Postpartum and Healthy Boundaries

Some women are extremely lucky in having their own mom come for visits soon after the birth of the  baby and it’s awesome to have an extra set of hands around the house when you have this new bundle of joy in your arms. Except when it isn’t so awesome. Moms mean well. They usually do. But sometimes they forget why they are visiting and good intentions can turn into screaming matches and lots of tears over your baby’s cute little head.  Those of us who are so fortunate to have moms and mothers-in-laws coming to help during postpartum, even though they can sometimes drive us a little crazy, can benefit a great deal from the help and love of an older wise woman can offer. However, it is good to establish good boundaries so that yours and theirs high expectations mixed with your postpartum exhaustion and new mom insecurities do not turn into a disaster.
The more clarity you have about who you are, what you want, where you beliefs come from, the clearer and stronger your boundaries will be. So, we begin by asking ourselves some basic questions.  Do I have a clear idea of what I need after the baby arrives? Are these ideas mine, or are they influenced by what my culture, family and society at large have told me? Do I agree with this at a visceral level? How strong is my sense of self? How do I feel about asking for what I want and need?

I suggest an inventory of your influences, your feelings and your sense of self to discover what needs to be strengthened, changed, harnessed and cherished. After will give you a short list of suggestions you can discuss ahead of time with a loving mom or mother-in-law visiting you in the postpartum period.

STEP ONE: INFLUENCES

Think of your family and/or community’s way of doing things; is that in conflict with your own beliefs and desires? Some people believe you should not pick up your baby as soon as she cries, some believe that babies need to be fed on a schedule. Some cultures believe babies should be dressed, no matter the temperature with hats, gloves, socks and heavy blankets, even indoors.  In some cultures mom is not allowed to go out of the house for 30 days, and the list goes on. Ask yourself if the community around you, whether your own family or your peer group, encouraged you to change your attitudes, values, or behavior in order to conform to what they refer to as the norm?  Has your mother or mother-in-law already spoken to you about where the baby should sleep, shared her feeding experience? Remember that many older women have been unsupported by a system lacking in breastfeeding skills, and have either being told they had not enough milk, or that formula was better. Remember that trying to tell them that what they did was wrong will only create malaise.

BOTTOM LINE

Peer pressure is a phenomenon we have all experienced in our lives at one point or another. Peers can be your community, friends or family, and even your partner. To please them and be accepted by the group, we might have done or do something that is not in line with our desires. How successfully you handle peer pressure depends a great deal on how you feel about yourself and your place in the world. Do you feel you have a right to speak up and stand for what you want? Are you afraid that if your opinion differs too much from those around you, you will be excluded and isolated?

The most useful approach to have your desires respected is not going on a tirade about how you are right and they are wrong. Conflict never works and never, ever changes the other person’s mind about any issue.  One of the most successful approaches I have seen has been to ask for their support instead of telling them why they are wrong. Having a difficult, yet clarifying conversation ahead of time can go a long way to a peaceful and supported postpartum experience.  Tell, whomever is coming to help you, that there will be ways you care for your child they might not agree with, but that you’d really appreciate their support and compassion in allowing you to learn on your own about your baby.  Yes, you might make mistakes, explain, but they will be your mistakes and you are so excited to trying out your ideas and follow your gut feelings.  You also want to make sure they feel appreciated, so do tell them how valuable their presence will be, especially in helping out with food and house tending. If anyone in your family cannot hear you or support you, then make sure to tell them that for the first few weeks you prefer to be alone with your baby, to build up your milk supply and recuperate from the birth. Be loving, express your acknowledgment of how difficult this might be for an eager grandmother, but appeal to her memories of her first few weeks with her child. The clearer you are with what you need help with, and what you prefer not to hear, the better.  Sometimes we assume people can read our mind and know our preferences, however most people are not that psychic.

STEP TWO: FEELINGS

Think of your childhood and try to remember those times and places where your feelings were either ignored or abused.

Example: a client came in to see me after planning a VBAC and I asked her about her feelings. She said, “No matter what happened in my life my mom always told me how to feel, I can still hear her say to me, ‘There is no reason to cry, stop getting upset at something so silly, why aren’t you happy, you should be grateful.’ It seemed I had no right to have my own feelings. So I learned to look at her to see how I was feeling about anything and everything. During labor I was not even aware I had chosen a strong female doctor. I kept looking at her to see how I should feel and behave during my labor. She ended up making all the decisions for me. She said my labor was taking too long, my baby was probably too big and I needed a cesarean. I know that did not feel right to me. I had been in labor for only ten hours and I thought I was doing great. But I just believed her when she said I was probably too tired to even push this baby out and I probably just wanted him out of me. So I agreed and had a cesarean, and my baby was a 7.6lb healthy boy. She looked at him and pronounced him lazy because he wanted to sleep and not breastfeed in recovery. I can’t say I have a good memory of my son’s first breath.”

BOTTOM LINE

Sometimes, people don’t realize that they’re crossing your boundaries when it comes to telling you how to feel or not feel. Most moms don’t even realize what they are doing, in fact many of us are either doing our best or we believe we do what we do for our daughter’s own good. It is up to you to realize you might be stuck in a familiar pattern of people telling you how you feel vs. figuring it out for yourself.

To break away first, you must tune in to, embrace, and understand you own feelings. It seems simple, but if you have relied on someone else to tell you what you think and feel this will take some work. Something as simple as saying “ouch” when someone has said something that has hurt you is a start to expressing your feelings in a non aggressive way.  In postpartum your feelings will be all over the map, thanks to the hormonal readjustment you will feel blue more often, vulnerable, exhausted and at times scared and anxious.  Learning some specific tools before the baby comes that can help you express what you feel in a non-confrontational manner will go a long way in being able to ask for your needs to be met. Sometimes a simple “I am tired now, and feel like a cuddle with my new baby, can we talk about this later?” can shut a busy mouth.  I have written an article called   Baby Blues or Opening the Heart, about the feelings that surface during the postpartum period, it is important to understand this very delicate psychological phenomenon that touches all women once the baby has arrived.

STEP THREE: SELF

Think about how you feel about yourself. Many people think that they don’t deserve to set boundaries in the first place. Their low self-esteem makes them unable to have an opinion or make a decision. They often hide behind phrases like, “Anything you want is fine with me. If the doctor is comfortable this way then I guess we should just do that,” and “Don’t worry about me all I care about is a healthy baby.” A fun way to gauge where your self-esteem is at, is doing the following quiz truthfully. Answer the following questions with true or false:

  1. Other people are not better off or more fortunate than me
  2. I accept myself as I am and am happy with myself
  3. I enjoy socializing
  4. I deserve love and respect
  5. I feel valued and needed
  6. I don’t need others to tell me I have done a good job
  7. Being myself is important
  8. I make friends easily
  9. I can accept criticism without feeling put down
  10. I admit my mistakes openly
  11. I never hide my true feelings
  12. I always speak up for myself and put my views across
  13. I am a happy, carefree person
  14. I don’t worry what others think of my views
  15. I don’t need others’ approval to feel good
  16. I don’t feel guilty about doing or saying what I want
  17. Test score at the bottom

BOTTOM LINE

To build your self-esteem and your right to want what you deserve and desire, start small. Remember all your accomplishments and make a collage with mementos that remind you of what you have already accomplished in the past, and all the things you are proud of. Use photographs of a recital from when you were young, a trophy you won at a little league competition, a business card from a job you really loved, or a paper from school you are particularly fond of. Just don’t say you can’t remember anything. I know there is something, even the smallest thing is important. Make sure it is something YOU accomplished on your own.

Make a list of your most recent accomplishments; even the ones you think are insignificant. Each completed task, regardless of how small, is a building blocks towards a more confident you. Create an image of yourself as the confident and self-assured person you aspire to become. Do something that scares you, even if it is starting a conversation with strangers while in line at the groceries. You’ll learn to talk to the most difficult people this way. Do something you are good at. Set small goals. If your goal today is to do the laundry and take a walk and you accomplish it, put a mark on your list of accomplishments, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself. Beware not to try to overachieve and set yourself up for failure. START SMALL.

Help others feel good about themselves. When you help other people feel better about themselves and like themselves more, it will make you feel good about yourself. Write positive affirmations about yourself and repeat them. Recite them in front of a mirror. This is hard but very effective. Last but not least: stop comparing yourself to other people. Low-self esteem stems from the feeling of being inferior.

These are only three small steps to stronger boundaries and a stronger self-esteem. Learning to set boundaries is a vital part of learning to communicate in a direct and honest manner. It is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who has no boundaries, with someone who cannot communicate directly, and honestly; especially if that somebody is you. Learning how to set boundaries is a necessary step in learning to be a friend to yourselves. It is your responsibility to take care of yourselves – to protect yourselves when it is necessary. It is impossible to learn to love yourselves without owning your rights and responsibilities as co-creators of your life. We need to be able to tell other people when they are acting in ways that are not acceptable to us, but we can only do it if we have compassion for where we come from, consideration for our own feelings and self-esteem. After all we teach our children how to have healthy boundaries by example, so you are not just doing this to help yourself you are doing this for your baby.

Here is the list we promised at the beginning of the article. You can add to and share with anyone coming to help you after the baby is born:

  • You will need food, 3 meals and 2 snacks each day. Enlist as many friends and relatives for this.  People will ask if there is anything they can do…SAY YES. Consider setting up a page for your family on a great website called com where people can go and schedule themselves to bring you food and they can also see what you have been eating.  Sometimes asking for people to bring food might mean having 5 pounds of lasagna brought to you with great intentions.  Be specific about likes and dislikes, allergies etc.  People need directions and welcome them, especially if they know you have loved their meals.
  • Laundry, it is amazing how much laundry a little one can generate. Be sure to post a list of detergents you buy regularly and tape it to the washing machine.  We all have different preferences and a message written is a lot better than an explanation as to why you choose a more expensive but environmentally friendly soap.
  • If you have pets they need walking. Pets in particular are in need of extra attention once the little ones come, so enlist someone or a few people to come and walk and cuddle your pets.
  • Do you have plants that need attending? There are a lot of people who live in apartments who would love to hang out in your garden and feel the dirt under their fingers, you will make them happy and your weeds and veggies will be happy for it.
  • House cleaning, if you already have someone to help around the house see if you can afford to double her/his time for the first few weeks. If you have always cleaned yourself, than ask mom or someone else to come and help. A clean house makes a postpartum experience feel like a vacation in a hotel…with room service
  • Many grandmas love to hold the baby a lot. I have seen loving, good intentions grandmas come over hog the baby while the new mom ends up catering to them. DO NOT ALLOW THIS. Baby needs skin to skin so you can produce milk and you want to enjoy your baby. However, once a day why not ask mom to hold baby so you can go take a shower or even a short walk. Compromises always work for everyone involved.
  • If you can hire a postpartum doula, she can help you with more than house chores and food, she can reassure you of your own choices, offer breastfeeding support and a caring and compassionate hear.

Add to this list what is important to you.  If you do this before the baby comes you can really feel prepared, loved and pampered by the most important person in this equation YOU.

______________________________________________________________________________

TEST SCORE: Total number of TRUE answers you gave, EACH ONE POINT:
15-16 Points – You have a high level of self esteem!
12-14 Points – Not bad, but there is room for you to improve
8-11 Points – Low self esteem is holding you back
Below 8 Points – Your esteem is drastically low!

Giuditta Tornetta is a birth and postpartum doula, mother of two, author of the best-seller Painless Childbirth: An Empowering Journey Through Pregnancy and Birth, and Conversations With The Womb.  Together with Robin Lim and Nicola Goodall she facilitates a postpartum certification program in Bali each year called Loving the Mother.  While Giuditta is best known as a writer, workshop leader and a doula, she is also a passionate voice for women. She founded the Joy In Birthing Foundation  a non-profit organization of committed, community oriented professional doulas, dedicated to helping families through pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. The foundation serves women in the foster care system, homeless shelters and juvenile detention center.

this post was  written by the gorgeous Giuditta Tornetta – read more about her here

this blog is part of the #postnatalrevolution in honour of sheila kitzinger passing on to the light.

wysewomen workshops hold a very popular motherwarming workshop at different locations all around the country – themotherwarming workshop looks at different ways to keep mum, baby and family healthy in the immediate postnatal period –  find local dates near you here

wysewomen are also involved in loving the mother – a week long journey for women to develop love for the mother.

having a postnatal doula can support you during your babymoon – find out more here and here

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