New Mothers Are Lonelier than Ever- 4 ways to support a new mother from afar

     

 

 

Isolation is almost a given in our modern motherhood. The idea of the village has disappeared in the past century and has certainly accelerated in scarcity in recent decades. We are moving away from our childhood homes and neighborhoods to pursue education and careers. Especially with first babies, we typically don’t have parent peers or even neighborhood friends yet.  

Far flung friends and family often wish they could be there in the initial postpartum time to help care for the new family, But because of distance and work schedules, visits are postponed and shortened.

How can you offer support to a new mother when you can’t be there in person?

Here are a few sweet tips to let her know you are there with her in spirit and want to help ease her days. Also, moms you can add these to your registry! Sometimes people aren’t aware that there are other options to gift a new family other than gear. This inclusion also reminds your community that there is a beautiful newborn mother in this family as well as a beautiful new born baby.

  1. Be there via text. Send her love notes over her phone - that you’re thinking about her. Funny baby animal videos. A beautiful quote.  Something to brighten her day.

  2. Join her meal train. Arrange to have her favorite restaurant deliver a meal to the family. Or load up a grocery delivery service with some healthy snacks and flowers for them.

  3. Arrange an in-home support service. Something like an in-home massage or cleaning services around the firstmonth can really bring some relief to an achy body or the chore list.

  4. Make a mom-pamper box and fill it with luxurious items like soft pajamas, lactation cookies, bath salts and a pretty magazine. Items that will make her time in bed feel like a retreat and make her feel special as herself, not only as a mom.

 

The village is a tremendous part of a mother's well being. It offers wisdom, hands-on support and friendship. Although we may live far apart, technology has helped to link us to provide these same tools. With a little creativity and a lot of love, we can figure out ways to embrace this new family with layers of kindness and support.

 

For New York families, HandsFull Doula offers Cup Filler sessions which is the perfect kind of gift for these sorts of situations:

 

CUP FILLER SESSION

This beautiful offering is a one time visit of 4 hours of postpartum support at any time in the intense first year. This can be a great way to give a hard working mom a chance to take a deep breath. Many families use this visit as a test-run to see what hands-on postpartum support looks like in their own home with their own particular needs. Other times, this is useful for special days such as when the partner goes back to work or when a sibling will be home all day. Still,  other families give this as a gift because they cannot be there themselves. Whatever your needs and whatever your situation, I will help you to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. It can be as simple as washing dishes and preparing a healthy dinner or education around baby wearing or holding your baby so you can take a hot shower. We cannot give what we do not have. Let me fill your cup so that you can heal and be with your baby more fully.

Get in touch today, to book this service.

 

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Welcoming little brother or sister- four loving stories to share

Very often the focus of the first pregnancy is on the birth. This makes sense - birth is an unknowable event. We are being asked to stretch and endure a physical and emotional feat that we have never encountered before. Typically, thoughts are consumed with fruit sized babies and worries about sleep changes once the baby is born. After the baby has arrived, there can be a sense of inhabiting a foreign planet. You may wish you spoke this new baby language, wonder about the bizarre sense of night and day and wish someone would just hand you a guidebook so you didn’t feel so lost.

But with baby number 2 (or 3 or 4) there is a different priority: siblings. You now know the lay of the land; you have figured out how to thrive on less hours of sleep (maybe fewer showers too). and you have a little person that you love mightily. But the stretching is here, now: the daily parenting decisions, the boundaries, the routine the messes and the joy. This little creature is enchanting and tricky and takes up so much energy and heart! How in the world can you fit another one in? And how can you help your little one understand the world with a baby?

 

Stories are a lovely way to introduce and regularly talk about your new baby. They provide the physical comfort of snuggling in as well as providing imagery that your small child can understand. Here are a few gentle stories for beginning  to talk about your new baby.

 

  1. Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers - this fun book is full of all kinds of families and all kinds of babies doing baby things. I appreciate the diversity presented and the sweet and honest illustrations.

  2. We Have a Baby by Cathryn Falwell - this lovely story shows a baby being brought home to a new big brother/sister. The artwork in this book is beautiful and the sweet story shows lots of sibling involvement.

  3. Visiting the New Baby by Sparkle Stories - this gentle audio story tells the story of a brother and sister visiting a new baby neighbor. I love the preparation the family spends on caring for their friends.

  4. Make your own birth story book - you can create a simple little story book about your child's own birth as a way to help him/her see how your family cares for a new baby. Include images and details about your pregnancy with him/her, your birth, recovery period as well as pictures of her/him doing regular baby things.


The stretching and growing of a family is a tremendous transition for everyone- one of the most important events in your whole life as a family. But, most of all, know that, much like childbirth, our hearts open wide and that you are more capable that you could ever imagine.

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6 Tips to Keep you Grounded as your Milk Comes in

You have reached the other side and have begun to be a parent. It is a blurry time when just about everything is blended: day into night and mama and baby are still almost one body. There is the golden edge marked with a sense of surprise and awe about what has just happened. Adrenalin and oxytocin lift you into your postpartum bubble. You are mastering tasks like diapering and breastfeeding; your baby is sleepy and recovering from her monumental passage.

 

Here are some early timeline facts for you:

 

During days 1- 3, your breasts are making colostrum to feed your baby. You may have noticed this sticky, yellow substance in your 3rd trimester as your breasts prepared for nursing. Your newborn will typically have less than 2 tbs of colostrum per feeding on their first day. It is easy to digest and has concentrated nutrition and antibodies. At this point your baby’s tummy is about the size of a marble.

 

You may feel energized and proud or dazed and woozy or both. Your body and your baby’s body might be your whole world. Your uterus is still contracting and bleeding is fairly heavy. Your bottom or your incision is sore depending on your delivery.  Your baby is a tiny curled up chicken - she is probably pink and squishy looking. You can both still remember how tightly she was nestled up inside. You are both awkwardly figuring out your new physicality. She is adjusting to gravity and air and you to your to your loose skin and tender body. There is a vigilance to diapers and the belly button and mindfulness of teeny limbs, temperature and a sensitive nervous system. Find ways to get more comfortable.

 

There is still food in your fridge, folded laundry, your body still remembers uninterrupted sleep and your partner is proudly consumed with protecting this new family unit.

 

And then something changes. It gets deeper and harder. You might wonder where you are, how you got here and why.

 

Day 3 or 4 is notoriously hard. Oftentimes, even just the foreknowledge of entering this time makes it a little easier. This is the time when the mature milk comes in. Your breasts will feel different: heavier, larger and hotter. Your baby could wake up a little more and will begin to want to feed more, too. This can be called cluster feeding, which is a way of helping the milk production expand rather than your baby being hungry from underproduction. The more she nurses, the more milk you will make. Soon, you will begin your synergistic nursing dance where you and your baby will be in sync and your breasts will tingle (and letdown) in anticipation of their desire. The milk production changes your blend of hormones and often, as a result, moods and emotions can get more intense (some people call this “the baby blues” which is short lived;  any lingering and persistent anxiety or sadness should be brought to the attention of a healthcare provider).  This can be compounded by sleep deprivation beginning to settle in, discharge from the hospital, beginning to revisit birth memories and a profound realization that the baby is dependent on you for 24 hours a day.

 

Here are a few ways to honor and possibly ease this time:

  1. Make it a “retreat day”. Have no expectations of yourself or your baby. This is your job,  nothing else. For those of you who like to feel productive or “on top of it”, please know that there is so much work just happening as result of having a baby. Your body is healing, you are bonding with your baby, you are helping her to survive by feeding her and regulating her, you are entering a new season of life. So get into bed - get mostly naked and snuggle up with baby (skin-to-skin contact will help promote oxytocin and bonding as well as making nursing as available and convenient as possible ).

  2. Send everyone else away. Hold on to your most supportive and helpful people, but take some time to tighten your circle. This is a great day to practice setting up your boundaries. This is something your partner should help you with. You do not need to take on other people's needs and energy especially in this sensitive time. Having fewer people around will make it easier to focus on the most essential tasks at hand.

  3. Warm foods, warm hearts. Eat easy to digest, warming, nutritious food and lots of tea and/or water. Your body should be using energy to heal and make milk rather than digest food. Your digestion is also still unsettled from the pregnancy and will take weeks to recover.

  4. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Really and truly.

  5. Nourish yourself. Placenta pills can be a strong asset to these days and can help take the edge off by smoothing out hormone fluctuation.

  6. Small Pleasures. Prioritize feeling good. This is a great time for a foot or neck rub, enjoyable music and aromatherapy.

 

A mantra that has served me well in my own motherhood is “I am enough”. This is a good reminder in any transition and there will be many during that first year. There is no right way to travel your postpartum - you have the right tools for you and your baby has everything she needs: YOU.


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How to save those kinds of days….

I have sat through long dark nights, gripping hands, pressing hips, whispering mantras over and over and over. I have been with women as they have been in fear, in pain, in sadness. I always thought birth work was the perfect training for motherhood - the lack of sleep and imperative calmness seemed like the best practice that I could have. Which was true and not true. Nothing can quite prepare you for the loving, full and unrelenting days and nights with your own baby.  

 

In conversations about parenthood we hear phrases like “fussy baby” and “anxious mother”; there are milestones and hormones and funky sleep. You can be “touched out” or “stressed out.” Sometimes the intensity of postpartum can make if feel like those days are extra dire.

But when it comes down to it, we’re all human, baby and mama alike, and we all have our days. This is the paradox of parenting: we are over-stretched and pulled in uncomfortable ways, we wish return to ourselves, we are angry at those in closest proximity. Then, in an ebb and flow rhythm, we come together again, humbled by the peace of a sleeping child and the depth of feeling in our hearts.   

 

Here are a few tools for you, brave and strong mama, when you find yourself in those moments when you feel like you are drowning or utterly drained to help you return:

 

  1. Take a deep breath. Breathe in fully through your nose and exhale through your mouth. Do it at least two more times. This forces you to slow down and helps transition your body from its “flight or fight” stress reaction to a calmer state.

  2. Close your eyes. Name what you are feeling. “I am feeling ___________”. Naming brings us back to our rational brain and gives us more control over the situation. Then ask yourself what you need.  Listen closely to that answer and think about what steps you can take to fill that cup, both in the short term and the longer term.

  3. Grab a snack and a big glass of water. Often we forget to literally fill ourselves up. Especially when you are breastfeeding, your body needs more food and hydration than you may expect. Try to avoid the sugar and potato chip-y snacks (although when you’re sleep deprived those might be the most seductive to you!) and try something with protein and good fats (like a handful of nuts).

  4. Go outside. It may seem like too much of a hassle to get a screaming baby out of the door or find your shoes after a night of no sleep, but it will be worth it. Being outside changes everyone’s energy. It gives you an opportunity to move your body, see the rest of the world and breathe in fresh air and sunshine.

  5. Enlist a friend. Call that neighbor who has a kid your age. Sit in your building's lobby and greet the passing dogs. Text that mom you met at your moms group. Being social will get you out our your own head, will give you a chance to share stories and build your connection to your community. These early friendships with other moms are designed to last a lifetime.

  6. Dance. Put on your favorite dance tunes and shake your booty. Music has the magical ability to alter our moods and movement brings out the body’s endorphins. Plus it might make you feel silly and is known to reliably make babies laugh.

  7. Take a bath together. Warm water is a universal soother. It has the power of promoting relaxation for both mothers and babies. Add lavender essential oil which further enhances sensual receptivity to calmness.

  8. Bake! It doesn’t matter your skill level or what you like to make, the act of creation will make you feel proud and like you were able to accomplish something from start to end (sometimes a very frustratingly rare feeling with babies and small children). The sensory processes engaged with mixing and smelling and tasting will bring your emotions to a different place. Wearing your baby will give you more freedom in the kitchen and might end up calming baby down, too. These are my favorite chocolate chip cookies, btw.

  9. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Sleep deprivation is no joke and very much limits our energy, patience, empathy and positive mood. But, it also means you have to let go of some expectations for the day: things won’t get folded, tidied or cooked. Come up with a plan for you to get a chunk of uninterrupted sleep each day.

  10. Ask for help. Step out of your comfort zone. Call your mom to come and take the baby for a walk. Tell your partner to be on baby bath duty so your can do something just for you. Hire a cleaning person to take some chores off of your plate.

 

*Please be aware, that these days typically come and go. If it feels like an all day, every day situation where you aren’t feeling happy or can’t quite find your footing, you need professional help. Feel free to reach out to anyone on the Postpartum  Project and they will help you with a plan to begin to feel better.

 

There is a tendency for us as mothers to be our harshest critics. No one needs you to be perfect at this job and parenting challenges us as we have never been challenged before. In fact there is no such thing as a perfect parent- we all come with our very own bundle of gifts and flaws and that is what we are loved for.  The best examples you can set for your children, beginning right from the start, is the gift of self-compassion and the ability to be vulnerable: to admit when things are hard, to say how were really feel instead of how we think we should be and to have grace in repairing any disconnect. You are doing a great job- I hope you know that deep in your bones.


 

This is supposed to be hard

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I am not usually a rule kind of person, especially when it comes to decisions women make about their bodies and how they choose to raise their families. But I do have two rules for two significant events that can happen in a woman’s reproductive life.

1. Birth is unpredictable

In my childbirth education class, this is my mantra. It’s not meant to be disheartening or scary, but simply a fact. One can do as much thinking and assembling and preparing as possible to strive for that dream birth, but ultimately your body and your baby will work together in their own rhythm and timing to make that particular birth as unique as a star. The mother is required to release control. In fact, resisting and hardening against the tide of labor makes it more difficult and painful. The more a mother can open and stay in the moment, the more the birth will come as it was intended. A midwife I knew even like to say that we are given the birth that we need. There is wisdom and learning in this powerful story of arriving.

 

2. Postpartum is hard

Again, this is not meant to create fear or dampen the anticipation of a new baby. But it is. It’s hard and it is supposed to be. And just like birth, each postpartum is different. There are different challenges and different gifts for each mother/baby dyad. The “hardness” in postpartum works much like pain works in childbirth. These signals operate in ways outside of our normal way of being. Generally, pain is a physical symptom that something has gone “wrong” - we have broken a leg. But in birth, it is a signal that our body is working towards something monumental. We are stretching and pushing beyond the typical limits of our physicality and endurance. We  get breaks between contractions and doses of hormones to make this process more bearable. Nature has given us peaks and valleys along this pathway and even as it progresses, we are so lost in the immediacy of these changes that it takes on a kind of timeless quality..

Postpartum has a similar suspended system of being. It is a wide open time when your bones and organs are still far from where they started, your blood volume is still abundant, your heart and spirit are tender and receptive from your transformative birth. There are hormones shifting to re-balance and milk supply to establish. Relationships are being redefined. You are not yourself anymore - your priorities, the way you think, the way your body looks, your career, your time, your money have all changed in some way, generally not subtle. There should be grief in postpartum as we let go of parts of our lives and identities to make room for our new role of mother. We can do hard things. It is mythical: the power of walking through fire to enact change and forge something new- stronger and more beautiful that before. The phoenix rose from the ashes and the butterfly emerges from a chrysalis.

My same midwife friend use to say, do nothing extra. I used this as a guide for postpartum. There is a whole universe changing within you and a whole universe in your child dependent on you. That is enough. In rest and warmth, being cared for, we make space and energy to concentrate on the healing of our open parts.  We can flow through our day, free to fluctuate with sadness, adoration, bliss, anger, peace until we have walked through the landscape of this separate and sacred time.

How to hire a postpartum doula- part 2

PART TWO: Finding your doula

 

In pregnancy and postpartum, women are most receptive to non-verbal information. This primes a mother’s brain for connection. Feeling comfortable with your doula is the most important qualification. She may see you crying, assist with breastfeeding, take out your trash, rub your feet, etc. This transitional time is a rollercoaster of emotions and identity while also a time of healing, learning and care-taking. Additional discomfort and anxiety inhibit the feel-good hormones that promote milk production, bonding and settling into a slower pace. Another qualification is your partner's comfort with this person. They will be working as a team to care for you. Extra certifications and skills are icing on the cake. If there is a top priority (newborn photography, transition back to work, etc.), mention that in your interview. She will have a network of complementary providers if she cannot offer that service.

 

Ask your community. Gather stories from your network. Seek out doula recommendations from friends, neighbors, your provider and practitioners like yoga instructors, birth doulas, massage therapists, etc.

 

Some interview tips:

  1. Meet the doula in person with your partner.

  2. Try to set up your interviews around week 30. This allows for a prenatal visit and figuring out scheduling before the baby is born. Also, many doulas tend to fill up a few months in advance.

  3. Share your vision and fears. Does she really listen to you? How does she make you feel? Confident? Relaxed? Happy? Anxious? What kind of energy would she bring into your home? Even if you can’t name it, trust it. Reflect on this with your partner and take the time to discuss your postpartum vision.

 

Logistics to discuss:

  1. How her time works - what is her visit schedule? Does she offer packages with a set number of hours or include other services?

  2. Her resource list - does she have the names of good lactation and mental health professionals?

  3. Her availability for texting and phone calls while you work together.  

  4. Pricing. Your postpartum wellness is a worthwhile investment.  If it is a financial stretch for you, is she flexible with her pricing or can she offer a payment plan?




 

How to hire a postpartum doula- Part 1

PART ONE: Listening to YOU

 

You’ve been thinking about the birth and your registry. You might have a name picked out and are researching car seats. But, what about after the baby arrives?  In conversations with pregnant women, I notice that many of them have a hard time imagining what their postpartum life will look like. It doesn’t occur to them that they might need a doula. Sure, it sounds nice to have a supportive person around who knows about babies, but your mother-in-law is coming and your husband is a hands on kind of guy, right?

 

Visitors mean the best, but they can frequently feel inconvenient, unhelpful or worse! Often, dads like to solve concrete problems rather than attend to the vulnerability of this time.  You probably already have a sense of these kinds of dynamics. A postpartum doula is not your mother-in-law. She’s there to support YOU and your postpartum vision.

 

From my experience, many women don’t know that they can choose the kind of postpartum experience than they want. In our culture, there is pervasive messaging that new mothers should just bounce back. This mindset doesn’t recognize the transition to motherhood and the need for family bonding. It causes many of the challenges associated with postpartum time, including difficulty breastfeeding, postpartum mood disorders and marital problems. Many of my clients prioritize planning for this period and recognize that it can be a time of thriving rather than surviving. By honoring and allowing the need for rest and nourishment, we can open the doors for deep love and bonding.

 

This is your work! Spend some time on that vision.

 

Some questions to help guide how you think about those first 6 weeks:

 

  1. What are you looking forward to? (Imagine what it looks like as a happy new family)

  2. What anxieties are cropping up? (What could go wrong, what are your fears?)

  3. What actions would lead to more of the good feelings and ease some of the more difficult times?

  4. Who can help you take those actions?

 

Education and preparation around this time can make a huge difference. So can having a person to support you in this dream.

 

Why does America need doulas?

My neighbor had a baby three weeks ago. My two daughters and I had talked about preparing food for them for months in advance and they had lots of input about the newborn vest that I was knitting. I had the honor of meeting this particular baby the night after she was born and seeing the golden glow of her proud mother.

 

Being with my friend in the tender days of postpartum felt natural; like the way humans evolved to connect with each other within their tribe. And yet, as easy and instinctive as it should be, many American families feel isolated and overwhelmed. We tend to trust the “experts” rather than our communities and buy stuff rather than spending time. This is the time to change our anger and stress into love by nurturing one mother at a time.  

 

America needs doulas to witness the pride of a brand new mother- to marvel with her - to listen to the small and big details of her story.  America needs doulas to prepare nutritious food for new families so that bodies can heal with the aid of warming and comforting food.

 

I was summoned to visit them on day three.  This is a notoriously hard day when the milk comes in and hormones go haywire. I got mother and baby comfortably settled and sent dad and older sister off to do some errands. I gave hugs and validated the realness of the shift in her family.

 

America needs doulas to listen to mother's struggles and celebrations and help them settle into the slow pace of life with a newborn.

 

I gave her recommendations for lactation counselors and set up a meal train for friends to drop off dinner when her husband goes back to work.

 

America needs doulas to connect new families with professionals to ease their transition and encourage their wellness. America needs doulas to help moms find their village so that they have a empathetic support system.

 

But I would say even more fundamental than doulas: America needs women to care for women. America needs to value motherhood. We need to form communities where this kind of postpartum care is standard and not considered a luxury.  

 

Here’s what YOU can do for your pregnant neighbors:

  1. Bring them food when a baby is born. A simple, home cooked meal that is prepared with great love.

  2. Listen to her birth story.  Admire her baby. Tell her she is a wonderful mother.

  3. Do helpful things. Don’t even ask - give hugs, back rubs and tell her to text you her grocery list.

  4. Involve your children in your preparation. Let the next generation know what it looks like to care for each other and show them what kind of love they deserve when they have their own babies.  

6 Essentials for Early Breastfeeding

6 Essentials for Early Breastfeeding

As dramatic as that list seems, it is very normal and very common for American mothers to be challenged in their breastfeeding start. And although lactation is a biological requisite for mammals, breastfeeding is a learning relationship where both you and baby are working together to figure out a process neither of you have done before.

Inviting your Dream Postpartum Experience

Sometimes the experience of birth is so big, that we cannot see beyond that singular event. I call it the “Birth Mountain”. Labor is such a huge unknown - totally unlike anything we have ever asked our bodies or souls to endure. Additionally, birth is unpredictable. So, even though you have planned and set intentions, babies enter the world in their own unique  way. Birth looms above us as we walk through the prenatal time and landmarks our life between maiden and mother. Families invest in great resources for this intense climb. All sorts of team building, coping skills, reading, education are chosen with great care. It is no wonder that the postpartum terrain is often a surprise to us.

 

Very often families just find themselves in postpartum with the mindset of survival. However, postpartum is truly an opportunity to thrive and set your family up with a solid and loving foundation. What do you want your postpartum to look like?

 

It is often hard to imagine how golden this time can be since we have few traditions or models of investing in healing and bonding for the first 40 days. A simple way to being is to open your heart to see what deep wisdom and healing you hold.

 

This guided mediation is about 5 minutes long. You can have a loved one read it out loud or you can read through and then sit with the images that come to you.

 

I invite you to lie down or sit in a way that you are comfortable. You may shift and settle your body during the exercise but please be willing to sit for few quiet minutes if you can.  

 

Let’s begin with closing our eyes and noticing the breath. In and out. Soften into it, breathing in light and love, and breathing out tension and fear.

 

Now come into the space. Notice where your body makes contact with the ground. Feel the firmness beneath you. What is the air around you like? Warm? Cool? Notice any noises that surround us. And be here inhabiting your body in this space. Can you imagine the room around you even though your eyes are closed?

 

Now can you image looking at us from above. Sitting in this room.

 

Now allow yourself to soar higher and lifting out of this place. Flying above Brooklyn and then New york city. Seeing the city as a bird would from above. And now let yourself fly away from this place - these buildings and streets, the bustle and noise.

 

Flying in the blue sky. Direct yourself to fly over forests, and rivers, noticing the fresh air and clear colors.

Come for a landing in a safe secluded  place in nature and settle yourself there. This is your palce. The rich and beautiful landscape of your heart. Where have you arrived? At the foot of a big tree? Warm sands of a beach? The dark quiet of a cave? Notice what colors there are? What kinds of sounds live there? What does the ground feel like?  What is the temperature and the smell of the air? Take a moment to feel how safe you are and breath in the peace and beauty of this place that you have found.

 

As you look around you see a figure approaching. She wears a smile on her face and you recognize her. She is someone important to you in your life who makes you feel cared for. Maybe it’s your grandmother or a family friend or someone else. Allow her to approach and let your heart open to the way that she makes you feel. Linger there. Experience her spirit as she sits close to you. How are you being together? Does she hold your hand? Stroke your hair?  Are you and she laughing or silent or something else? How does your baby react?  

 

She carries with her a gift for you- it could be an object or a word that she wants you to have. What is it? Receive it and hold it. How has she presented it to you? Examine it closely.  Hold it in your hands.

 

Stay here. In your landscape, with your safe person, and her tremendous gift.  Breathe in the warmth and beauty you are bathed in. The nourishment and love that surrounds you.

 

Stay with this feeling for as long as you would like.  When you are ready you may slowly come back to your breath; slow moving of fingers and toes. And finally a big stretch, inhale and exhale.

 

Spend a couple of minutes in quiet reflection. What did your landscape look like. What details stood out? Who was your person? Why did she come to you- what about her makes you feel so good? What gift did she bring to you? Why?

 

From here,  you can being to uncover what a your needs and desires around your postpartum. The more you can fill in the details, the more you can create your nest and think about the tools and team you need to achieve this vision.