Caring for the Post-Partum Woman (A Long-Overdue Rant, Rated PG-13)

September 7th, 2007 by MamaBear

When I was post-partum, which, for those of you who don’t know what that is, means “just pushed a baby out your hoo-ha,” what I wanted more than anything was for someone to care for me. From all the conversations I’ve had with other women who have experienced the exquisite delight that is caring for one’s own beaten body, one’s new baby, one’s spouse, one’s household, and one’s other various duties simultaneously the first month after giving birth, I think this desire is resoundingly universal. Post-partum women want to be cared for.

A lot of people think they know what that means. Many people erroneously believe that when a woman who’s just given birth says, “I just want someone to take care of me,” she means, “Take care of my baby.” Well, I hate to break it to these people, but that’s not what she means. When she says, “I just want someone to take care of me, she literally means, “I just want someone to take care of ME.” (emphasis added for clarity)

So, how does one go about this…this…”care of The Post-Partum?” (”The Post-Partum,” I know, sounds like a description for a legion of zombies in a horror movie… The really scary part is that if you were to amass together a large enough group of post-partum women, the resemblance to this would be striking.)

I don’t want to generalize too much, so instead of saying how all post-partum women wish to be cared for, I’ll just share with you what I wanted when I was post-partum. (”I” statements can be very empowering, or so I have heard.)

Without further ado, here’s my personal diatribe wish list, in no particular order, for the post-partum period (the “you” in it is whoever has the temerity to attempt to fulfill my wishes):

  • Don’t touch my baby. Just… don’t. Don’t ask to touch the baby, either. Also, don’t ask why I don’t want you touching the baby. Furthermore, I don’t care if it’s irrational. Some things just are. It’s my baby, so deal with it gracefully. And! …No guilting me for not letting you hold my baby either. Your attitude about this is supposed to reflect absolute understanding and sensitivity. I want to hear you say, with complete sincerity (no sarcasm, or I will personally claw your face off with my filthy post-partum fingernails), “Of course I wouldn’t even consider taking your beautiful, gorgeous, perfect baby from you. I totally understand how strong your biological urge and need is right now to keep your baby close. It’s so important for bonding and getting breastfeeding properly established, and I wouldn’t dream of trying to short-circuit that with my own selfish desire to hold a new baby, or for any other stupid reason, stupid being defined at your discretion.” I’m glad we have an understanding.
  • I want food. Good food. Give it to me!! Not something from a fast-food restaurant, either, and certainly nothing with partially hydrogenated oils in it. I want something home-cooked, USDA certified organic, made with lactogenic herbs and foregoing the use of anti-lactogeni… You know what? It might be a good idea for you to read Mother Food from cover-to-cover before preparing me a meal. I have, and I insist that you learn about galactagogues so that I don’t have to keep explaining to you what I can and can’t eat. Once you bring me my meal, which should actually be equivalent to at least 2.5 normal meals in portion size (or I will put a gypsy curse on you and your family), you will cut up all my food into bite-sized pieces for me so that I don’t have to. And then you will lovingly feed it to me as I concentrate on figuring out how to breastfeed my new baby. You shall do this every day — more than once a day, if need be — for at least a month, possibly longer.
  • While we’re on the subject of breastfeeding, I would really like you to bring me an experienced, sensitive, knowledgeable, non-judgmental, woman-friendly person to show me how to breastfeed, and I’d like her to show up the instant I need her, preferably well before the first feeding, and not when my child is already so frustrated with the effort of eating that he/she completely refuses to come near my breasts. This woman need not be a lactation consultant, because that title unfortunately does not guarantee competency, but she certainly can be. She would preferably have a baby of her own of a similar age to mine and she will show me with her baby how she does it. This person will also magically know exactly how to fix all my breastfeeding problems and additionally, will imbue me with this knowledge (and magic) in less than a week. This person is allowed to touch my baby, but only for the purposes of aiding me with breastfeeding.
  • I need water. Lots of water. Bring me glass after glass of water, filtered. The water doesn’t need ice, but — oh heck, I might as well go all out — It needs ice. Not ice cubes, either; I want that deliciously fun crushed ice, the kind that gets pulverized almost instantly when you hold it firmly between your molars, but not the kind that feels glassy and sharp. I want continuous free refills of this iced, purified water left at my bedside, with a bendy straw, and I want you to bus all used dirty dishes and glasses away as soon as I’m done with them, without me asking. Also once you’ve taken all the dirty dishes to the kitchen, wash them, dry them, and put them away for me, as I don’t think I’ll be up for that task anytime soon.
  • Unless you’re a disease-free, drug-free lactating mother with a good milk supply, don’t offer to feed my baby for me. However, even if you are a disease-free, drug-free lactating mother with a good milk supply, there is no guarantee I will let you feed my baby. Please refer to the “hands-off the baby” policy outlined above.
  • Under no circumstances is anyone to tell me to feed my baby formula or to “just give the baby a bottle.” You don’t want to know what will happen to you, and all of your descendants, if you should try to defy this wish.
  • If after weighing the baby and accounting for poopy and wet diapers, it is determined that the baby isn’t getting enough milk, and after I’ve done everything reasonably within my power to increase my milk supply and deemed that it still isn’t enough for the baby, wash your hands and fill my Lact-Aids for me with donated breastmilk or formula and, only if you are extremely knowledgeable and experienced in this, help me latch the baby on while I wear one.
  • Tell me what a great job I’m doing, and what an excellent mother I am, even if it’s clear that I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and I just put the diaper on the baby inside-out. And backwards.
  • Encourage me to rest with my baby. Help me learn how to latch the baby on while lying down. Help me learn how to consistently get a good latch, and not a shallow one that will soon turn my nipples into raw ground chuck.
  • When you see that I’m using cloth diapers and that the diaper pail is looking full, say, “Hey, let me throw those in the wash for you,” and then do it. Do it like I would, and make sure you don’t ruin any of my diapers. It’s not likely, but if you do ruin any of them, get me equivalent replacements, pronto, without me asking. Also, when the diapers are done, throw a load of regular laundry in the washing machine too. The dirty clothes and linens will probably have piled up since the birth, and I don’t really have the extra energy reserves to do laundry right now.
  • Remind me gently when I need to take all my 30+ daily pills (pain medication, iron tablet, laxative, prenatal vitamin, calcium, galactagogue, galactagogue, galactagogue, omega-3 oils, other supplements, etc.), galactagogue tinctures, and any other necessary medication (salves, ointments, unguents, etc. if applicable), throughout the day. Also, make sure to keep my supplies of witch hazel pads, clean panties, ice-pack sanitary napkins, and ordinary sanitary napkins refreshed.
  • You know what else needs attention? The bathroom. I’ll bet, what with all the bleeding I’ve been doing, that it’s not at its “freshest.” So, if you would, please scrub it down for me: toilet, tub, sink, floors…take out the trash… Just… everything. It all needs attention, which I don’t have the energy to give right now since I’m focused on (1) learning to keep my new baby alive with my breasts and (2) trying to mend my torn body back to health.
  • I was lucky enough to not have needed a cesarean, but if I’d had a C-section, I’d also want someone to: clean, dress, and monitor my wound (several times a day), help me get out of (and back into) bed whenever I needed it, and keep the baby’s diaper changed for me so that I can concentrate fully on breastfeeding while recovering from my surgery (the “hands-off-the-baby” policy makes an exception for this situation as well). Also, if I’m too weak to hold my baby, please put the baby to my breast for me. In this and all Mama Bear postpartum situations, let’s pretend formula and baby bottles don’t exist. This means you and I work hard and do what we can to keep the baby nursing as often and as much as possible from my breasts, even if I am not conscious. Capisce?
  • If my baby fusses, don’t automatically assume that he/she is starving. Instead, reassure me that my milk will come in if it hasn’t yet and that billions of women before me have breastfed successfully even though their milk didn’t come in for days after the baby was born. Remind me that colostrum is the only thing my baby needs in his/her digestive system in the first few days, that it is perfect in quantity and substance for his/her tiny, marble-sized sensitive newborn stomach, and that I produce enough of it to meet my baby’s needs. Also, remind me that the baby is still within normal weight range if he/she takes two full weeks after birth to get back up to birth weight (as long as the baby is urinating and defecating properly and also shows no signs of dehydration).
  • Remind me to feed my baby with my own breasts every hour, on the hour, to help establish a good milk supply. Gently encourage me to wake the baby with this much frequency, if need be, round the clock until my milk supply becomes well-established. This takes some finesse and good judgment, and I can modify this request as many times as I want, so as not to exhaust myself nor the baby. It is because of this that I need to be encouraged to lie-in with the baby, to stay all day (and all night) in bed with him/her if need be, because establishing a milk supply can be very exhausting, especially with a precarious milk supply situation.
  • It should go without saying that I want my baby with me, in my arms, from the instant he/she is born to forever. It makes no sense to separate me from my child, none at all, for any reason other than for a grave life-threatening emergency. “Washing off” the baby is not a grave emergency, and neither is “observation” nor is “hospital policy.” Kangaroo care isn’t just for preemies. All babies like it, and I think all babies should have it. Babies aren’t born expecting a cold incubator or bassinet, nor do they expect to be fed with anything other than a breast. Babies, when they are born, expect to be held by their mothers and breastfed. If their mother is not available, they still expect to be held by someone, so if I’m not available to hold my baby, give the baby to my husband, teach him how to hold the baby if he’s not sure how, because he’s the father and he has way more right to hold his own child than even the highest-paid hospital worker there is. If my baby’s father is not available, the baby should still be held by someone who cares for him/her, has no contagious diseases, and can properly hold a baby (preferably a loving adult relative), until I am able to hold my child… That is, unless everyone’s arms are occupied or unable to hold the baby. If that happens, then, as a case of last resort, the baby should be put in a bassinet or incubator. (I’m still confused, though, as to why the bassinet is the first choice in hospitals, and not kangaroo care. Kangaroo care is better for the babies and cheaper for the hospitals, so why is it not the dominant medical paradigm’s first choice whenever possible?! …Don’t answer that; I can warrant a few guesses.) I feel that bassinets/incubators (and formula, i.e. artificial feeding) should be the option of last resort, only to be used when no better option is available or possible, but I guess that’s just way too much to ask of most hospitals in the United States.
  • Unless I am dead, if you want to feed my baby, put the baby to my breast, even if I am passed out unconscious. If you don’t want to do it yourself, teach my husband how to put the baby to my breast. Whatever you do, don’t feed my baby with a bottle, and definitely not formula.
  • Don’t even think about giving my baby a pacifier
  • Take care of any other household duties for me, child care of older children, pet care, plant care, lawn care, and guest-care, etc. Ward off obnoxious, clueless, oblivious-to-the-needs-of-postpartum-women guests as needed. Tell them that I said to fuck off, especially if they show up without food for me and even moreso if they are showing up just to see/ogle/touch/hold the baby. If they expect to be catered to by me while I’m recovering from having just had a baby tear out of my body, as in, “I’d like a glass of water,” that sort of thing… Ask them if they’d like some of my lochia in their water. I cannot guarantee, because I’m recovering from a pretty physically traumatic event, as outwardly ordinary as it may appear to them, that I’ll have the wherewithal, between caring for my newly born infant and my own pain-wracked body, to remember to wash my hands after using the bathroom and before preparing their glass of water. After you inform them of this fact, then I’d like you to call the cops and report them as intruders. Seriously. I don’t want people like that in my house. Also, even though you could get them their water, I’d rather have you take care of me, and not cater to able-bodied, ungrateful, oblivious houseguests that, frankly, could get their own damn water on their own time and don’t deserve the privilege of meeting my baby or even stepping foot in my house.
  • Listen to me when I want to talk about, well, …anything. Listen with your whole heart and mind, and nod in all the right places with genuine (not feigned) sincerity and interest. Tell me what you think, too. Share with me, without judgment or criticism, what you feel. Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Don’t patronize me by telling me that I must be suffering from post-partum depression because I sob from the depths of my soul at unpredictable intervals. It is normal to cry at the life-changing event of having a baby, to acknowledge that the unbelievably perfect and beautiful angel in my arms is a complete miracle of the universe, and to be awed and humbled and completely taken by surprise at the sheer incredibleness of this life-altering realization. It is to be expected that I sob at the terrifying reality that this exquisite creature has been entrusted to me, and that I am now in charge of his/her life and well-being, forever. Trying to minimize this emotional upheaval and necessary mental/emotional processing by telling me there’s something wrong with me that needs to be medicated out is unconscionable. If watching me cry and experience the natural range of human emotion (which includes sadness, anger, and even — *gasp*rage) makes you uncomfortable, do me a favor and put another load of laundry in the wash for me or go out and get me some more food. If you can’t do that, at the very least practice what you preach and take a pill that will make you not care how emotional I get. That alone would do heaps more for me (and my baby) than paying lip-service to the knee-jerk response of “getting help” for PPD the PhRMA way. You want to know what real help for a postpartum Mama Bear looks like? Re-read this list.
  • You know what else? If you were to actually fulfill all of the above recommendations for me, I think the probability of true postpartum depression entering my postpartum world would be next to nil. Just FYI.
  • Let’s see… What else can you do for me? A foot massage every once in a while would be nice, too. But I wouldn’t want to overburden you. Looks like you’ve got enough on your plate.

All in all, that about sums up my postpartum rant wishlist… This is what I would want, truly want (if I’m going to be brutally, tactlessly honest), during the postpartum period. It doesn’t have to be all from one person either. I’m guessing that in the ideal situation, a postpartum woman would have this kind of care and protection from a combination of sources: a supportive group of mothers, compassionate relatives, reliable friends, a loving spouse, competent health care workers, and/or paid help. I can’t speak for any other women, but I wouldn’t be terribly surprised if most women who’ve given birth would have wanted at least some of what’s on the above list. I also, sadly, wouldn’t be surprised to hear that too many women don’t get any of the right kind of help when they’re at their most vulnerable.

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10 Responses to “Caring for the Post-Partum Woman (A Long-Overdue Rant, Rated PG-13)”

  1. Jen Says:

    YES, I wanted most of these things! And when I had DS2 in May, I made sure I got most of them… it took a lot of work beforehand, a saintly husband, a lot of $$$, and the short-term alienation of all our family members who do not understand item 1 on your list… but I feel darned good right now, and everyone else has gotten over themselves. Forwarding this to DH so he knows I am not a freak, or maybe that I am not the only freak…

  2. MamaBear Says:

    Heh-heh. :) I’m glad you were given the proper treatment during your post-birth convalescence, even if you had to fight to make it happen. I’ll bet it makes all the difference. Maybe with enough women saying, “I deserve better,” we’ll start getting the right kind of care after birth.

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Tina Says:

    omg would they like my lochia in their water…. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA I just snorted water out of my nose. I would like to add though in reference to the first paragraph that those of us who didnt necessarily push our babies out of our hooha still did give birth and are most definitely in need of all the above as well. Love this - it should be posted on the front door of postpartum mamas. Relatives are the worst about coming and thinking they are going to be doing a lot of baby holding. Um no.

  4. MamaBear Says:

    Tina,

    I’m glad you enjoyed it. :D

    And I just want to make sure you know: yes, I totally agree, cesareans are definitely giving birth too, and actually necessitate even MORE care for the postpartum woman. My whole point in writing this post is to highlight how important it is that women who give birth get the right care (and how to give it), and to try to give the world a perspective they’re not used to reading about (a woman who does NOT exist solely to please others, but rather who has undergone a very painful ordeal and needs some serious attention and care to heal from it). The world is so unkind to women who have given birth, people forget all about her needs and focus only on the baby… And I want that to change. The focus should still be on the woman, even after she is pregnant, because she is still the primary caretaker (nourisher) of the baby. Like they say, “if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

  5. Ashley Says:

    AMEN!
    It was literally PUSHED on me that my 13 year old sister come stay for a week after I had my son. I was recovering from a cesarean (a long story in itself) and did NOT want anyone else around. But I didn’t have a choice apparently. She was only suposed to stay for 3 days but ended up staying for 8. Yeah, what fun, to have PP bleeding, extreme emotions, breastfeeding and pumping problems, my hair falling out, pain from surgery, etc etc, AND have to make sure my sister ate, slept well, had her clothes washed (she didn’t bring enough for a whole week), the dishes got done, dinner was made, and I didn’t lose my mind. My boyfriend had taken a week off after our son was born but we spent the whole week in the hospital due to the cesarean. It sucked having to be responsible for her and the baby. We had bf’ing problems due to tongue tie, and I wasn’t comfortable nursing around her, so I was holed up in my room alot during that week, when I should have been comfortable in my recliner instead. It was ridiculous. I already told everyone that next time, NO ONE is coming to stay. Not no one, not for any reason. Why won’t people just let us be???? PP is just about the worst thing I went through, and it may not have been so bad if I hadn’t gotten an extra roommate that week.

  6. MamaBear Says:

    Oh, Ashley (((HUGS)))… My heart goes out to you. That is just really unfortunate, and I’m glad that period of time is now over (I hope!) so that you can finally recover from it.

    Yeah, it’s really not very nice for anyone to foist additional responsibilities onto postpartum women. Postpartum women have more than enough on their plates as it is. I don’t see how society can’t understand that. If someone were recovering from any other type of injury (broken leg or whatever), society would be able to see easily how inappropriate that sort of thing would be. But for some reason, women who have just given birth aren’t given any kind of consideration, usually. It’s really very disheartening, disappointing, and saddening to me that this is case.

  7. Olerica Says:

    I’m pregnant with my first (8 weeks) and ALREADY I feel this protective about the weeks following the birth of my baby. I’m really hoping that DH will relent on his willingness to let his family come for a visit after our baby is born. I know I just want the time. (I’ve sent him the post).

    Thanks for posting this.

  8. MamaBear Says:

    Olerica,

    How wonderful that you are realizing this so early on. Many of us, sadly, don’t realize this until we’ve already been blindsided by inconsiderate relatives, friends, and acquaintances (however well-meaning they may be). May I suggest that you find yourself a trusted person, someone who will understand what it is you need, and be reliable and trustworthy enough to give it to you when you need it? (I know, I know — tall order!)

    Some people hire a doula to help them during their labor. In retrospect, I think this would have been a good option for me, and if I have any future children, I will research doulas even more thoroughly than I did the first time around. I think next time I’ll also use a midwife, but there’s no telling, not knowing what my situation will be (since I’m not even pregnant right now). Since you ARE pregnant right now (CONGRATULATIONS!!), you may want to catch Ricki Lake and Abby Epstein’s new documentary “The Business of Being Born” to give you an idea of the state of what birth is like right now and what some of your birth options are. Here are the upcoming screenings: http://thebusinessofbeingborn.com/screenings.htm I hope you have the empowered birth and postpartum experience you deserve. :)

  9. a tierd, weary mom Says:

    The day I came home from the hospital with my last child (number 3) my husband decided that since he got to stay home from work too he would go ahead and do some work on a car, the entire first two days I got home! I had to take care of my older two, ages 3 and 5 and make our meals…I was so mad I could just spit. Shit, I’m still mad and it’s been over a year now. Anyway, I just had to let that out. I could go on, but it might solicite an angry mob over at my house.

  10. MamaBear Says:

    Hi Weary Mom,

    ((Hugs)) to you. That sounds frustrating. I hope things are better for you and your family now. It can be so hard those first few days.

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