By Robyn Alagona Cutler, MFT –
“One week in the bed, one week on the bed and one week around the bed” were the directions I was encouraged to follow on the advice of my birth doula, while making preparations to arrive home with my new baby. This was the first time I had heard of such a concept regarding the postpartum period. But it felt right, so I tried it. It was also the end of January in Minnesota, so the decision to stay inside in or around my bed, was a no-brainer.
I’ve since learned that there are many cultures around the world where women are not just encouraged but expected to suspend all other activities and to “lie-in,” focusing on bonding, breastfeeding and recuperating. Sisters, grandmothers, aunts, friends and neighbors become caretakers of new moms, passing down knowledge and providing postpartum support- the kind of care that all women need after giving birth.
Going It Alone
As you may have noticed, this is not the norm in the U.S. Instead, most women who give birth here stay for between 1-5 days in the hospital (depending on the way a woman gives birth) and then go home, receiving little or no aftercare. If you happen to live in a state where they have home health nurses who visit once after you return home to check on your baby’s weight and give general advice, you should deem yourself one of the lucky ones. This practice is rare, leaving most women to begin their physical and emotional recovery on their own.
In an American culture that encourages individuality and self-determination, most new parents do not feel comfortable (let alone entitled) to ask for help. In fact, for many of us, asking for help feels like a sign of weakness. The norm is to find a way to muscle through your labor, birth and recovery, bring your baby home and do it alone. Some of us have the good fortune to live near close family and friends who can lend a hand, buying groceries or cooking a meal. But even that kind of help usually evaporates after a few weeks. We have somehow bought into the fallacy that new parents should be able to successfully manage all of this newness naturally, adapting with grace. Yet so many new parents are left feeling isolated and unprepared. Physical recovery and emotional adjustment are compromised by sleep deprivation and lack of support.
New Services Are Not Enough
Over the last few decades, services for new families have been on the rise. Resources for new parents have been popping up, and new moms and dads are beginning to reach out. Doulas, night nannies and nurses, lactation and sleep consultants have brought knowledge, wisdom and aid to new parents. These services have begun to normalize the practice of seeking support for babycare. The assistance that these providers give is invaluable. Yet there continues to be a shortage of resources and support for women who are struggling with the emotional adjustment to new motherhood and are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Contrary to popular belief, the “postpartum period” (time after birth) lasts for 12 months, not the 6-12 weeks allocated by many employers.
What’s Needed to Mother the Mothers?
If a woman’s recovery is complicated by symptoms of postpartum depression and/or anxiety, it is even more important that she receive proper care. The stigma and judgment that comes with symptoms of postpartum depression is profound. Women are literally scared into secrecy or denial about their symptoms, in fear that someone will judge them unfit to mother. We must see the period after a woman gives birth as a crucial time for her to recover, learn the ropes and prioritize taking care of herself, along with her baby.
15-20% of new moms experience postpartum depression and anxiety, making it the most common complication of childbirth. One of the most significant risk factors for women is insufficient social support. We need to rally behind all new moms and dads, offer support and ask how they are feeling, emotionally. Women who are not coping well need a full range of supportive services available to them, one of which is psychotherapy. Psychotherapy can come in many forms: individual therapy, group therapy, couples therapy and parent-baby dyad therapy. Robyn Alagona Cutler, MFT, at The Well Clinic specializes in maternal mental health, from preconception to the postpartum time and beyond. Robyn has over 20 years of experience working with moms and babies, and provides individualized care to assist moms in gathering a plan to get support, gain wellness, maintain mental health and thrive. Robyn is now offering home visits and Mama to Mama: A Postpartum Wellness Group for New Moms.