The best present anyone has ever bought me was a juicy roast chicken from the supermarket. Sure, I have had many lovely and treasured gifts, hand-made cards, jewellery, thoughtful vouchers and experiences, but the roast chicken trumps them all. Why?
The roast chicken was brought to me by my dear friend Isabel, 2 weeks after I birthed my first child. We didn’t need more baby things, more beautiful cards, more pink things, or more flowers. We didn’t need guests coming over for extended visits and endless cups of tea, we didn’t need my father-in-law “popping in” to photograph the finally sleeping baby, and we didn’t need people knocking on the door offering to fix my apparently unhinged roof tiles. Isabel knew, we needed food so that I didn’t have to think or prepare, we needed that chicken! We needed simplicity, practicality, sleep, clean clothes and we needed loving support… that day it all came in the form of a delicious chicken!
Postnatal women have so much to overwhelm them; they are physically recovering from birth, they can be highly emotional, they are often not sleeping very much and sometimes they are isolated or alone. Even with a loving partner, a local family and a flurry of friends, they may still feel isolated and alone. Postnatal women usually carry with them a lot of very real worry, high anxiety and enormous concern for their baby, and for any other children they may have. They worry about their relationships and friendships too. Motherhood is fraught and can be utterly exhausting. New mums have an awful lot on their plate, and sadly, there isn’t always a roast chook to save the day.
Supporting new mums can take many forms. In the courses and classes that we run, you may only see a new mum weekly and in a group setting, you may have some email contact in between if she is feeling particularly fragile or has a clear concern. The time we do get to spend with them is so precious, so do your utmost to make it meaningful for mum. Let her be heard, let her express herself, allow her the space and the comfort of knowing that you can “hold” her. By you holding and containing her, reacting and responding to her, you are modelling how a mother should respond to a baby, you are showing her what to do! Make good eye contact, have some physical contact, let her communicate and remember to respond with empathy. Often new mums need to be mothered, and sometimes their mothers aren’t nearby or available.
Mothering the mother is not a new concept, it is an ancient and traditional way of caring for the mother and new baby, ensuring a smooth transition to motherhood, and allowing the space for feeding to be established and secure attachments to be made. We know that the idea of it taking a village to raise a child makes perfect sense, but more often than not, our village is scattered around the world. And so, our role in supporting new mums is more important than ever.
The role of supporting postnatal women can be fraught and demanding, it can take a lot of your physical and mental energy. You may hold some of them in mind, worry about them, think about them. But, if you are mothering the mother, then who is mothering you? That role will likely fall to you too!
Carving out some time for self-care is vital, and will give you the space to rejuvenate, and hence the tools to support these new parents more effectively. Self-care and perhaps even some meditation will help you to replenish yourself, so that your resources are ready for yourself, your family and your next postnatal client.
I have a little postcard stuck just above my desk, it’s looking rather dogeared now, having moved home with me a few times. The postcard reads “You can’t pour from an empty cup”, a very apt reminder when I am feeling overwhelmed and depleted. Taking time for yourself, a walk, a cup of tea, having a massage, whatever your pleasure – these are essentials. And, if all else fails, treat yourself to a roast chicken!
This piece is by Caroline Barber. Caroline runs West London Babies and is a mummy, Certified Infant Massage Instructor, Baby Yoga Instructor, Recognised Postnatal Doula, Trageschule Babywearing Consultant and First Aid Instructor. See www.westlondonbabies.com