Like many pregnant women, I wrote a detailed personalized birth plan just like our birth class instructor taught us. Of course things didn't go exactly according to plans and parts of that birth plan flew out the window. Other parts were preserved with the utmost respect of our labor and delivery team. But looking back, there is one part of my birth plan that I didn't write and wish I had.
The Part of My Birth Plan I Wish I'd Written
My birth plan ended with routine procedures we did and didn't want for our newborn in his (or her) first hours. But the part of childbirth I completely failed to plan for was recovery and bonding. And I didn't plan for other people....LOTS of other people.
I wasn't sure exactly how I'd feel, how long we'd be in the hospital, how the first days with our newborn at home would go. I assumed that people would somehow know what I wanted or needed in terms of visitors.
But well-intentioned and loving friends and family crave that new baby smell. They arrive on your doorstep hungry for tiny fingers and toes to caress and forget completely about what your body has just been through and about the momentous task of learning your baby's needs and cues.
What Birth Recovery Without a Plan Looks Like
We have a fabulous network of friends and local family who were super generous and caring, so I certainly don't mean to sound unappreciative. We had about 3 weeks of meals brought to us, which was incredibly helpful and nourishing. BUT, without a clearly communicated plan, we had 7 visitors during the 24 hours we were in the hospital after Rowan's birth, 35 visitors in our home the first 7 days and 50 visitors in the first 2 weeks.
I was scolded (lovingly) by the lactation consultant at the hospital at the end of my baby's first day because I had only attempted to nurse twice. My total and complete post-birth brain fog combined with the non-stop stream of visitors that day passing our baby around the room left little space for me to whip out a boob and try to feed the kid.
In the first two weeks, we had people drop by our home unannounced and people stay for over 2 hours. We had visitors linger until after 9pm. My mom decided to host an impromptu dinner party at our house for my in-laws 3 hours after we got home from the hospital. The wine was flowing, everyone was having a grand time chatting it up loudly into the night while I was shuffling around the house half dressed, bleeding through my mesh panties and shlepping a two-day old up and down the stairs trying to get ready for bed on our first night home with our newborn (and I quickly discovered that stair-climbing is AWFUL for healing lady parts).
On one hand I was grateful for the company of loved ones and excited to show off our new little guy. But, after the guests left, I suffered the consequences of not allowing myself to rest, recover and adjust to our new addition.
Tips for Writing a Birth Recovery Plan
It is way easier to invite people over than to turn them away.
Well before you give birth, clearly and kindly communicate to friends and family that you'd like time to bond with your baby and recover in the first days or week (or two). Let them know that you will certainly reach out when you are ready for a visit or if you need help. If you have a hospital birth, enlist the help of your hospital staff - provide a list of approved visitors and visiting times and ask the nurses to help you keep visits short. If you feel great and are ready to be social or if you're feeling lonely or isolated, folks are only a phone call away and, I promise, will be eager to swoop in for some baby ogling.
Have an event.
Even my husband grew weary of the endless stream of visitors and the calendar management of who was coming over when. I wish I'd followed my friend's recommendation to lump visitors into one event. Host a potluck brunch for 1-2 hours (be clear with the duration ahead of time) a week after you get home from the hospital for your closest friends and family.
PUT A SIGN ON THE DOOR.
Keep unexpected visitors away with a gentle sign on the door. Ask anyone dropping off a meal to leave it on your doorstep at a specific time - explain that you might be napping or nursing. Close the blinds or curtains, put the sign on the door and do what you need to do to take care of yourself and the baby. If you happen to be awake, somewhat dressed and ready for a visit when they come - replace the sign with one that invites them in!
Don't Play "Pass The Baby".
Even in those earliest days, I could tell Rowan got really "disorganized" from being passed around. He had difficulty latching at first and nursing after visitors came was especially rough. In the first weeks, let baby stay on mommy or daddy when you do have visitors. Show them photos, talk to them and let them ooh and aah from a few feet away.
Our pediatrician advised us to stay away from crowds in the first week because of germ exposure, but we quickly realized the crowds were coming to us!
"Now isn't a good time to hold him," is probably a sufficient response when people ask to hold baby. I found (after the first few days when I figured out that it wasn't great for my baby to be passed around for hours a day) that most people will respect mommy's request and won't ask why.
Write Down Your Self-Care To Do List
So many things can wait when you have a newborn - dishes, laundry, blowdrying your hair. What you cannot put off is your physical recovery. The challenge is that the days will feel totally new to you - no rhythm, no routine, very little sleep - hindering your memory. WRITE DOWN what you need to do to heal your body (regardless of what sort of birth you had) in those first days. For me that list usually included:
Your list will probably be a little different, depending on what type of birth you had and how you're feeling afterwards. And don't worry - this level of recovery self-care is needed only for a few days or a week or two!
What I'll Do Next Time I Write A Birth Plan
Of course, this part of your birth plan doesn't need to go to the hospital with you. It's just something to discuss with your partner and write down. Next time, I'll err on the side of very few visitors and open the doors to more if I'm feeling up to it. I'll communicate these requests early so that no one has months to build up expectations of being there in the hours and days immediately after birth.
Next time I will know how critically important those first days are - for healing, for bonding, for resting, for establishing some semblance of normalcy amidst the newness. It's a time for figuring out your newborn's cries and latch and sleep. It's a time for pads and medicines and ice packs. It's a time to wear whatever is comfortable, even if it means your boobs are hanging out half the day. It's a time of body fluid management - you'll have two members of your household leaking and spraying and learning to manage all the new messes.
I learned the hard way that it's a time to nest in. To gather close with your new family. And to let others wait impatiently in the wings until you're ready to let them in. And I learned that you can't plan exactly when that will be.
"Begin With A Blanket" features 45 simple activities, most of which use simple household objects to help you make your baby's awake times active and fun! Available in print and eBook.
What others are saying:
"This book is perfect for a new mom!"
"I plan on buying many more as gifts for new parents."
"This is a fantastic book, really quick simple and effective ways to play with a baby (and how it aids your baby's development). My baby is 14 weeks old and we've found that he enjoys all of the activities (even those for a younger baby)."
More posts for you to enjoy...