My name is Marisa Mendez Marthaller and I’m a birth and postpartum doula living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Working as a doula through the pandemic this year has been a wild trip. The pandemic has totally changed the way I work. I do all of my prenatal meetings online now and I have attended two virtual births. One thing that became clear to me early on during lockdown was that babies don’t wait to be born just because of a global health crisis. Pregnant people and parents of newborns need more support now than ever. Birthing through a pandemic and having a postpartum period during a quarantine isn’t easy and I am constantly inspired by the resilience of the birthing people and families that I work with. I’ve put together some tips that I give to friends and clients during this time. Here are my top 5 tips for birthing people and new families negotiating postpartum during the pandemic
1) Resource Online, Resource Online, Resource Online
It’s our job as a doulas to be a wealth of resources. One of the things that we do is connect our clients with the resources they need. One of the good things that has happened during this pandemic is that the educational and support resources for postpartum families have all gone online. Doctor’s visits, mental health therapists specializing in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs), lactation counselors and lactation consultants, newborn specialists and postpartum doulas as well as local community and national resources are now all online. Postpartum Support International offers numerous postpartum resources for mental health for families including weekly support groups. Your doula can help you find online resources specific to your needs. For example if you are a trans or queer family, we doulas can help you connect with gender affirming and culturally competent professional providers who you can feel safe working with. Or, if you are a woman of color who specifically would like to be in a support group for and with women of color - we can help you connect with resources too. For families who are experiencing a pregnancy or infant loss the postpartum period can be extremely difficult and many bereavement groups or counselors are also offering online services now. Of course you don’t need a doula to help you find resources but they can be helpful in navigating the birth and postpartum online resource world.
2) Lactation Assistance
Lactation can be one of the biggest challenges new parents face. The first days and weeks of infant feeding can be kind of nerve racking and people need help figuring it all out. With the additional isolation that can come with the pandemic - parents need help. Planning ahead for lactation support is one of the biggest things I recommend to my clients. Find lactation assistance in your area and make a list of numbers. You don’t want to be trying to google lactation consultants when you are bleary eyed sleep deprived, frustrated and your baby isn’t latching. Better yet, make a connection with a lactation professional or support group before you have your baby. Look in your community for friends and professionals that you can turn to for questions and guidance. For basic lactation support a doula is often really helpful. Sometimes people only need a little support and encouragement to get through the first few days and things continue to move along easily. Sometimes the challenges are more difficult and it's important to talk to a lactation counselor or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC). National Organizations such as La Leche League International have local chapters that offer peer to peer support. And checking your City’s Health Department for resources is a good way to find lactation programs in your area. Get Boober offers virtual and in person services as well as online lactation classes to prepare parents for the postpartum period.
Food is my favorite topic. I love to cook and I love cooking for postpartum families. It’s really satisfying to feed someone when they really need it. And postpartum people really need it! Think about what you are going to eat during the postpartum period. And who is going to cook it. For many new families, trying to cook healthy meals while learning how to to feed and incorporate a new baby into the family - all the while trying to get enough sleep - is just too much work. Ask yourself how can I get help with the work of food preparation? Do you have a family member who can come and cook for you for a few days or weeks? I love the idea of the Mealtrain - where a group of friends or church or family members organize a schedule to take turns dropping off or sending precooked meals to a new family. There are also meal box services that are really easy to heat up. It can be a great non traditional baby shower idea - raise funds for a meal delivery service. Or raise funds for a postpartum doula or a postpartum cook who can cook nourishing meals for the whole family. There are a lot of ways to feed a postpartum family. Be creative, yes go ahead and fill the freezer with soups. But don’t stop there. And if you are lucky enough to have too much food, you can always donate it to postpartum families we need it.
4) Turn Your Baby Shower into a Postpartum Resource Center.
A couple of years ago in BUST magazine I wrote an article entitled “ Skip the Baby Shower and Throw a Postpartum Party instead.” The main idea of the article was that we spend so much time and energy on baby showers and maybe it would be more useful to new parents to have all of that time and energy devoted to help during the postpartum period. Now, during the pandemic, I think a great idea is turn your virtual or socially distanced baby shower into a resource planning event for the things and services you really are going to need. Many postpartum people don’t have the help of family and friends during this time that they might have had otherwise. Think about things that will really help you get through those first few weeks. Food. House cleaning. Diapers. Laundry Service? You can use your Virtual baby shower for a fundraiser for food meal services or to help hire a house cleaner. I think one of the best ideas is to raise money to hire a postpartum doula. And I love the idea of people using their baby showers to fundraise in a mutual aid way, and giving to local community organizations who are doing the work of supporting new parents. In my neighborhood, Ancient Song Doula Services has been providing food and newborn essentials giveaways to folx in the community throughout the pandemic.
5) Family and Friends and Boundary Setting
Look it's become so clear in 2020 that um, well, we are not all on the same page when it comes to our ideas about COVID 19. If you have a partner, I think it’s extremely important before you are in the postpartum period to discuss how you feel about your boundaries about having visitors. Once you come to an agreement about family and friends and boundaries - communicate your expectations to your people. Personal and social boundaries can be stressful for postpartum families under normal situations. The pandemic is already a layer of stress that we are all negotiating. Figure out what makes you feel safe and communicate those boundaries to your community. Is it ok for grandparents to visit? For how long? Will they be wearing masks? Who will you let into your home to help - if anyone? Setting boundaries ahead of time and communicating them allows you to feel safe and manage the expectations of those around you. The postpartum time can be a very vulnerable and emotional moment in life. Creating clear boundaries is a safety net to protect not only your families physical health but your mental and emotional health as well.
Last but not least. Learn how to embrace the space with grace. We all know it's a stressful time. Many postpartum families have felt that the slowing down of our lives during the quarantine time has also been kind of an unexpected gift. Lots of cultures traditionally have a time of quarantine after a baby is born for rest and bonding. Under normal circumstances the postpartum period is one of great physical, emotional, spiritual, social, and intellectual transitions which can be exhausting. Going through the postpartum time while experiencing the covid pandemic is extraordinary. Allow yourself the space to accept all parts of your experience. Normal postpartum emotions can span the entire spectrum. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself to feel all of your feelings, don’t judge, be kind and ask for the help you need. Remember to breathe. If you pray or meditate, give yourself the space to find your center. Whatever that looks like for you. Grace yourself with all the space and kindness you need one day at a time.
I hope this was helpful. If you would like more help planning your postpartum weeks I am offering virtual Postpartum Planning sessions. You can find me at douladoulanyc.com, email me at email@example.com. And I am on IG at douladoulanyc. Peace. Stay safe everyone.