How To Organize Truly Helpful Postpartum Support From Your Friends And Family

Michelle Peterson shares with Adriana a fantastic framework for setting up your postpartum village of support that spreads the responsibility over many people (seven to be exact) so that you are well-resourced beyond the first few weeks of postpartum. She explains how to prepare and why you’ll need a team leader to coordinate it all to make sure you not only receive the care you need, but that your dishes end up in the right place and your laundry is folded just how you like it.

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How To Organize Truly Helpful Postpartum Support From Your Friends And Family

Adriana Lozada: Hello, hello, Mighty Parent or Parent-To-Be. Welcome to Birthful. I’m Adriana Lozada and we are in the midst of our Get a Head Start on Your Postpartum Logistics Series. In our usual loose structure where we alternate between a topical interview and a birth story, today would be birth story day, but we’ve decided to do something different and bring you a companion episode, if you will, to the episode we did with Kaitlin McGreyes on Why You Deserve Professional Postpartum Support (And How to Afford It!)

The truth is that, regardless of how much professional support you have, the most wonderful postpartum experiences include a combination of both support from your community and from the professionals. At the same time, we get that it can be really tricky to figure out how to set up truly nourishing postpartum support from your friends and family when a lot of them don’t quite know how to help, don’t have time for it, or may even make things worse by surfacing complex family dynamics. 

So that’s the daunting conundrum, isn’t it? How to set up a plan that is actually helpful, and so here’s where this episode comes in. Michelle is the author of the book Seven Sisters for Seven Days: A Mothers’ Manual for Community-Based Postpartum Care and you can think of her approach as a really great example of a structure that is highly customizable for your needs and circumstances.

Now, in Michelle’s framework what you do is you bring together at least seven people who really nourish you, whether it’s close friends, sisters, cousins, aunties, parents, or other relatives— and I know the name says sisters, but really age and gender don’t matter as long as you choose people that are reliable and incredibly nurturing to you— and then each one signs up for a day of the week where they will come over at whatever time you determine, for however long you determine, to take care of whatever you determine that you need that day— be it doing laundry, holding your baby while you sleep or take a nap, or just listening to you share what you’re going through. 

And what’s really brilliant about this approach is that by spreading the support over a group of people, they also don’t become overwhelmed, making it possible for you to count on this support for weeks and months, not just a few days. Then as the weeks go by, you create deeper connections and you all grow together.

In the episode, Michelle and I go into a little bit more of the details as to why this matters, how long should it go on for, when to start setting it up, where your partner fits in all this (if you have a partner), why you shouldn’t be the one to coordinate it, and so then who should or could be the team leader for your group. 

You’re listening to Birthful. Here to inform your intuition. 

Adriana: Michelle, welcome to the show! I am so happy to have you here.

Michelle Peterson: Thanks for having me. I’m happy to be here.

Adriana: So before we start diving deep into how to even consider and start working on setting up your postpartum support, your village, tell us a little bit about yourself. 

Michelle: Well, I’m obviously a mother of two boys. And I had my first son in 2010, and I had a really challenging postpartum for a lot of reasons. My husband worked really long hours, which is not uncommon. And I was alone a lot. I had undiagnosed thyroid issues that started cropping up pretty early. I had adrenal fatigue. I mean, I had this whole gamut— who knows, the chicken or the egg, what started what— but I had a lot of health stuff going on.

I didn’t have any other mom friends yet because I was the first one in our group that got pregnant. And I felt very isolated, alone, confused. And I’m of the mind of a very self-directed woman, you just handle it and you get it done. And I was raised by a woman like that, so I just thought, “Well, this is how it is.”

You just do it and you know it’s hard and you got bleeding nipples and I thought, “Well, that just must be how it is.” And that was my mindset for quite a while. And then I hit a point, maybe a year and a half in, where I was exhausted, my hair was still falling out. It was like lead boots, and I just didn’t feel like myself.

And I finally went and got a checkup and found all the thyroid issues and everything else. I had adrenal depletion at 31 and I’m going, “What!?” you know? And so I went on this journey of healing from all those health issues that got probably triggered from all the depletion of my postpartum, ‘cause I was doing everything by myself, which isn’t uncommon, but “I can handle this and I’ll bounce back.” 

And when I wasn’t bouncing back, “Okay, something’s wrong…” And it wasn’t until I got pregnant with my second that I realized how bad my first postpartum was because all I could focus on was getting a postpartum doula and getting help. And I was just like, “I don’t wanna go through that again.”

And I didn’t realize how hard it was ‘cause you’re wrapped up in baby. I mean, you’ve got this baby and you obviously love your baby, and not all moms even feel that right away. But I was in love with my baby and excited about that part. Yet at the same time I was spiraling, you know, I didn’t realize how bad it was.

So I got pregnant with my second and I hired a doula and then she got pregnant and I thought, “I need to figure out a way to get this help, ‘cause I’m not going through that again. I’m just simply not willing to do that to myself.” And, you know, this whole system was born out of necessity.

A friend and I got to talking and she’s like, “Why don’t you just call on your friends? We would love to help you.” And, you know, I have a very community-minded community, where I am. So that was a natural thought. And I thought, “Well, I don’t wanna bother people…” And I started rolling it around in my head.

I see a lot of women: “I don’t wanna ask for too much. I don’t wanna burden anybody.” People wanna come and help when the baby’s born, they just don’t know what to do. And I started slowly forming this idea and then I’m like, “Wait!” you know, “I could have someone sign up for a day…” you know, ’cause the whole meal train idea was kind of in my head. 

Like, “Well, okay, we could have someone sign up to do all different kinds of tasks.” And my main focus was meals and getting my other son to school. I wasn’t so worried about laundry and all that other stuff. I thought, “We’ll get to that.” But it was like, “I need to nourish my body,” and what was in my head was nourishing my thyroid and nourishing my adrenals. So I worked with my doctor and I created this whole herbal protocol with her; she’s a naturopath. And then I created a whole meal plan based on what was going on, ’cause I had issues too.

I mean, I had a lot of stuff come up after my first. That’s how it all started. And it became just something that I birthed for myself. And then my midwife was so moved by it. She’s like, “Will you teach this to the women at my practice?” “I would love to do that!” And then it just started happening in the community to where people would even say to me, “Have you heard of the Seven Sisters?” And I’d be like, “Yeah, I’ve heard of that! I came up with it!” 

So it was born out of necessity. It was born out of having a really hard postpartum the first time around and bowing to not go through that again, but also to help other women recognize that not only can they have that support, but they are worthy of it, and they might very well need it like I did.

Adriana: Oh my goodness! I find that’s the biggest hurdle that we face. You know, when I do my classes— I’m sure you’ve experienced this, too— a lot of us are kind of type A, kind of very self-directed, kind of, you know, “Those things happen to other people. I got all my stuff under control…” 

Michelle: Mhm!

Adriana: Then postpartum becomes… It’s hard to understand how it affects people at all levels, not just physically, but in their identity and the… How it exposes their coping mechanisms. How it exposes their relationship with their partners. 

Like, there’s so much to it that I even call it the “pregnancy hangover,” because during pregnancy it’s all about you and marvelous, and then when you get to postpartum, it’s all about the baby and your self care goes out the window. What I often hear is if “I only knew ahead of time…” because once the baby arrives, it’s too late. 

Michelle: It’s true. It’s tricky. And I’ve had a lot of women contact me after the baby’s born saying “I really wished I did this plan with you.” And it’s… you know, it is what it is. We learn through… we’re experiential learners, right?

I’ve been working on an “I wish I knew” document, but I know there’s other ones out there and I’m like, “I’d love those to be in midwifery centers and birth centers, and for that to be part of the protocol of preparing a family!” And I think there’s more of that now. 

So phase one is hopefully they do some research and read into that and look into that and talk to other people, people who’ve had challenges. But phase two of that is letting them know what their resources are if after the baby comes, stuff comes up so at least they know where to get help and it’s not as much of a scramble. So phase one maybe we could plan before, but if not, here are all your resources, if something comes up. 

Adriana: And so hopefully if, you know, listeners— people who are out there listening to this right now— can take a little bit to heart that we’re telling you for a good reason, that “You really should prepare. Don’t leave it till the last minute. You will thank us very much later.”

Michelle: Mhm!.

Adriana: In that same spirit, let’s talk about: Why is self-care during the postpartum period so important?

Michelle: You know, a lot of people resist this “self-care” word. It’s becoming more of a buzz thing nowadays. But it’s so important because so much of the focus is on the baby, but it’s also you’re gonna be caring for this child for the next 18 years and on really (ideally!) and your needs, a lot of your needs are gonna be put aside for a little while. I mean, idealistically, that’s not true. And for some women, even women… I knew women in my community that had nannies and chefs and everything, and were still struggling. So there’s things that get put aside.

So it’s really important to learn how to fill your cup, work with what you have. Fill your reserves. Not because motherhood is just this demanding, draining identity, less experience. It’s not bad. It’s just there are parts of you that, and energy reserves that are gonna be depleted. You probably will lose sleep.

There’s things that you’ve not been trained for, never, probably gone through in your life that are gonna happen that you need to be prepared for. And self-care can help give women reserves, and it goes for the partner too. And part of self care too that you know, I’m including more is also having reserves for the relationship because there’s gonna be time chipped away at that.

And there’s always a way and you can get creative and have a sense of humor and know that you always tell moms “There’s little phases and they’re temporary. And the ‘not sleeping’ is temporary. And ‘having mommy brain’ is temporary. And you will look back and laugh— ’cause I do!” But it’s so you can show up fully for your child, your life and this whole new experience of being… I mean we don’t get trained for this. Don’t you wish we had training camps? “Okay, we’re gonna wake you up every two hours!”

Adriana: No thank you! [Laughs.]

Michelle: I’m kidding! But we don’t get a— like the joke— we don’t get a handbook. We’re not prepared for this. And this is a pretty big job. It’s kind of funny to me that there’s not more training involved beforehand. So it’s about filling up your reserves and knowing how to take really good care of yourself and the name of being able to show up for your family.

Adriana: I think one of the biggest expectations that needs to be adjusted is the time. How long it takes to recover. In the U.S. specifically, our 12 weeks of unpaid leave, that’s just the fourth trimester! By the time that’s done, you’re barely getting your handle on things on your new normal. The first thing to bust is this idea that, “Oh, in two weeks I’ll be running around and doing all the things,” when, in fact, it’s gonna take months.

Michelle: Yeah! Yeah.

Adriana: And to make it sustainable, you gotta be able to take care of yourself. Otherwise you are gonna find yourself extremely depleted, and then things really fall apart.

Michelle: And we are in a society of burnout. I mean burnout is, I think, one of the biggest issues I see in a lot of people I work with— they’re already fried, or the husband’s fried and you know, people are fighting ’cause they’re fried. And we’ve gotta learn how to take better care of ourselves and not be in such a rush and to do, do, do and be so busy.

And for some women I find too that— and the partners— just slowing down and having to be still…. Because you’re with… If you’re staying at home with baby for weeks, I know for me, at first, just sitting on the couch and nursing all the time and not being able to do stuff just made me bananas. And then I got used to it and I was like, “This is really nice!” And with my second postpartum, I was like, “I’m going on vacation with the baby. Everybody leave me alone.”

Adriana: Yes!

Michelle: I lounged, I had meals made, and I knew that it would be go-time soon, you know, so I took it in. And I’ve been much better now at taking care of myself since then and just resting when I need to rest, ’cause I know once I get back into the grind, it’s full-on. And, you know. I call it “shutting it down.” I just shut everything [down]!

Adriana: As bad as we are at self-care, we are really good at taking vacations—

Michelle: That’s true.

Adriana: —so I do feel like if it can be reframed as a vacation. You don’t clean on vacation, you eat really well and sleep well, and have other people cook your meals.

Michelle: I like that! That’s true. That’s a really good… that’s a great way to frame it.

Adriana: So how long should this vacation be? Like: When you’re setting up support for yourself, for how long do you need to plan?

Michelle: You know, I tell women “ideally six weeks,” but for a lot of people they can’t even wrap their minds around that. “That’s too long!” And it’s like, actually, you know, you just barely stop bleeding at six weeks. While it depends— ideally six weeks— I’d say no less than four. But It really depends on their lifestyle and what they’re willing to allow to happen. ‘Cause a lot of people have trouble receiving. 

I did the first 40 days— I did six weeks, which is what? 42 days. And I actually personally didn’t really go out socially, besides I went for long walks in our neighborhood. We’re backed up to forest service land, so I’d just go out and wear my baby.

But I didn’t really go out out for eight, and that sounds crazy! Like, I’d go to the store without the baby, but baby and I didn’t go out beyond our nature hikes for eight weeks. We were just nature and home. And for me that really worked. And some people’s like, “That’s a long time!” And I’m like, “In the grand scheme of your child’s life and yours, it’s really not a long time at all,” but people adapt to what they’re comfortable with. Everybody’s got, got their normal and what they feel they need. But ideally six weeks, but at least four, is what I, you know, generally recommend to people.

And it doesn’t, you know, it doesn’t mean you have people come into your house seven days a week. A lot of times they’re just on-call. In my case, they came a couple days a week to drop off meals and then, you know, four of the women on my team ended up using the system and then we were all supporting them. You know, it was really beautiful how it kept going.

Adriana: Then, and you knew exactly what everybody needed and knew that you were paying it forward when you were helping somebody else. I love that! And it’s bringing back that village, ’cause we’re not supposed to parent alone.

Michelle: No, absolutely not. That’s crazy!

Adriana: Yeah, so, walk us through a little bit of your program, like: How is it set up? Is it always just between your friends? Do you mix that with professional support? Because it feels like the idea of a postpartum doula is like a professional service that fills in this void, but you came at it with a different approach. So talk to me more about that.

Michelle: Well, you know, a lot of women, the things I hear is either they can’t afford a doula or “There’s not a lot in my area.” For example, I don’t even know if there’s any in my town. There’s some, like, two hours… in Phoenix, we’re in Verde Valley, which is Northern Arizona. Or they don’t want a stranger staying at the house, is another one. So then they look for a more community-based approach. And meal train’s been a big thing that I see a lot of women doing, but the way that my system works is it was designed for family and friends— that’s what it was designed for. 

You can send a letter out to family and friends for your baby shower and say— you know, what I did was, instead of asking for gifts, “I’m asking for people to…” well, and you can do whatever you want, right? But “If you wanted to donate the gift of time, here’s what we’re looking for… And this is why.” And “Here’s the things we’re looking for help with.” And that’s one way that women do it or they have a doula, postpartum doula, actually coordinate the team for them. So they might have a doula— I’ve seen this done quite a few times— who also runs their team. So the doula might not be going in there as often, or she might be doing her stuff and then the team’s coming in and doing other things. 

And the grander vision was that these teams are not just for the postpartum, but surgery, hospice, a death in the family. We’ve used them for all of those things as well in my community. So, you call on your family and friends, and you… The basic overview of it is you call on your family and friends and you tell them exactly what you’re needing help with, and then people sign up for a day. They could be on call from 11:00 to 12:00 on Mondays, and that’s their day.

And then you have backup members, and it can be as detailed as the family wants, you know? And we had talked about earlier, you know, everything from having a backup plan to having backup members, like I said, and having a team leader— I mean, it can get as detailed as the family wants. And ideally, the way I suggest people set it up is have a team leader, so that person can oversee everything so the family doesn’t have to think about it.

They can just rest and get their food and get their house handled. And there is a lot of details that go into that. And I joke that a nursing mother will have a ball with that! You know, like, everything from letting the team know where everything is in the house and when we do it really organized, the team leader we’ll bring the team to the house. They’ll have a meeting with the mother and they’ll show her where the… what the right detergent is, where to put the dishes. I mean, however far they wanna take it! For some moms, we wanna keep her from doing anything. So if you’re putting her dishes in the wrong spot, that’s not really gonna help, especially if that’s really important to her.

I had one woman who labeled everything in her kitchen. She went a little crazy with a label maker and, you know, the nesting makes you… I thought that’s really fun for nesting. She really went crazy with that label maker, so everybody knew where everything was, so she didn’t have to think about it. And to her, that was important so that’s it, the basics of it. 

Adriana: Now that sounds fantastic! And I wanna talk a little bit more about: What factors should you consider when setting up your support?

Michelle: There’s a lot. So, there is first the woman’s health picture, which is something she has to assess with her provider. But knowing your health picture is really helpful for building what I call “the postpartum protocol,” which would, in my case, was the herbs and the meals. And, it’s, again, how far people wanna take it. So looking at what the health picture is so she can support her body in that way, and what the ideal foods would be… If she has the predisposition of low thyroid or adrenals, like I did, or anything like that, you wanna nourish that, because pregnancy and birth is a big event for the body. So understanding her health picture is super helpful in implementing that into her protocol.

So the building of the protocol is the health picture, and then you look at what the priorities are the things that she feels she needs the most. I tell women “rest, nourishment, and hydration,” and you wanna set up the environment so that you can get rest. So I would say making the bedroom a place of sleep and not having iPhones, computers, and a bunch of stuff right there.

But you can do whatever you want, which is what I also always say, ’cause you just had a baby. Do whatever you want! You wanna eat pizza and scroll on your phone? Go ahead! But, ideally, you wanna rest when the baby’s resting, right? We all know that. Creating a nursing station. Just looking at an environment, “What are my priorities for my environment and also my highest needs?”

So nourishment, maybe creating a meal plan or making it very clear to people what kinds of foods you love, or buying the ingredients for people if they wanna make ’em for you, which is something a lot of people do. Setting up a good sleep environment, even getting a good night light, so you can see when you have to breastfeed in the middle of the night, can be huge. Really, you don’t wanna get up, turn on the light. I look for all these ways of “How can we keep Mommy in bed?” Get a thermos, get a tea press, just ways to keep her in bed, making sure she’s adequately hydrated. Get her a big thermos, just so there’s lots of fluids always there.

And then, identifying what her… What tools she might want for that protocol. Like I said, the tea press or a Boppy or nursing nightgown or things that’ll make it easier. Nursing bras, all these little things that can really make a huge difference when you get this little baby. Trying out baby carriers ahead of time, wearing them, going to a babywearing group. So there’s that piece. 

And then identifying what her partner needs to feel supported. People have different ideas around what they’re willing to receive, not because it’s wrong or right, but they may not want people coming into the home. Or they may feel insecure about people seeing their home or seeing them at a time like that. So that’s another piece, is identifying what their realm of comfort is and setting up the plan to support that. We’ve had families where it’s a cooler outside their door and we send a text to them when food’s coming, so it’s not sitting outside too long. Having a dry erase board on the front door or a little door hanger, whatever you need to do.

So identifying all those pieces. Obviously, identifying your team members. Having someone, ideally, being the point person— which is kind of like the gatekeeper that oversees the whole process. And there’s things that the family aren’t gonna know about that are gonna come up. So also having— in most cases, at least— a list of care providers. Like I said earlier, lactation consultants, whatever, you know, if they do acupressure or chiropractic, or just knowing where all their supports are. Interviewing pediatricians ahead of time could be huge for a lot of people. 

So identifying what their priorities are. Also, having a backup plan is important. It’s something people don’t wanna look at, but identifying what that might look like. And an example of a backup plan is when we had a woman transfer… people went to the house, got the room ready, cleaned up her bedroom, made it super cozy and put food in the freezer, just little things like that. Just thinking ahead. 

And I can imagine this sounds really overwhelming to a pregnant woman. I mean, they’re probably already doing other classes and thinking about the birth. I know for my first pregnancy, it was all about the birth. And with my second, I barely thought about my birth room. It was all postpartum, postpartum, postpartum. So just recognizing they’re setting themselves up for success. They’re not gonna cover every base, but starting to know what’s out there for them because there are a lot of resources. There really are. Even Postpartum Support International— if they’re experiencing any depression or blues or anything like that, just knowing they have an array of resources to support them as well, is a big part of the plan.

And it can be customized to every/any situation. I’m like, “Gimme the situation, will customize it.” There’s always a way to get support to the family. Even, like I said, if it’s a cooler outside the door and that’s it, it’s something. The clearer the mother is about what her needs are, the better people can support, and the partner and there is emotional work that comes up depending on… As a doula, I’m sure you’ve seen this around, it’s one of the biggest pieces in the women I work with is looking at what blocks they have around receiving help or feeling judged or all these different things that come up. There’s more women than I thought that I’ve met that are very insecure about people, friends, being in their home at such a vulnerable time. So there’s some work there too. So there’s a lot of stuff that comes with it, but it’s so worth it.

And you know, like I said, my first postpartum, it wasn’t terrible, but it sure was hard. It didn’t have to be that hard. And my second was like a vacation! I mean, it wasn’t a breeze, but it wasn’t anything like the first, because I prepared. And you were saying, people plan for their vacations. So I’m like, I watch these people go on TripAdvisor, and, like, research every restaurant they’re gonna go to and da da da da da. And it’s like, “Why can’t you do that while you’re point… Plan that way for a baby! Invest in, you know, getting a little help.”

Adriana: And I think it’s something that’s slowly changing, because, for example, with the birth, like we, I always tell people “You prepare so much to have a birth, but have you prepared to have a baby?” And at this point in time, it’s very common to have people sort of assume they… one of the things they will do is take childbirth education classes. We have not gotten to the point where everybody’s like, “Yeah, I need to take a postpartum preparation class.” Things are switching— in terms of breastfeeding, I see lots of new and expecting parents, or expecting parents, taking a breastfeeding class, for example, ’cause they know they’ve understood that that can be challenging.

Michelle: Yeah.

Adriana: And you made a great point about partners, of bringing them in, because this is just as much their kid, right? And so bringing them in, so that they feel part of the team and supported, and that their needs are covered. Because, what I find often, if you have an army of people that descends in the house to help, that partners can often feel pushed back—

Michelle: Mhm.

Adriana: —and left out. So what are some thoughts on how to navigate that?

Michelle: Well, I encourage… When women contact— it’s always women that contact me about setting up a plan— and I’ll say, you know, “How do we get started?” And I prefer to have the partners involved from the beginning, so they have a say in everything that’s happening. So, yeah, it’s not an army storming in and, you know, in my case, my partner kind of got out of the way and let me handle it, which is the common thing. But I did consult with him about, you know, well, it was different, though, ’cause I was the one creating it, but you know, “What would you be comfortable with? Are you okay with this?” And he said, “I’m good. I trust your friends and I’m really grateful.” And he kind of got out of the way, which is a common thing. But another way I encourage women to bring the partner in if it’s possible, and that it’s… Sometimes it’s not possible.

Sometimes they just do that, or I default to her. You know, looking at, “Well, how can we get them help?” you know, maybe even a massage or a night out with their friends, seriously, just a night where we talk about what’s going on for them. And I really encourage women to let the partner find their way, so it doesn’t become this paradigm where they’re saying, “Well, I have to do everything and he’s not helping,” and sometimes that’s because they haven’t been given the opportunity to find their way and they need support in learning how to even wear the baby or how to hold the baby, and all the things that we’d be teaching the moms. I’ve really encouraged people to include the partner in that so they don’t feel disempowered in the process. That’s one of the bigger pieces. 

But yeah, also consulting with them, about “Are you okay with people coming to the house?” And sometimes, I have met some partners who aren’t comfortable with people just bringing food or there might be religious beliefs or caste systems that wouldn’t allow that. Those are things you gotta traverse and be very clear about so there’s no friction that’s created, obviously— which I haven’t ever encountered that, but, you know, bringing them in as much as you can really, and including them not making it just about the mom.

And the other piece like, let’s teach him how to burp the baby (or her!). And let’s teach the partner these things as well, so they don’t get alienated, ’cause they know how to do it and they can wear the baby. I’ll never forget the day that my husband was vacuuming while wearing the baby. And I went for a walk and came back and he was so proud of himself, you know? Yeah! “Look at me,” you know? And I’m like, “Yeah! Of course you can do that! That’s your baby.”

Adriana: That’s right! Yeah. And it’s empowering to them. And it’s also… you know, because, like you mentioned, the other way around, it can breed resentment, it can breed division, and at the end of the day when everybody leaves, these are the two people that are left in the house fending for baby.

Michelle: You got it, yeah.

Adriana: So, I think, fostering a mentality where parents come in and check in with each other. And know that it’s hard for both of them, and that they— instead of “divide and conquer”-ing, ’cause that dividing and conquering can be really helpful— but in the mentality, always having a mentality behind it of being a team, and “How do we work together?” can make a huge difference.

That’s, like, another one of those ideas, of reframing expectations of “This is gonna suck, probably— ’cause we’re gonna be sleep deprived and we don’t know what we’re doing and we got all these people trying to help— but you and I have to, like, keep it together here.”

Michelle: Yeah. Yeah, it’s huge. And, you know, I’m walking proof of it! With my first, my famous sentence was, “Let me handle it.” I just took over and I did everything. And then I resented him for not being more involved when in fact he was just like, “I don’t know what to do.” You know, with my second. I’m pretty sure the hour after he was born, he was laying on dad’s chest while I got wet and got cleaned up. I had no problem doing that. 

And it was just night and day, and, you know, he was so much more involved because I let it happen, you know? So that’s a piece to look at. And I just experienced the two alternate universes and I thought, “Wow, I really resented him for what I had created. He wasn’t sure what to do, ’cause I just took over.” And it’s common. I see it a lot. And then they get resentful and it’s like, “Well, you gotta include them more. I mean, it’s just as new to them as it is for you.”

Adriana: And you just reminded me, like, the onslaught of changes in your identity and you know, coping mechanisms and all that. Two of the biggest things that come up, that are, like, cornerstones that make postpartum difficult for the primary caregiver, is that there’s a lot of isolation involved—

Michelle: Mhm!.

Adriana: —there’s also the feeling of being over-touched. So I find that, usually, in terms of ways that you recharge, people tend to be somewhere in the spectrum of needing others to recharge (so being very social) or needing time to themselves to recharge.

Michelle: Mhm.

Adriana: And this one unique situation where you got neither, right? You’re very alone, but over-touched, ’cause this baby’s hijacked your body. You thought pregnancy was bad! Now they’re on you all the time. So I think this system is… I love it, because having that support structure of people that are gonna come in helps with the isolation part, and you can determine how much or how little that goes into it.

And then also what you were mentioning about partners being able to carry the baby and take care of baby. Having somebody you can give the baby away to for a little bit of time without feeling guilty about it and knowing that baby’s gonna be well taken care of, can lessen your over-touched feelings.

Michelle: Totally. Yeah. And especially when, you know, attachment parenting, where there, you know, people are wearing the baby— which was me with my first all the time. I couldn’t put him down and that was part of his personality. It’s like other people can wear your baby too, you know, like your partner. [Laughs.]

Adriana: Exactly! 

Michelle: And they will sleep… usually.

Adriana: And, whoa, go figure! Yeah.

Michelle: I know! Yeah.

Adriana: That letting go can be hard, but it grows as the days go by and you get more used to it and become more over-touched. “Just take this baby!” 

Speaking of that, do you… Also, when you’re creating the plan, do you have kind of, like, an exit strategy for when that support winds down?

Michelle: Well, you know, when it’s family and friends, ideally, people are keeping an eye on mama and family and just kind of checking in. And that’s what I recommend to people, is “Keep checking in.” It’s kind of like, you know, the same thing when someone’s lost a family member and you’ve got the funeral and the wake and the gatherings, and then everybody disappears.

It’s like you wanna keep, you know, your finger on the pulse of what’s going on. And if it’s friends and family, ideally that’s happening already. But the main thing is just continuing to check in and maintaining connection with the family and making sure she’s doing all right and taking a good look into her eyes and seeing how she’s doing.

And I really encourage that of friends and family— ’cause I’ll have people say, you know, I don’t… “My sister’s having a baby. She won’t let me do anything and how can I support her?” Then just call her and talk to her. Listen, you know, give her, let her know you’re there, if needed, you know. And that can be huge, just knowing you can call someone.

I mean, I have one friend I called on a hard day during my postpartum— and just talking to her! I mean, she was in medical school. I knew how busy she was. But she’s like, “If you ever just hit a point…” And I was at that point, I needed to talk. And I talked to her and I felt so much better, and just knowing she was there was huge for me.

So, just letting the family know you’re there and you know, keeping an eye on ’em, rather than just… Some people will step away from a new family. I had a lot of friends just kind of disappear when I had my first kids. So, you know, keeping an eye, keeping connected and looking out for them, just like you would— even if it’s not family, your own family member— just keeping an eye on them, because it’s the isolation, I think, is one of the hardest parts, is isolation, and it comes from a lot of different things. And I don’t mean to go too off topic, but a lot of women don’t feel comfortable going to a café with a baby for a lot of different reasons. Or even the grocery store’s overwhelming, and they can start to feel isolated from things they used to be able to do. So you wanna help them feel still part of the community and essential and connected. 

Adriana: And that affects your confidence. It affects everything.

Michelle: Yeah.

Adriana: Yeah. It’s huge. Ah, I love this. This is so good. Thank you so much, Michelle, for doing this, and for all the things that you do.

Michelle: Absolutely! Thanks for having me. My pleasure!

That was Michelle Peterson, founder of The Seven Sisters Postpartum Care Program and author of Seven Sisters for Seven Days: A Mothers’ Manual for Community-Based Postpartum Care. You can learn more at sevensistersprogram.com. 

And you can connect with us @birthfulpodcast on Instagram.

In fact, if you are not driving, we would love it if you would take a screenshot of this episode right now and post it to Instagram, to your stories, sharing your biggest takeaway from the episode or even how you are planning to set up your village of support. Make sure to tag @birthfulpodcast so we can see it and amplify it.

You can find the in-depth show notes and transcript of this episode at birthful.com, where you can also learn more about my birth and postpartum preparation classes and download your free postpartum preparation plan. 

Also, if you find this podcast to be an invaluable resource for you, the best way to support us is by taking any one of my classes, doing one of my doula workshops, or trying out some of the amazingly wonderful products made by our sponsors. This is what allows us to continue doing this work. 

Birthful is created and produced by me, Adriana Lozada, with production assistance from Aysia Platte.

Thank you so very much for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to follow us on Goodpods, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, and everywhere you listen. 

Come back for more ways to inform your intuition.

CITATION

Lozada, Adriana, host. “How To Organize Truly Helpful Postpartum Support From Your Friends And Family” Birthful, Birthful. July 5, 2023. Birthful.com.

 

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Michelle Peterson, a white-presenting woman with blue eyes and auburn hair, is wearing a colorful woven scarf and dangly earrings, smiling gently

Image description: Michelle Peterson, a white-presenting woman with blue eyes and auburn hair, is wearing a colorful woven scarf and dangly earrings, smiling gently

About Michelle Peterson

Michelle Peterson is the founder of The Seven Sisters Postpartum Care Program and author of Seven Sisters for Seven Days: A Mothers’ Manual for Community-Based Postpartum Care. After a challenging first postpartum, she created this incredible system to support her family during her second postpartum and soon began sharing it with mothers in her community and beyond. Michelle believes that the spiritual, emotional, and physical welfare of families is the backbone of our collective well-being.

Michelle is no longer offering 1:1 trainings or coaching, as she is busy with her other heart project of working with people in a coaching capacity and learning about the heart of the horse at Michelle-Peterson.com.

However, she does still offer on-demand virtual trainings for those who support new parents and their families learn more at SevenSistersProgram.com 

 

 

 

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