How to identify, recruit, and stay connected to your supporting community before, during, and after birth.
Everyone knows the old adage, “it takes a village to raise a child.” Some cultures take this phrase seriously; living in communal quarters, sharing generational childcare responsibilities, allowing periods of rest for people who have just given birth. For those of us that live in the United States, this sentiment is often heard, but rarely felt. Perhaps it’s our fierce independence as a nation itself, maybe it's our inability to recognize the beauty of interconnectedness, or it may come right down to the fact that it’s easier to “suffer in silence” than be presumed weak or incapable. Maybe “suffer in silence” should be considered the American equivalent of new parent advice. It seems to be in practice already.
However, cultivating a rich community is essential to raising children in a healthy environment. For one, understanding that one or two people are not sufficiently cut out for round the clock care of a little creature, themselves, each other, and likely other multitudes of responsibilities helps us to remember that humans are communal mammals. We seek care. We need it. There’s no better time to remember this than when you’re constantly bouncing a touch seeking infant who needs physical contact to survive. You were once that touch seeking infant, and while having our physical needs met may be an instinct that we can eventually learn how to meet on our own, there comes a time in each of our lives when going it alone just doesn’t cut it. Both for our physical and mental health.
Preparing for this eventuality before birth can help ease the postpartum period and set new families up for a deeper sense of belonging as well as increased care and support. One way of preparing is by identifying Community Circles and having a clear and concise “map” of the who, what, when, where, and how of postpartum communal care. By centering the birthing person and mapping out the concentric circles of care around them, it is more likely that you will feel connected, supported, and cared for as you navigate your new normal.
A Community Circle Map
Building a Community Circle Map may be as easy as identifying current supports and compiling the list in one, easy to reach for place, or it may take some concerted time and effort to put together. Depending on your current level of community engagement and your access to resources you may need some additional help identifying resources. A great place to begin is with your primary care provider, human resources at your place of employment, a quick Google search, or a local doula. Community Circle Mapping is one of the many things I discuss with my clients, as I believe a strong community leads to strong families and health connections for all.
I especially like a physical representation of your Community Circle that you can prominently display in your home as a reminder to yourself and others that you need and are worthy of care. In addition to this reminder, a Community Circle Map can also help set boundaries as to who belongs in which circle and when it is and is not appropriate for others to enter into your caregiving.
The following is a brief outline of what a typical Community Circle Map may look like:
A Community Circle Begins with YOU
The birth of your baby is a perfect time to center yourself as the recipient of care and support. While this practice is essential throughout all of your life, your postpartum period is the time to humbly recognize that you will need more support than you may be able to provide for yourself. As you provide care for your infant, your emotional and physical buckets will need to be filled by outside sources. While it’s possible to go it alone, there is no need to, and if you set up your expectations and boundaries from the start it is more likely you will be able to communicate your needs effectively when the time comes.
Establishing Your Inner Circle
An Inner Circle of care will look different for all people. Perhaps you have a partner(s) that are able to help you with caretaking duties and also offer emotional and physical support as you heal. Another family member of caretaking age who lives in close proximity with you may also be a good support. In addition, Inner Circles can include friends, neighbors, a doula, or other caregivers that are dedicated to providing care and support to you. Ideally, those inside of this circle would be committed to putting your needs before their own and be dedicated to being honest and open in a welcoming way. This circle of support should be able to provide non-judgemental care that you are comfortable receiving.
If identifying an Inner Circle is difficult for you, please contact me today and together we work on a plan that gives you confidence for your postpartum recovery period.
Identifying Those Within Reach
While your Inner Circle is ideally someone who lives with or in close proximity to you, those Within Reach may be a phone call, email, or short drive away. Those in the Within Reach Circle may be friends, family members, or care providers that you have access to during a specific time for a specific reason. Spending time identifying those individuals who calm you, are willing to lend a helping hand, or are just really good at calling in a delivery can make stressful days and nights more bearable and ultimately set you up for a more positive postpartum experience.
It is possible that those Within Reach for you are not close friends or family members. In this case finding child care resources, food delivery services, and mental health services that are available to you in your area is an important part of your Community Circle Map. This is also true for those whose Within Reach Circle is large, but also want the flexibility to remain autonomous in some situations. Don’t be afraid to include services in your area that provide what you need at a cost that is suitable for your budget.
Ensuring Professional Care Supports
It is likely that by now you have a good support network of professional care providers percolating in your Community Circle. Your primary care provider, OBGYN, doula, and other medical and non-medical care providers are available to assist you when you need help or advice. Compiling a list of your professional care contacts helps you remain organized and simplifies your life when things can feel overwhelming.
Often, as new parents, we can feel bad or guilty “bothering” our care providers when we have a question. This is the job of your care provider. It is perfectly okay to call and ask your questions. In addition, many insurance companies offer 24 hour nurse lines to help answer questions and give you some peace of mind. Check your insurance card or with human resources at your place of employment for more information. If you are currently uninsured or need help finding medical or non-medical care please contact me and we can work together to find what you need.
Calling on Established Social Systems
Established social systems such as current friend groups, work buddies, book clubs, religious organizations, or other affinity groups can be a wonderful source of support throughout pregnancy and postpartum. Many of these social systems will take it upon themselves to organize meal trains, provide comfort, or throw showers for you and your baby. If you are a part of a social system that is simply saying “let us know what we can do.” Let them know! Would you love freezer meals, visitors or no visitors, encouragement, etc? Don’t be shy in saying what you need and establishing what you feel you may need/want prior to being in the middle of your postpartum period.
It is also important to establish clear boundaries with this circle of community. You may want meals, but no visitors. That is perfectly okay. You may need support for three weeks or three months. That is perfectly okay. You may need emotional support, but from a distance in the forms of notes and texts. Also, that is perfectly okay. What you need is up to you.
As a reminder, nothing should be demanded of you in return for support during your postpartum period. You may very well want to return the support at a future date, but it is not your responsibility to enter into a caretaking relationship, physically or emotionally, during your postpartum period. This is why the Social System Circle is well outside your Inner Circle. Clear boundaries are a must for this particular circle. If you need help defining these boundaries contact me and we can set out a plan for support and care.
Compiling a List of Community Resources
Every community no matter how small or large has resources for children and families. These can range from library story times to hospital-led lactation groups to postpartum meet ups for area families. Word of mouth and Google are great resources for understanding what is available in your area. A good place to start is with your local library, yoga studio, midwife groups, social media, or other parent friends.
Identifying community resources can be overwhelming. However, if you use your nesting time to not only order your house, but also do just a little extra research you may find things you were never expecting. Like that mom down the road who started a mommy-and-me music class in her backyard. Don’t be afraid to ask around and keep your eye out at your local pediatrician's office, coffee shop, or hairdresser. There are likely fliers, business cards, and magazines lying around that you’ve never even noticed.
It’s a Wide World
Your community doesn’t stop at your doorstep or at your city limits. You are a member of the world community and as such you have the ability to connect on a wide scale. From birthing books to blogs to social media and beyond there are so many resources to help you on your journey to becoming a well-rounded, well-supported parent. Start today by visiting your local library and checking out some books that interest you.
You don’t have to take everyone’s advice, and if you get overwhelmed, find a new route to understanding your parenting style. What fits for you should feel like a stretch but in a comfortable, “I love these pants that just went through the dryer” kind of way. It might require a bit of breaking in, but once you’re in it, you’ll start to feel comfortable and at ease. You might even really dig yourself.
A Word About Emergency Care
The awareness of the need for emergency care is critical for the postpartum period. Should you ever fear for your baby’s health and safety or your own health and safety, having a group of numbers you can call for immediate help is essential. Poison control, emergency services, and mental health hotlines are all necessary numbers to have prominently displayed. If in doubt, call 9-1-1. Don’t take chances with yourself or your baby. Decide now that if you need help you will not hesitate to get it. Write down the numbers and make sure you have a plan for emergencies.
You are Not Alone
Mapping out your community supports helps you realize the web of support you have at your disposal. It is a great tool for encouraging yourself in times of overwhelm and can set you on a path for greater success in your parenting journey. Everyone’s Community Circle will look different. Some circles will be larger or more intimate. What matters is that you know where to turn when you need help. You get to decide what you need and you can ensure that those things are within your grasp. Get started today and if you need help, contact me. That’s what I’m here for.