What to Expect When You CAN’T Know What to Expect: Planning for Life with a Newborn

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I was inspired to speak on this topic because I just got off the phone with three different expectant parents, inquiring about postpartum Doula services, who want to make sure they have adequate support in place after the birth of their baby or babies, but are overwhelmed with the prospect of planning for something they’ve never done before. Almost always the families that call me say, “How can I know what I need before I need it?”

Some of them will have family members nearby or visiting, but don’t yet know how it will go to have those relatives playing a role they’ve never played before – how much is too much to ask, will there be judgment and unsolicited advice, are they the type who will show up last minute or need things planned out in advance? Others don’t have family nearby at all. Some feel certain their partner will play the supportive role, intuiting their needs and the baby’s needs and sharing the load. Others are certain their partner won’t, and others don’t know until they know. Mostly, none of them know what to expect from themselves and their baby or babies. Will they do well with sleep deprivation or will it alter their mood and resiliency? Will they get a baby with an easier temperament or one that is higher need? Will they want time alone with baby, or will they want company, and how much and how often…?

One thing that can help is setting up expectations. Being able to say to family, “we don’t know how much we’ll want alone time to bond with baby, and how much we’ll want help and company. Can we make a deal to keep open communication? Can we agree right now that visits in the beginning have to be of the variety where you either bring some food or offer to do some laundry or light housekeeping… And don’t get offended when we say we’ve had enough visiting time?” Being able to say to a spouse, “if you’re feeling strongly that sharing the load overnight is not your thing, can we figure out where else you can pick up the slack so that I can fit more naps in during the day…? Or, can we agree together about what we’re going to be able to let go of – dishes in the sink, or home cooked meals… ?” Something’s gotta give.

Knowing that you have a postpartum doula lined up can both help logistically with household needs, as well as ensuring that there is someone supporting you without judgement, without their own agenda, without difficult dynamics. The doula can help you figure out how to balance your needs with the needs of the baby. How to navigate visits and how to filter through – or politely ignore – everyone’s opinions and advice. How the help your spouse find his or her own way of contributing. All of that is of course in addition to the hands on help they provide – breastfeeding or bottle-feeding information, laundry and dishes, a home cooked meal, entertaining the sibling/s… If you’re not sure if you want daytime help or nighttime help, start with some of each. If you’re not sure how often you want help or for how long, start with a packages that guarantees you a certain amount of hours but allows you to spread it out or use it all up in the beginning and add on as needed. I’ll give you a little tip, it would be highly unusual for us to hear from a family that they have no need for the remaining hours in their package. Nine times out of ten they are adding on… And I like to say, how much are you going to regret having too much support – having things go even more smoothly than you anticipated, being able to stay well rested and enjoy these postpartum days rather than just barely endure them? Being able to look back and remember them as something more than just a tired haze? If your budget, like most of us, is not unlimited, we hear from clients that even if they could only have the doula come once or twice a week, knowing that that help was coming and being able to antcipate that extra support helped them get through the days they didn’t have it! I’d love to hear, in the comments below, how you planned for postpartum, and what surprised you – or didn’t – about what you thought you’d need and what you ended up needing? It would be great to hear from you so that parents who are trying to anticipate their needs can learn from your experience.

Now ideally, you also have that one person in your life that you can show your whole messy self to, pick up the phone in your worst moments, ask to drop everything for you because they know you’d do the same for them. That, however is HARD to come by. We don’t all have it, or if we have that person they might not live close enough. And even if we think we do, we all define “messy” differently and probably have that line that crosses over to too messy and makes us reluctant to really say what we need. I encourage you to lean into the relationships that have that potential. We all need them at various stages of parenting, not just in the beginning, so start allowing yourself to need others now. In the meantime your doula CAN play this role. We’ve worked with all kinds of families in all kinds of stages – stages of bliss, of overwhelm, of dysfunction, of growth, of postpartum depression, of elation. We know it’s messy, no matter what – whether that be your home, your emotions, your relationships. None of us should have to carry all of that weight, we’re supposed to share it. We’re supposed to have our village or neighborhood or family or tribe. We’d be honored to be a part of yours.

For more information about finding the postpartum doula that’s right for your family, visit us at

Kathryn KeenerWhat to Expect When You CAN’T Know What to Expect: Planning for Life with a Newborn

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