I hope everyone is enjoying their Lag B’omer! My husband took the kids to our shul bonfire last night; I stayed home with the youngest, who was sleeping, and finally was able to listen to three of the relaxation cds that I checked out on Friday. Two of them were good and I’ll happily use them during labor, one I couldn’t listen to for more than a minute without feeling annoyed so that immediately went into the reject pile.
Today we went to a state park for a homeschooling get together. It’s been six years since our last Lag B’omer homeschooling outing, since it kept falling on Sunday or Friday or other times that were inconvenient. Finally this year the dates worked out, the weather was perfect, and we all had a great time. It works out especially well since the last Weds. of the month, when we usually meet, will be erev Shavuos, so it’s like meeting now and making up for missing it then. And a friend brought me two Jewish name books, so I’ve been looking through them this afternoon, looking at different spiritual connections between various names and this time of year.
>>There is no group here that makes meals or otherwise helps out with the family after birth, and there are no other shomer Shabbos families with a wife in town either, so I do worry about putting all the work on my husband (and it will be around the end of the semester (he is a professor). I have had very easy births so far, but you never know.<<
Some people are fortunate enough to have mothers who come and take care of everything for a week or even longer after birth, which is wonderful. But most grandmothers are still working and can’t take the time off, and even if they can, after a week a mother still should be resting and taking it easy.
So you have to be your own support, which isn’t really hard to do if you plan ahead and don’t get emotional about the help you should have but don’t. Seriously, feeling sorry for yourself is just not productive because it doesn’t move you forward, but lots of women get stuck in this head space. So it’s worth mentioning that it’s good to avoid that.
First of all, think about what kind of help you’ll need. For most people, what comes to mind are the basic running the house kind of work that you’ll want to minimize as you give your body a chance to rest. That usually means meals, laundry, and childcare.
Meals – I’ve been fortunate to have friends send meals for a week after birth, for dinner. I’ve always felt this was a huge help because it’s one less thing to think about or to do, and the kids always find it to be a treat to enjoy someone else’s cooking! But even when you’re not in this situation, you can make meals in advance for yourself and stock your freezer. I did this from my very first pregnancy through no. 6 (I can’t remember exactly). There are lots of one dish meals that are ideal for this; hearty soups can also be frozen. If for the month before you give birth you double whatever you’re making for dinner each night and pop the extra into the freezer right away, you’ll fill your freezer with hardly any extra thought or effort. Even when I just had one newborn and no other children to take care of, it was such a help to pull a pan out of the freezer early in the day, warm it up before dinner, and know that we’d have a nice meal to enjoy without any exertion on my part. This becomes a lot more important when you have young children, since the more people depend on you to be fed, the more pressure there is when you’re not feeling up to it. So that’s dinner.
Going backwards in the day, you’ll need to take care of breakfast and lunch. I’m a big believer in keeping things simple. There are times in life to make more complicated meals, and there are times for hard boiled eggs and carrot sticks. After birth is a time to just be concerned about basic nutrition, not any standard of impressive presentation! For breakfasts, you can pull things you’ve baked in advance from the freezer, like muffins, quick breads, baked oatmeal, or you can make fast and simple breakfasts like oatmeal, polenta, or eggs. Granola can be made in a large batch in advance, or you could use store bought cold cereal (because I don’t use cold cereals, it’s not the first thing I think of but it can be a good option) or instant hot cereal packs (like grits or cream of wheat).
Lunch – sandwiches, cottage cheese, tuna, veggie sticks. Again, simple, simple, simple. Serve whatever it is with a smile and everyone will be happy. Even as easy as this can be, it takes mental space to think about what to put out. So I’d suggest before birth making a menu for the first month postpartum, writing down what you’ll have for each meal. This can be posted on the fridge, and will make it easier for you to make sure everyone is fed, and make it easier for your husband to do the shopping for whatever it is you’ll need. You can use this same meal schedule for the next month, if you feel that will be helpful to you at that time.
Child care – this is the hardest thing to delegate. If you have the possibility of hiring someone to come in for an hour or two a day, that will give you time to rest. I remember when I had my third that just being able to take a nap for an hour in the afternoon was a big help – this was the main thing I remember my mother in law doing for me when she came to visit after that birth – watching the kids while I took a nap later in the day. Often you can find a homeschooled teen who is home during the day, or even a 10 or 12 year old can be a big help in entertaining the kids. You’ll be home so it’s not like you need a babysitter as much as a mother’s helper, and younger kids are great for that.
But often that’s not possible, financially or because you can’t find anyone! When you’re the one who is supervising the kids, stay seated as much as possible. A lot of the time we get up and feel like we have to do something but many of those things can just as easily be dealt with from the couch. You can have your older kids (even age 4- 5 and up) bring you diapers and the baby or toddler when they need changing. (My 4.5 year old was already changing her baby brother’s wet diapers by herself by the time he was 6 months old, but that was initiative she took; I wouldn’t have thought of asking her to do it!) Your kids can help each other instead of turning to you for everything (an older one can play with a younger, bring them a toy, etc), and when you explain that mommy needs to rest they can share in the good feeling that they’re able to help you recuperate. Kids love to be helpful.
Laundry – With a washer and dryer, this shouldn’t be a big physical effort. But the less you do after birth, the faster you’ll recuperate. If you can, ask your husband to do this when he gets home – popping a load in right before dinner, and then another right after dinner can keep things moving along very nicely. If he’s not available for this, then at least have someone else bring the dirty laundry to the machine and take the clean laundry to where it needs to go. You can have your kids put the actual dirty laundry in the machine for you, and then put the clean wet laundry in the dryer, so that you’re not exerting yourself.
My midwife’s instructions are no driving anywhere for two weeks, not even as a passenger. It’s not that riding in a car is so strenous that she says this. I think it’s more that once we get into the car, we have a tendency to think that we can and should be taking care of things. Don’t be a martyr, and don’t try to prove how capable you are, that you’re back to normal so quickly after having a baby. The more you rest after birth, the sooner you’ll get back to yourself. Being pregnant and giving birth takes a lot out of your body, and even if you feel great, your body deserves some healing time. The postpartum period is the time to nurture yourself as much as you possibly can, to drop down to the most basic standards, and to put yourself first without feeling guilty for it. Anyway, it’s not like you’re sitting around eating bon bons after giving birth – you’re still working hard, taking care of a newborn with all that entails. You’ve earned a break after doing all you’ve done for nine months, plus what you’re doing with a new baby, don’t you think?!? If that doesn’t earn you a break, I don’t know what will! Emotionally, you’ll also benefit by taking care of yourself, as you’ll be less likely to suffer from postpartum depression.
If someone offers to help, take them up on it. It’s not easy to ask a visitor to wash your sink full of dishes, put a load of laundry in the machine, or take your kids to the park for an hour, but I think most people who care enough to visit you or call to ask about your well being really want to help and would be happy to do something concrete if they can.