This morning was a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) morning. I have been attending MOPS since my first son was born in 2015. It was suggested to me during a dark time, when I was really struggling with the postpartum experience and transition to motherhood. MOPS was so wonderful... I was able to surround myself with other women.. mothers.. Christians... who were able to connect, relate and fill my proverbial cup.
Today, three years later, MOPS is still my lifeline. I can't imagine not having the fellowship that comes from this group of mothers that meets twice a month. Today our speaker shared some words that really resonated with me. She mentioned the concept of "mom failure to thrive".
On my way home I fittingly listened to a podcast that was focused on the "Fourth Trimester", and how women in American culture are forgotten about. This all lines up with perfect timing of a viral facebook post that has been making the rounds talking about how we forget about mothers. This all got me thinking....
Another concept we often touch on in social-media-but-not-real-world advocacy is Postpartum Depression. But I'm starting to gain a new perspective on postpartum depression.... It is real. It does exist. And I believe it is more prevalent than "officials" recognize. It's almost seen as normal now, but it doesn't have to be so common.
I have listened to the testimony of dozens of mothers over the last three years and I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the majority of cases of postpartum depression are imposed upon mothers by society's failures and whack standards. We hear about "Mom Shaming" a lot, but that's not what I'm referring to. What I'm referring to is the isolation and neglect that new mothers experience. When society turns it's back on mothers, as reflected in that viral facebook post, mothers are bound to experience "Maternal Failure to Thrive". Why would we expect anything different? And don't you think this has a far reaching impact upon our society? That's probably a different conversation for a different day, but we NEED to STOP turning our backs on mothers. To me, even though Maternal Failure to Thrive gets lumped in with "postpartum depression", so it gets treated as depression, instead of just caring for the mother and helping her recognize and meet her needs.
The early postpartum period, known as the fourth trimester, for a mother with little support looks a little like this: sleep deprivation, lack of adequate nutrition, isolation, neglect (of the mother, not by the mother), over worked, under loved.
Aren't those similar to tactics militaries use to "break" prisoners? We wouldn't call these people "depressed", we would call them tortured. So why would we expect anything other than spiritually broken women after experiencing these circumstances? This is completely unacceptable. New mothers need to be celebrated and supported, nourished and nurtured. Just like babies need nourishment and nurturing to thrive, new mothers have needs that must be met by someone outside themselves... these needs must be met by their community, their friends, their family.
"We've gotten so far away from mothering the new mother in our culture, that new families don't even think they need this support."
But we've gotten so far away from mothering the new mother in our culture, that new families don't even think they need this support. They think they NEED the privacy. They often think that inviting others into the home will be too stressful. And they're not wrong. They don't want to entertain guests or deal with well-meaning yet overbearing family members "taking over". Because of this sad societal shift, people who come to visit and "provide support" often don't know how to do so in a way that helps the family thrive. Too often I hear of well meaning family members who are striving to keep this tradition of mothering the mother alive, going too far and making the mother feel as if she just doesn't know what she's doing. Worse yet, doctors and other "professionals" have a tendency to do this as well... again, another conversation for another day, but this compounding guilt is toxic and detrimental to the mother's well being. Instead of mothering the mother, the support system focuses on the baby's needs and shaping the mother, not nurturing her and allowing her to thrive and grow, develop confidence and stay healthy mentally, physically, and spiritually.
So before I go off on an hour long tangent, I want you to think about what you are doing to help change this narrative. Remember that the baby's well being and the mother's are truly and biologically interdependent upon each other. To forget about the mother because we focus on the baby is actually not even logical, so why are we doing this? Why is this attitude so prevalent? More importantly: What are you doing to help prevent Maternal Failure to Thrive when your friends and family members welcome a new baby?
Well here are a few suggestions of how you can help...
-Offer to clean up the house for the new mother. Don't make her feel wrong for not "keeping up" on the house. Remind her she needs to rest and cleaning is NOT her priority right now. Vacuum, wash a few dishes, throw in a load of laundry, or maybe even... gasp... clean a bathroom?
-Offer to do a grocery run for the new mother It is super important for new mothers to get out of the house, but grocery shopping might be too much...especially a "quick trip" for a few staples that typically would take 5 minutes, but seems intimidating to a new mother.
-Spend some quality time listening to the new mother's concerns and feelings and validate them. You don't necessarily need to fix them, just let her know it's okay to feel a myriad of emotions. Provide her with relevant support resources if necessary. There are groups and specialists out there for things like breastfeeding challenges, cesarean healing, traumatic births, and other common new mother concerns.
-Be transparent. When that new mother says she's fine and doesn't need anything, tell her you've been there and you know that her life is crazy right now and she needs something, and it's okay to accept, and even ASK for help. Too many people assume that if the mother needs help she will ask for it. THIS IS FALSE. MOST NEW MOTHERS WILL NOT ASK FOR HELP.
-Bring her a meal. This is so easy. Set up a meal train website for the family and have her share the link with her network.
-Rock the baby while she takes a shower. Heck, you could even draw a nice bath for her and light some scented candles to help her relax! Take the baby on a walk if you can. Let her have even just 10 minutes of silence to take care of her soul. Typically I say "don't go visit a new mom and ask to hold the baby, and do nothing else" but this is the one exception. She's not going to any of this for herself, and she's certainly not going to ask for you to do it either. So just do it.
A lot of families I serve are military, and have their own unique set of circumstances. One of these is being isolated from any built in family support system. You might be able to relate... If your loved one is far away and you can't commit the time to travel to provide this kind of support, maybe you could pitch in toward hiring a massage therapist that comes to the home, a housekeeper, or a postpartum doula. You could even set up meal delivery from afar... Being long distance is really no excuse for not providing loving, nurturing support.
If you are expecting, even if it's not your first child, I highly encourage you to set up your support system. Reach out. Ask for help. Share what you need. Allow yourself to be vulnerable. I know that's so much easier said than done, but it's imperative for your well being and growth.
If you love someone who is expecting, ask them how you can help them develop their postpartum plan. Planning the baby shower is great. Chatting about the birth plan is cool. But don't forget to help with the postpartum plan. It's uncomfortable for most of us to bring this up... we feel like we're imposing and most of us struggle to accept the help... But work through that. Set up a schedule for swinging by and checking in and pitching in. Organize that meal train. Call over and ask what she needs while you're at the grocery store. Pitch in for whatever hired help she might need.
If this resonated with you, it will probably resonate with your friends... remind them Mothers Matter Too. Mothers deserve to thrive. Mothers deserve support. Not just solidarity. Physical and emotional support.
Jaimie is a proud mother and Air Force wife focused on serving families who need support through, during, and after pregnancy and childbirth. Jaimie is a Licensed Practical Nurse, Madriella Certified Birth Doula, Madriella Certified Postpartum Doula, and Certified Breastfeeding Specialist. Jaimie also volunteers with a breastfeeding support organization to serve mothers in her community. Jaimie loves not just supporting families through this miraculous journey, but also photographing their stories. If you live in South Jersey, contact Jaimie today to see how she can serve you!
Keywords: South Jersey Postpartum Doula, New Jersey Birth Doula, Madriella Doula, Breastfeeding Specialist, Lactation Support South Jersey, Postpartum Depression, pregnancy resources, pregnancy support