I am very familiar with the postpartum time. We are frequent friends. During that time I often feel overwhelmed and need help. Over the past 6 months I have had the privilege of being on the other side, as the doula, the one offering help, and it has given me some new insight. None of it is earth-shattering but can definitely help the postpartum mom, and all mothers, to shift her perceptions and hopefully re-evaluate her expectations.
In spending 3 hours with a family during the early postpartum weeks, I am able to do a couple of loads of laundry, prep dinner, and some light cleaning. It doesn’t sound like a lot but the three hours is full, leaving only a little time for a quick snack and to incorporate the help of young siblings. As the doula, I have the luxury of focusing on these tasks for the three hours that I am there.
I make these points for two reasons. The first is to reassure the mother. It took me three hours to do all of these things. During that time I was not the one feeding and diapering the baby. If I had been, those tasks would have stretched into 5 hours or more.
Another thing I noticed was that I did these tasks without any of the emotional drudgery that I often bring to my own household chores. Even though there was a lot to do, I met the work with a cheerful outlook. So often, when we are in our own homes and recovering during the postpartum time, we see all the things that we cannot get done with the efficiency as we could before baby was born. We may feel like our house is falling apart around us. Typically, it’s not as bad as it seems from our postpartum perspective, but our physical and time limitations in the early weeks (and often throughout the whole first year or so) make even the simplest tasks like folding a load of laundry feel daunting.
So what does all of this mean? First and foremost, the postpartum mother must be gentle with herself. She is only one person and no one person can do everything. Secondly, she should look closely at her personal expectations and decide what is truly reasonable to accomplish during this transitional time. Speaking from experience, the most that can be expected is caring for the new baby and siblings, food to eat, and sleep. Doing a little laundry here and there helps so that you have at least a few clean clothes, but expecting that you will maintain your pre-baby routine is not realistic. Eventually, a new routine will emerge and the postpartum haziness will lessen, but it is a transition. It does not happen all at once. Some days are smoother than others and some days just aren’t. That’s the way it is. It’s normal. It’s real. And you, the mother of this new baby, are doing the best you can and that is enough.
This is a good reminder for those of us not in the immediate postpartum period as well. It takes time to put healthy meals on the table, do the laundry, and clean the house. And on a daily basis, we may also be nursing the baby or toddler, helping children with schoolwork, tending to sibling squabbles, and countless other worthwhile activities. It all takes time and there are 24 hours in a day. There will be things left undone at the end of the day and that is ok. Just like the mom of the newborn who is recovering from childbirth, you are doing the best that you can and that is enough.