by Stephanie Gruenke
Asking for help. So many of us hate to do it, but we all need help in order to keep our sanity and be the best version of ourselves. We’ve been conditioned to think that asking for help means we’re not capable. Some of us believe that since it seems like everyone else is able to deal with life’s challenges, we should be able to “suck it up” and find a way to manage on our own. It’s a sad way of looking at the world and couldn’t be further from the truth.
We’re not meant to mother alone. Cultural tradition and history reinforce the fact that mothers thrive when they are supported by a community. Mothers need to be mothered. Many moms feel like while they were somewhat taken care of during their pregnancy (by their provider, strangers opening doors for them, colleagues giving them treats, etc.), as soon as their baby arrives, they are on their own.
This is not okay. Women are suffering from postpartum mood and anxiety disorders and health complications like postpartum thyroiditis more than ever these days. In fact, postpartum depression is the most common complication of childbirth. Adoptive parents are also subject to symptoms of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. And while there are many reasons for postpartum depression and thyroiditis, you better believe lack of support (whether from one’s provider or their community) is an underlying factor.
Step #1: Figure out who can help.
If you don’t have obvious family members or friends who are available to help you during your postpartum you may want to consider:
- Hiring a postpartum doula
- Hiring a mother’s helper
- Reaching out to your neighbors, church, or other networks
- Requesting more time off from work
- Seeing if your partner can extend his/her leave from work
- Hiring help for household chores (cleaning, pre-made meal delivery, grocery store deliveries)
I truly don’t consider any of these options a luxury. Yes, some of them require a financial investment or intimidating/scary conversation, but your ability to get the help you need postpartum is incredibly important. Ideally, have a plan for getting help before baby comes so you’re not navigating these decisions while under-slept and undernourished.
Step #2: Get over it. Just ask!
Ready for some tough love? If you don’t ask for help, you probably won’t get as much as you need. Because our society has almost glorified new moms “bouncing back” in the immediate postpartum, it’s (irrationally) assumed that the postpartum period isn’t as challenging as it really is. If you’re one of the first of your friends to have a baby, your friends may feel awkward about contacting you postpartum. They may assume because you’ve been so quiet, you’re just really busy, so they don’t reach out. They may have NO idea how challenging it is or how much you’d appreciate them coming over for 5 minutes just so you can take a warm shower. Seriously, the small things count!
If you’re one of the last in your circle of friends to have a baby, I often see two scenarios unfold. First, your friends may be totally wrapped up in soccer practice, dance rehearsals, and urgent care visits to remember how much even a small gesture like a home-cooked meal helps. Or, your mama friends come to help, but want to spend most of their time holding your baby instead of nurturing you. Sometimes handing your baby off can be a nice change of pace, but your visitors also need to remember your needs!
Most people will not be able to intuit exactly what you need. This means you must develop clear and confident communication skills to express those needs and help your community help you. Trust me when I say that most people want to help. They may just need some clues on how to do so.
Three Example Situations:
I wrote these example situations to give you an idea of how to be kind and clear when asking for help. Hopefully, thinking through these situations beforehand will give you clues on how to navigate them when you experience them in real life.
Your friend Lauren (not a mom) asks to come over to meet and snuggle your sweet little baby.
Your answer: “Absolutely, I’d love to have you come see her. Would you be able to bring me a juice from (insert your favorite juice place here)? I’ve really been missing my weekly juice. Oh, and while you’re here do you mind doing a load of laundry while she sleeps? I’m really behind in that and could use a few minutes to rest my eyes while you’re here.”
Boom! Juice and laundry in exchange for baby snuggles. Totally reasonable. I can’t see her batting an eye at that.
Your mom comes to visit, but she is so busy holding your baby that she doesn’t see the stack of dishes crowding your sink and your empty fridge.
You: “Mom, I’m so grateful you’re here to spend time with me and your granddaughter. I’m still in the process of healing, so I could really use your support washing the dishes. Do you think you could help with that while I feed the baby? Oh, and it looks like we’re almost out of eggs. Can I give you a list of things to grab at the store during baby’s next nap? I’m going to try and rest with her.”
Boom! Your mom will know exactly what you need and feel proud that she’s contributing to your recovery and health.
Your neighbors/community haven’t asked about bringing you meals or set up a meal train postpartum.
You: “Hey (insert name of the person you are most comfortable with in the group)! As you know, I’m due on (insert date). It’s going to be really hard getting healthy meals on the table and it would mean the world to me if I could get some help with that while I recover. Would you be able to set up a meal train for me and my family so that people can volunteer at their convenience?”
Boom! Now you don’t have to be in charge of asking multiple people and your friend will feel like she’s a superhero for creating this gift for you.
Learn to Help Them Help You
I hope you’ve noticed how direct your requests for help are in these scenarios. Unfortunately, your friends and family members cannot read your mind. Your baby’s squishy self may have hypnotized them from seeing how much of a disaster your living room is. If they aren’t hypnotized, they may just feel intrusive or awkward about the huge stack of laundry piling up next to the three garbage bags that need to be taken outside. They don’t want to upset you by pointing it out, but they’d be honored to help, if asked.
So, shamelessly ask. If you can’t get over the fear of being this direct, consider writing a list of things/tasks you need help with on a piece of paper and make a joke about handing baby over for cuddles once one of the missions is complete.
By asking for help you’re not only supporting your health and recovery, but you’re letting another potential mama/mama-to-be know that it’s acceptable to ask for help. The more we can normalize this behavior, the better off we all are.
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice.