Sometimes we start out on the road to parenthood expecting our path to be simple… ‘I’ll stop using birth control when my career and financial situation are under control, then I’ll fall pregnant, nine months later I’ll give birth to my beautiful boy or girl, I’ll join the local parents group and have play dates and life will be good.”
Having a baby is, however, far from straightforward. [I think I can already see a few heads nodding]
The perinatal period – understood as the time spanning conception through to early parenthood – is often an exciting yet uncertain time characterised by a myriad of challenges. Indeed, most of us will face some difficulty with conception, childbirth, and/or the transition to parenthood. Our reality is that we live in a culture where fertility rates are declining, childbirth is something that is feared, birth trauma is becoming the norm, new parents feel isolated and alone, and guilt and shame about one’s decisions and behaviour are far too common.
How can we ever expect new and expecting parents to adequately cope with the changes (and challenges) they face?
Despite what some of us might think, we all need support to navigate this period in our life. However, it is often hard to ask for support, and for many the right kind of support is not available. Where are our neighbours, family, elders, and community as sources of guidance, advice and support? Where is ‘the village’?
We have lost ‘the village’…
Some cultures continue to value traditions that honour the needs of the new parent. Imagine if we followed the tradition of quarantining the new mother for 6 weeks post-childbirth, supporting her to prioritise rest and breastfeeding while family members take on the responsibility for household chores. Sound good? In the absence of customs like this, what do we do when in need of support? We turn to books and the web, and here are bombarded with (often conflicting) information, leading to even more confusion, anxiety and isolation.
We need to recreate ‘the village’…
But how? What would a united approach to village support look like in our society? Here are a few ideas.
– Talking openly and without judgment about the challenges many of us face conceiving.
– Encouraging our loved ones to ask for support and offering it without exception
– Ensuring partners are engaged as early as possible.
– Reducing exposure to conflicting information.
– Thinking before we speak and share something that turns out to be unbearable for the person receiving it.
– Honouring the pregnant woman, for the incredible work her body is doing.
– Providing appropriately tailored education and skills in the lead up to and during childbirth, instilling a sense of strength and empowerment.
– Offering all women the opportunity to debrief following childbirth.
– Providing the right kind of support in the early postnatal period. This means putting aside our own desire to meet baby, and instead leaving food on the new parents doorstep, cleaning her kitchen, or hanging her washing out. Anything that enables her to rest and recover from what is the biggest transformation she will ever experience.
– Equipping new parents with the skills they actually need by making reputable parenting courses accessible to all.
– Providing encouragement rather than criticism, with an understanding that there is always more to the story than what we see before us.
– Being real with each other about our personal experience.
– Working together to provide a holistic approach to perinatal care, honouring the connection between body and mind and the strength accessible from within.
How would the perinatal period be experienced if we all worked together to approach conception, birth and parenting like this? The way I see it, this is not an option but a necessity. We must normalise support seeking and provide the ‘right’ kind of support to those navigating this complex and vulnerable time.
And through this we protect the generations to follow…
The Perinatal Hub Surf Coast was launched to recreate ‘the village’ and provide a united approach to the perinatal period. At the hub we espouse the above ideas in our approach to perinatal wellbeing, with the values of respect, trust, and community central to the services and workshops on offer.
Come and join our village on the Surf Coast!
Dr Adi Brown (Clinical Psychologist, Co-Founder The Perinatal Hub)