by Shannon K. Valenzuela, PhD, LCCE
I remember so clearly the moment when I realized that the usual script for self-care before and after birth wasn’t written for me any longer. I was in the last trimester of my fifth pregnancy – my first pregnancy under the wonderful and loving care of a group of nurse-midwives. My midwife and I were chatting about preparing for birth. Because I’d already had four babies, our conversation centered on mental preparation and the need to limit stress so that I could approach birth in peace.
She handed me the third trimester care sheet and said, “Try to avoid a lot of noise if you can.”
We looked at each other.
I laughed out loud.
“If that’s possible,” she added then, laughing too.
Avoid noise? At that point, as a homeschooling mom, I had four boys at home all the time. Suffice to say that there’s a very good reason why “boys” and “noise” rhyme.
Most of the time, I love the buzz in my house. It’s full of laughter and love and good-natured sparring. But when you are 30+ weeks pregnant – and when you are in the first few weeks and months postpartum – silence and quiet time is a precious gift. And for the mother of many, it can be nearly impossible to come by.
As care providers and birth professionals, we need to meet these mothers where they are. No matter how many babies a mother has had, with each one she is once again a “new mother,” going through all the hormonal, emotional, physical, and psychological changes that welcoming a new baby brings. But, unlike a first-time mother, the mother of many has to balance these changes with her already bustling household.
When I was training to become a doula, I learned that caring for a laboring mother is about recognizing her unique journey and ministering to her in that moment. The double hip squeeze may work for this mom just like it worked for the last mom, but it works for different reasons: perhaps this mom has intense back labor, while the last mom just liked the counter-pressure. Similarly, while the essentials of prenatal and postpartum care may remain the same for the mother of many, we approach her care with sensitivity to her unique challenges, tailoring our advice to meet her needs.
In her book Natural Health after Birth, Aviva Jill Romm notes that “[t]oo often women develop the mind-set that a good mother gives all and takes nothing for herself” (81). This is true for all mothers, but especially so for the mother of many. And, for the mother of many, the tendency to give everything without “refilling the well” (to use Aviva Romm’s image) may be less of an attitude issue and more of a response to the intense demands of her busy and complex life. Helping the mother of many to find ways to nurture herself in the postpartum period will have to take into account the dynamics of her situation.
This series of posts will cover just five of the postpartum challenges that mothers of many face: finding quiet time, Supermom Syndrome, handling postpartum issues, adjusting to the new normal, and finding adult time. Each post will offer a snapshot of the dynamics of the large family and offer practical tips for helping the mother of many to thrive as she becomes a new mother once again. Shannon K. Valenzuela is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator, trained birth doula, and freelance author. She currently teaches baby care and childbirth preparation classes at Texas Health Resources - Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas. Her book, Mothering the Mother of Many, will be released later this year. You can find out more about her current projects at www.skvalenzuela.com and follow her on Twitter at @skvalenzuela. She and her husband and their six children live in Dallas, Texas.