Just like that, here we are in mid-November. October was crazy and overwhelming. I was proud of myself for putting up some boundaries. For saying, "no," when I needed to. Still. Of course I did too much. Yet still felt like not enough.
And October always brings with it a certain and subtle looming sense of dread. As soon as those clocks fall back, it's as though a fog settles into my psyche. I want to keep momentum and enthusiasm. But I just start to drag. My mental capacity becomes more limited just when I need it to expand. My body just wants chocolate and sleep. The earlier sunset just makes me sad. And the struggles that are manageable throughout the rest of the year settle heavily on my shoulders and won't be moved.
Since winter (especially January and February) often leads to the conception of autumn babies, I know there are folks out there who could use some postpartum help. However, the reality is that the ones who need it most may become lulled into a false sense of security by the swiftly approaching holidays when they know that their loved ones will be gathering around them. Then the last week of December hits, and everyone's gone except you and your newborn. Then what?
I'd like for us to help each other. Connecting with people keeps me going. I have a few ways to do that for myself. I'm taking karate classes 2-3 nights each week. I'm visiting new parent groups and networking with other local birth workers and other professionals. There are some Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings with friends and family being planned.
But as I sit here and think about all that I have, I also don't have a third-trimester pregnant body or a newborn to factor into my plans. If you are expecting a late fall or winter baby, my heart is with you. The nights are long. The comfort of family might be shifting in a new way that is hard to explain. You may be feeling pressure to show up or host without knowing if you'll still be pregnant or how your freshly postpartum body is going to take the effort. What are others expecting of you? What are you expecting of yourself.
Three things to keep in mind reaching term or giving birth around the holidays:
1. You don't owe anyone anything right now. No, not even your spouse or partner. You are allowed to cocoon yourself up and let others come to you. You have permission to take the rest you need. If you're pregnant, you find your cozy spot and stay close to it. If you have a newborn, enlist someone to help you rest, eat and shower. You don't have to decorate. You don't have to cook. You don't have to clean. If you have little in the way of support for these things, do them as minimally as possible. If putting up some strings of lights brings you joy and peace this season, do it, but at about 10% of your usual level. Of course you need to eat, so eat simply. Use the crock pot. Use a grocery delivery or pick-up service if you can. Stock foods that you can grab with one hand or that store and reheat easily. Use paper plates/bowls. Wear the same pajamas all week. The laundry and dishes will always be there. If someone is coming over, ask them to help you keep up. If not, then try not to worry too much.
2. You are the parent. The birth-giver or the life supporter. Be gracious when someone offers well-meaning comments or advice, but for the most part, ignore it. Trust your guts, your research, your preparations and your intentionally chosen support network of trusted people and resources. No one knows this particular tiny human better than you do. It's easy to get rattled when everyone has an opinion and their own "right" way of doing things. But trust yourself to know yourself and what's best for your family and baby. Understand that the mistakes you may make are yours to make and learn from. There is usually time to thoughtfully consider any particular bit of advice, solicited or unsolicited. Take time to think. To process. If you think something could work for you or your family, try it, and feel free to let the rest go.
3. Babies need their primary care people. It's science. Babies know their mother's scent, voice and heart beat. They thrive best with their familiar primary caregivers. Keep them close. It's a great idea, especially if you have a tender newborn among large groups of family members, friends or co-workers, to "wear" your infant in a soft carrier. They will often sleep long stretches this way, and other people may be more hesitant to grab them away. Look at stretchy wrap-style carriers and learn how to use one. Communicate openly with your partner or closest support people how you want to handle introducing baby to others outside your immediate circle. Some parents are comfortable handing baby off to whoever. Some won't let ANYONE other than parents hold baby for a certain number of days or weeks. Decide what you are comfortable with for yourself and your baby, and make sure everyone is on the same page so they can speak up if you find yourself unable to do so. If you are breast-/chest-feeding, make sure that you have extra awareness of baby's cues and routines so that you can make sure not to miss a feeding, especially early on. Keep that baby close. Stay hydrated. Set boundaries that work for you.
My intention for myself is to continue to make time for myself through this late autumn and winter whirlwind. I have things that must be done, but I don't have to do all of them. I will give myself permission to snuggle my kids. I will allow myself to take a "day off" here and there so that I can focus on offering myself the nourishment that my body needs. I plan to continue to force myself to exercise. To leave the house. To engage with close friends and encounter new people in my community. As much as I am able.
My intention for you, anyone reading this, any future clients or parents of winter babies, find your balance. Draw your boundaries. The colder weather and darker days drive us inward for a reason. Take the time. Unplug. Connect in person. Breathe in that sweet newborn baby scent. Let both the days and the nights leave room for surrender and slowing down. Time does march onward, and soon enough, too soon, we will wake up and be driven or expected to do all the things once again.