"It takes a village to raise a child"…actually, it takes a village to help a family to raise a child. One of the BIGGEST priorities for first time parents and for those of you who are expats will be building your village prior to childbirth. You won't only need your village to help you raise your family (as the old saying goes) but you will need them to help you set up a safe environment for you and your partner to spend the last days of pregnancy in.
And a village is not the same thing as a family. As we know, we can't choose our family, but we can select who we have around us in this very sensitive time. Some of you may be fortunate enough to have family members that know exactly what you need and are willing and able to help you out whenever you need it. But the reality for most of us is that there's one or two or three family members that always manage to say the wrong thing, or never seem to quite understand what it is you're trying to say. For those of you who are expats, family may even be very far away! And not everyone has parents that can drop everything and travel to help out for the weeks before and after labour. The good news is , You don't NEED them to.
We CAN expect our family to be very excited about the birth of a baby, send cards and cute baby clothes, and tell us how good a job we've done. These are totally realistic and reasonable expectations. It's also often the case that our family has expectations of their own! Sometimes pretty big ones, so it's important to start setting boundaries to avoid disappointment and frustration on both sides.
So where do we get the help we really NEED?- that’s where your village comes in. Your village should be made up of people that do you good! Most of you probably already know them, your super reliable friend who is both sensitive and helpful, your dog walker, a sister, mother or doula who will accompany you on your journey from maiden to mother, your wonderful meticulous cleaner, kind neighbors that never mind taking packages for you or picking up some shopping, your therapist who is always ready to listen to you and take you seriously. All of these people are in your village. And you can add to that list! If your family wants to get you a gift, ask them to pay for a cleaner or a food delivery subscription! These gifts are faaaar more valuable than a cute baby suit that the baby will within a week grow out of.
So now it's your turn to think about who you want around you during this precious time. When labor begins, who will you call? Maybe the dog walker can come and take the dog for a long walk? Maybe you sister, mother or doula can come and help you make your space feel beautiful and cozy. If you have other children, maybe you will call that super reliable friend to take the children to the park or to school. For all of you who were disappointed to hear that birth can't be planned, this is your time to shine! Set up these contacts now! Make an elaborate shopping/ cooking schedule so that each member of your village knows exactly what and when you need something from them (doodle lists can be great of this!) It can already be a good idea to discuss making an appointment with your therapist to see you postpartum. Some therapists will do home visits or even video sessions in the postpartum phase.
Practical help is important, but don't forget to add a couple of people who are in the same place you are. Having someone to call and say, ‘this is really hard isn't it?’ is gold in the days after labor. Invite mums from your prenatal yoga class into your village, or friends who have recently had a baby. They may not be able to bring you groceries, but they can certainly empathize with you like no one else!
AND PLEASE do not underestimate the role of your midwife in your village…every village needs one and for centuries, every village has had one! We're there for you not only in a medical capacity but we help you check in with your emotions, encourage bonding and boundaries, and have a lot of knowledge! Believe me, we've seen it all! So your midwife should be someone you can really relax around and ask any question you have, no matter how tiny you think it may be.
It can be a good time to integrate your friends at a babyshower into your village, write them each a little card ‘I would love you to bring us fresh bread for a week when the baby is born’ ‘i would love you to take the dog for a walk’ ‘please can you clean the bathroom in the week after birth’. And also be clear on the boundaries. 'It would be very kind if you would leave the bread at the door as we may be sleeping or not ready for visitors.’ This is very important!
Your village wants to help you! Sometimes they need clear instructions!
You can also use these cards to thank them for the support they have already given you.