Mothers are strong people. New mothers are strong as well, strong in their love, passion and single-minded focus on their new baby. But the often overlooked duality here is that new mothers also most need to regain their core strength when it comes to their bodies, minds and spirits in the postpartum phase.
The deficit of physical strength runs deep in their bodies, after the rewarding but grueling process of giving birth. The female body works tremendously hard not just for the 9 months when her belly is an incubator for the life growing inside it, but also during the arduous hours of painful labor. These two phases of motherhood are generally visible to people, venerated by society, and largely romanticized by pop-culture and media.
But what happens after the mother and baby go back to their homes, no longer in the watchful care of hospital staff?
What happens is that the baby is well taken care of by its new mother-in-training who has possibly already devoured much of the immense wealth of information out there on how to raise a baby well. She dutifully and lovingly endures breastfeeding, sleepless nights, smart alec advice from everybody, diaper changes, doctor visits, growth milestones amidst a million other things – to ensure that the baby is safe and growing well.
When a child is born, so is a mother
For the sake of getting to the point faster, let’s assume and move past the fact that the baby is well taken care of, and let’s venture into a rare line of questioning – “What happens to the new mommy now? Who is taking care of her postpartum needs? Are these needs being clearly stated by her, understood and met by her partner?”
As a mother myself, pregnant with my second child at the moment, I want to point out that not much has been said about this topic, yet. This is due to the fact that mothers stop being viewed as individual people, they just become mothers – defined by their biological roles (which they adore, by the way - that’s the reason they had the baby in the first place). I want to deploy this forum to bring some much-needed focus back on these women, these new moms, often silently suffering from neglect of their own or their partners in this crucial postpartum phase. In other words, new moms need help, which they may not ask for and may not receive.
So, let’s get real, once and for all, about what a new mom needs to not just survive, but to thrive biologically and emotionally!
The months following a baby’s birth take a woman through a range of exhausting and messy feelings (other than beautiful love, of course). On top of which, there is a massive biological depletion that gnaws at her body after giving birth. This is where a loving supportive partner comes in the picture!
The best gift a father can give to his child is taking care of the mother.
Speaking as a new mom, I want my partner to come to understand that taking care of me is equally important as taking care of our little one. In fact, that's the best support he can give me. We see contemporary fathers becoming increasingly involved in raising their kids and sharing responsibilities with their partners. In the true sense of the word, they are now really co-parenting and not just ‘baby-sitting’ the kids when mommy’s away.
This is a beautiful change that’s taken a while to materialize (that too, not for every family).
The next change, we as mothers, are looking forward to is for our partners to understand how much help and support we need for ourselves, our bodies and hearts, not just with the baby. So, with sincerity and a hopeful earnestness, I write this open letter to all new dads (or co-parents) on behalf of all new moms of today:
Dear New Dads/ Co-parents,
You have been amazing and we know you are doing everything to the best of your understanding to support and comfort us. But please understand that sometimes it's still not enough. That's not because you are not doing enough, but because you are probably not aware of what our needs are. We don’t want to wait for you to read our minds, and so we want to let you know about the level of support we need, and the degree of changes we, as bodies and minds, have experienced.
You may have noticed, we are a lot different than we used to be, mentally and physically. These changes began taking shape biologically during pregnancy, delivery and postpartum. Of course, we love some of these changes (part-n-parcel of becoming a mom) but since we’re being honest, things haven’t been all good and easy, for the both of us.
We love how you are equally contributing in raising our beautiful child, but we want you to ‘raise’ us as well. They say that a child gives birth to a new mother, and let us tell you – it is true!
It definitely has felt like a re-birth, and just like a new baby, we are feeble too, learning to hold our heads in place, attempting to walk without falling. We are trying to keep it together, as much as we can, bombarded with zillions of new things to learn - how to breastfeed, how to laugh without peeing, how to get out of bed without falling or stumbling, how to make this little one fall asleep when we can barely make ourselves fall into deep sleep.
We know you are tired too, but not as much as we are (we know you know that). Loved one, please expect the least from us and support us in every way you can. We need you. These are some of the simple ways in which you can help strengthen our new parenthood:
Love and encouragement: We can see how much you love us, but we want to hear it more often now, because we feel very vulnerable right now. We need more hugs and we want you to tell us that you are proud of us, that we are doing a good job (because we are so new at this motherhood gig). Leave us an encouraging or romantic note once in a while. And remember we love you even if we are not saying it enough right now.
Positive body image: Our bodies have changed. We may not fit in our pre-pregnancy clothes, and we never may. It took us years to grow into our own personality and style, which may now be changing (which can be depressing, confusing and challenging for me) and we both need to get comfortable with this new Me. We now barely have any time to think about ourselves because our priorities have changed. Maybe the way we look at ourselves has changed too. Nevertheless, we want you to tell us that we look good and that you love us in this new body too. We want you to buy us a new dress, or push us to buy one to celebrate this new body and new phase of life.
Taking breaks: Sometimes our minds may be more tired than our bodies are. We are loving being a new mother, but there are so many thoughts in our heads all the time, that we need small breaks just so we don't lose our sanity. We want you to encourage us to take little breaks like naps, long baths, reading a book or calling a friend, while you take care of the baby on your own. Maybe also book a postnatal massage for us once in a while.
Nutritional help: The most important thing we need your help in is getting our bodies back in their earlier vital form, and we do not mean pre-pregnancy figure (that is something we may be able to get back when we want to, with time). Our bodies are weak & depleted from the inside. Our system has been through a lot in the last one year, and needs a reset. And because our priority has shifted in favor of our new baby, we are not really taking good care of ourselves yet (we may not have the bandwidth to or we may not know how to).
We need you to help us recover and replenish. We would love if you can arrange a nutritious meal for us. We are always hungry and want to have something good to snack on by our side (think nuts, avocado, fruits, yogurt, granola, hummus).
Bring us a bottle of water when we are breastfeeding. We always forget to have enough water and we need it now more than ever to produce milk and stay hydrated. Make us a tea or turmeric milk when the baby is sleeping and sit with us while we have it.
Sharing Chores: The house is a lot messier now, and there is always a lot to be done from laundry to emptying the diaper bin. We want you to tell us that it is alright for the house to be this way and share responsibilities of running the house with us.
Listening: Even when we are complaining. We want to share our emotional ups and downs, our triumphs and defeats with you, our partner. When we cry, tell us it is going to be fine and that you are always there. Don't try to fix us or dismiss our need to cry. Just lovingly listen. Thank you.
Some of these needs appear very similar to the baby's needs, and that is why we said that we've just been born too (read rebirth). You now have two babies to take care of, who love you dearly and look for your support. Don't worry though, it is only for a little while. We will find our footing back sooner than you know!
Posted by Shruti Mishra
Shruti is the founder of Freshly Moms. She is a graduate from Natural Gourmet Institute, NY and a certified IIN Nutritionist. She has been working with food & nutrition since 8 years and is also a fresh mom herself.