My guest post for Tiny Chipmunk; Hacking the Fourth Trimester - 5 ways to ease your way through thos
I'm getting my writing groove back on by providing guest posts for businesses that share my ethos & philosophy (e.g., parenting is pretty hard; it's not adequately recognised or supported; everyone is doing their best; anything that helps you on your way, makes life easier, is very welcome). This week, I've written this article for Tiny Chipmunk. Run by the effervescent & determined Vicki Weinberg, Tiny Chipmunk creates 'high quality products for babies and children that look great, are functional, environmentally friendly and can be passed down from child-to-child' - all made from sustainable bamboo. So. If you're staring down the barrel of the Fourth Trimester, give this a little read, and see if it doesn't resonate....
As if pregnancy and birth isn’t a big enough new world of knowledge & skills to acquire, along comes a new phrase to get your head around; the fourth Trimester. Yes, that’s right. Your pregnancy isn’t limited to just three terms, there’s a fourth & final stretch to make it through too.
The Fourth Trimester is another time of rapid development for your baby. It’s the time when they are adapting to their space in the world, separate from you and your body. They are beginning to engage their senses with the enormity that exists beyond your arms. Think about it; your baby’s experience until birth was snug, safe security. Now your baby has emerged, she’s suddenly exposed to light, noise, temperature changes, and the new & knawing sensation of hunger (and learning how to sate it). That is a lot to new stuff for her to adapt to, right?
So far so rational. But what does it mean for you?
Well, it’s sleep deprivation. It’s cluster feeding & the witching hour. It’s being responsive to acute needs. And, unhelpfully, all this happens while you are adapting to a new way of life, and are awash with hormones.
It's tough at times. For lots of women one of the toughest aspects is not the doing of stuff, but the absence of doing stuff. The skills you spent years acquiring for your professional life - managing timings; problem solving; always being on your toes - are the antithesis of life in the Fourth Trimester. What your baby wants from you then is calm, warmth and responsive reassurance. It can feel very much like you're 'not doing anything' - but following her cues, nurturing and nourishing her and just 'being' with her as she adapts to the new world around her is indeed both a skill and a role...and it's the most important thing in the world to your baby.
So now you’re in this thing, how are you going to experience it yourself? There are no certainties in this mothering lark. What you can do is prepare yourself (and prepare to be adaptable).
Here are 5 ways you can ease yourself through those crazy first 12 weeks, and emerge victorious, a fully bonded-with-your-baby, confident Mother-hacker. Download more techniques to help you manage the Fourth Trimester, by visiting The Good Birth Practice freebie page.
1) REMEMBER; THIS TOO SHALL PASS
One of the best pieces of advice I heard when I was pregnant was from a knarly old planner. He told me that in those early days you will experience highs beyond your comprehension - alongside the deepest of lows. And he’s right. It’s perfectly possible to be captivated by the beauty of your baby’s face, and the impossible perfection of their skin…and just 30 seconds later feel desperation for the wailing to stop.
It’s not just the highness of the highs and the lowness of the lows that are, uh, interesting to experience, it’s the proximity of those emotions which can be challenging to cope with. It can feel as though you're swinging madly from one extreme to the other - and that in itself can be exhausting. Remember; this too shall pass. The sleeplessness will end, and so will the acute exhaustion. You will adapt & develop and grow, and so will your baby.
2) BOOST THE BOND WITH YOUR PARTNER
Having a baby brings a new type of work into your home and your relationship. Whereas up to now you may have shared similar experiences of work, life and the balance between the two, you may now find that your experience of the world is vastly different from his (or hers). This can bring tension into relationships, as your new roles are established, so it’s worth establishing the new ground rules early on. A simply but brilliant principle I picked up from some friends of mine (and one that’s dead easy to implement) is; no-one sits down until everyone sits down. That sounds so obvious, doesn't it? However, it’s too easy, when you’re at home and your partner is at work, for all the domestic chores to fall to you. Your primary job, remember, is nurturing your child. Some days you’ll be able to run a household too – on other days you won’t. When your partner gets home of an evening, work together to do what needs to be done to keep you all on an even keel (and I’d advocate doing the bare minimum here), and then you both stop together. It’s fairer, more even, and more communal that way.
3) FOCUS ON YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS
Take time every day to reflect on what you’ve achieved, and how far you and your baby have come. For some people this is best done in the morning, for others it’s the evening (and frankly, it may depend on your baby). Either way, make sure you gain yourself some head-space to reflect on your wins.
It may simply be that you’re feeling good today. It may be that you’ve finally worked out what soothes your baby. A friend of mine told me recently that only now, 5 years after she stopped breastfeeding, does she see it as a huge achievement – it is, don’t underestimate it. It may be that you’ve taken the decision to introduce formula; make sure you congratulate yourself for making the decision that is right for you and your baby. It might simply be that you left the house this morning without weeping. Remember; these are not inconsequential things. These are massive achievements.
4) FIND YOUR POWER IN MOTHERING
You have just done something amazing. You have created and brought forth life. In our culture, we don’t have a ritual to recognise and celebrate that. Too often mothering is passed over as the thing that ticks along in the background while life happens. The skills you learn as a mother are not recognised as professional development by work. The personal investment, determination and resilience required to face pregnancy, birth and mothering an infant has very little cachet.
2017 research by Action for Children found that over half of all new mothers and fathers reported feeling lonely – this is not a meaningless statistic. 82% of women become mothers by the time they are 45 (ONS, 2016). That is a staggeringly high number of women facing loneliness at a time they are most vulnerable, and most in need of support.
This is a serious mental health issue, and can have a direct effect on how you manage your family. The work that you are doing now benefits your family, and also our wider society. Find your power in that, be proud, and respect yourself. How do you do that? Find your tribe. Start with The Positive Birth Movement - you can attend local meetings, and join closed Facebook groups. And look at mothering advocates, like Lauren Derrett of This Girl is Enough.
5) DON’T SUFFER IN SILENCE
Finally, while lots of women enjoy this time, with it’s ups and downs, humps and bumps, for some women it is overwhelming and intolerable. If you wake in the morning and can’t find a reason to get out of bed. If you burst into tears without any real reason. If you feel lonely and unconnected. If you can’t bond with your baby. If you just feel you are not coping. Do not feel guilt, do not suffer in silence. Visit your GP and discuss the issue with them. If you have a health visitor you feel comfortable with, ask them for help. If you have a friend you think might be in this situation, please speak to her, reassure her that this is not her responsibility, and that help is available.
There are plenty more free resources for you to download – including more ways to manage the Fourth Trimester – from The Good Birth Practice’s ‘free stuff’ page
Charlie runs The Good Birth Practice, coaching hypnobirthing & antenatal classes, courses & workshops in Sevenoaks. Her mission is to give women a solid start to their mothering, by helping them access real information about their bodies & their choices. She has 3 young children – each born after very different labours – and is not so much a birth junkie, as a women’s power junkie. She’s quite convinced that if men had uterus’s or grew placenta’s there’d be monuments to them all over the world.