking how the baby is doing, the meals stop coming and even the Dr. says goodbye after that last 6 week check up. But for so many of us mothers, that’s when the realization of our new life really sets in. This is who we are now: a mother. A mother who doesn’t sleep, or shower, or eat or clean on a regular schedule any more. Or maybe we are on our way back to work and finding new routine and schedule. Either way, everyone else has moved on but we are still here trying to figure out this new life.

So, be that Mama’s person, committed to checking on her long after those first 6 weeks. Willing to serve and jump in and listen at the 3 month and 4 month and 5 month marks. She will need you at some point. Thanks for staying committed to her for the long haul.

9. Send her a card about what an incredible job she is already doing

Send it so it’s waiting for her when she gets home. And again at 6 weeks. And again at 20 weeks. And again when that baby is 5 years old. She’ll never stop thanking you for being such a source of encouragement for this, the best but hardest job she has ever had.

10. Give her permission to walk through this season in whatever way she needs.

I’ve supported Mamas who walk through this season a complete mess. Heck, I have been that Mama that doesn’t know up from down and day from night. But I’ve also had seasons in early Motherhood where from the beginning everything just fits and energy comes and nursing is easy. I’ve watched Mamas fall apart and I’ve watched Mamas gracefully juggle it all in the beginning in a way that looks so easy, and maybe they even have their hair done. Mostly I think we all

know that every day is different and just because yesterday we were a mess doesn’t mean that today won’t be the best day we’ve had so far.

What I want to say is, from one Mama to another, let’s give each other permission to walk through this season of new motherhood in whatever way works for each of us. There is enough grace and friendship to cover it all so don’t let someone else's experience make you feel insecure in your own, and please don’t let it hold you back from lifting up someone else in this season.

Whether you can do all of these things for your best friend who just had her first baby, or you can do one for the neighbor you hardly know but who just had her 5th.

In the end we are all mothers, and that’s a tribe we’ll belong to for the rest of our lives. Let’s let the initiation be one of love, encouragement, grace and servanthood.

Written By, Rachael