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Like many new mothers, Mindy Potts of Corona, Calif., was frustrated that after leaving full-time work to be a mom, she couldn’t manage her new baby, her household and her personal needs with style and aplomb. Fortunately, the two new grandmas in the family were ready and able to help, along with several neighbors and friends. Together the support group cooked meals, did light housekeeping and laundry and, most important, talked Mindy through her self-doubts about being a mother. Now, six months pregnant with her second child, this mother-turned-part-time-doula is lining up her support early.
Sometimes, to paraphrase Hillary Rodham Clinton, it really does take a village to raise a child — especially in those first six weeks. Whether it’s a village of family or friends does not matter. Women who make the most successful transition to motherhood take advantage of whatever village of support is available. But for many new moms with sleep-deprived minds and emotions that are rocking and rolling, finding out how to get support isn’t always easy.
You can’t do it all
“New moms, especially those who’ve worked mostly outside the home, don’t understand two things,” says Potts, who started working part time as a doula to help other new moms with postpartum issues when her son was 18 months old. Number 1: “At work you have structure and control; with a baby you have neither,” she says. “Also, all new mothers greatly underestimate how much sleep they need. Even though everyone tells them to sleep when the baby sleeps, they clean the house or return phone calls instead. By the end of the week they’re a wreck.”
In the first weeks at home with a newborn, performing the simplest chore can take an hour or more. This is no time to play warrior woman; it’s a time to ask for help. “Turn to the grandparents first; they are usually delighted to pace the floor with a crying baby or to do some laundry for the new little family,” says Vicki Iovine, author of The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy (Pocket Books, 1997) and producer of www.girlfriendsguide.com. “Inviting them into your life is not a sign of weakness, but wisdom. And remember, motherhood is a marathon, not a sprint. If you don’t rest every now and then, you will collapse and the locomotive that pulls your family train will screech to a halt.”
Then, of course, there’s your husband. “Most new mothers are actually their own worst enemies in getting their mates to pitch in and help,” says Iovine. “We think we know better and do it better than everyone else. Your mate may do things differently from you, and much more slowly, but the end results are almost as good! Take the time to encourage your mate; this is a scary time for both of you.” Consider hiring a cleaning person or a high school student to assist with chores after school. Help is not only necessary for practical reasons, but it will save your sanity.