Postpartum survival 101

One day, you’re a woman with a job, a social life and the option of sleeping without interruption until your alarm goes off. 

The next, you’re a mother, suddenly responsible for ensuring the well-being of a small human who can’t turn himself over or support his own head. 

It’s beautiful and profound — but also pretty terrifying. 

The postpartum period is a time of major transition — a gray zone where you’ll start to discover how to navigate the world with a new identity. The process can be a bit alienating. 

For example, I remember visiting my coworkers when my daughter was about 6 weeks old. One guy, a father of two, asked me what had surprised me the most about parenthood so far. 

There was an awkward pause as I stared at him blankly, unsure of what to say. Finally I blurted out, “I guess I never thought I’d have to be up all night, like, ALL NIGHT, every single hour, and that she’d be screaming the whole time.” 

Uncomfortable silence followed until Father of Two broke it. 

“For me, becoming a parent is what finally made me really appreciate everything my own parents did for me,” he announced. Everyone nodded in approval. 

Now that some time has passed, I can see where he was coming from — and yes, I have a new appreciation for my parents, too. 

But when I was in the thick of the postpartum insanity, I wasn’t #countingmyblessings or #feelinggrateful. Instead, I was weeping with frustration when the supplemental nursing system broke. I was cursing every time another birth-related medical bill showed up in the mailbox. 

I was taking it one day at a time, but in a “marching-to-your-own-downfall” kind of way.  

But that was my experience. It’s different for everyone. 

And I’m hopeful that others can enjoy a more peaceful journey in the early days of parenthood. 

Here are some of my suggestions for strengthening your postpartum-survival skills. 

Get money, as much as you can 

Are you familiar with the coded language of parenthood? Perhaps you’ve come across postpartum tips like this: “Forget the cute onesies — register for meal preparation, diaper services and housecleaning instead!” 

Let’s cut to the chase. You had a baby, and you need money. Those baby wipes aren’t going to pay for themselves, right? If someone offers to buy you a Stokke high chair, consider finding a tactful way to ask for the cash instead. 

Ask for help 

This is another one of those postpartum clichés. And it’s true — you will need help! 

But what if you’ve been socialized to “not put people out”? What if there’s no one available to help? 

I’d like to change the directive of “ask for help” to “jump at the opportunities.” 

For example, if your friend offers to come over and hold the baby “sometime” to give you a break, say, “Yes! How about now/this afternoon/tomorrow morning?” 

By reframing my neediness in this way, I was able to feel “empowered” about my need for a break (and less like a kitten trapped in a canyon). 

Find a good therapist 

No one wants to spend pregnancy thinking  about the threat of depression or anxiety. But the reality is that 15 percent of women will experience some form of pregnancy-related depression or anxiety (this includes the prenatal period).

If this happens to you, treatment is key. Consider asking around about therapists who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth. Think of it as insurance — you probably won’t need it, but if you do, you’ll be prepared. Go to ppsupportmn.org.

Avoid jerks  

The postpartum period is an ideal time to separate the wheat from the chaff. Competitive friends offering backhanded compliments, moony ex-boyfriends looking for an ego boost and judgmental sisters-in-law sharing their “advice” are all probably people you could do without. 

Remember: If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. 


Shannon Keough lives in Minneapolis ith her husband and two children. Send questions or comments to skeough@mnparent.com.