When I had my oldest daughter Grace, I felt like I was as prepared as possible to become a mom. My husband and I had been happily married for five years, I had a ton of experience taking care of children, we were financially secure, and I was at the end of my training to become a pediatrician.
As I look back on this day, almost 15 years later, what really stands out is that I had no idea about what to expect it was going to be like to be postpartum.
It seemed like everything was much harder than it should be.
We had everything planned out and ready before I delivered, including her name, pediatrician, nursery, clothes, supplies (three baby showers were thrown on my behalf!), and breastfeeding equipment. I knew exactly how long I was going to take for maternity leave (ten weeks) and we had daycare for Grace lined up for when I returned to work as a pediatric resident.
My husband and I took a prenatal class at our local hospital. We must have learned a lot about what to expect during labor and delivery, but all I can remember learning is "T.A.C.O." This acronym was to help my husband remember how to report the circumstances around my water breaking to my obstetrician: T = time, A = amount, C = color, O= odor. Ironically, my water did break before I went into labor, but it was such a small trickle that I thought that I was just peeing myself every so often! I ended up having to be induced for "prolonged rupture of membranes," but my labor and delivery went very smoothly.
Unfortunately, breastfeeding did not go so smoothly. When we were discharged from the hospital two days after Grace's birth, I needed to use a nipple shield to help her to latch and had to pump after every feed. She required supplementary bottles of pumped milk after every nursing attempt due to jaundice.
The day after we got home (my third day postpartum) we had five visitors come to spend the day with us: my mom, my in-laws, my best friend, and her husband.
All That I Remember About Grace's Third Day Of Life Is The Following:
- Hiding on a couch up in the loft of our condo, topless, and trying to get Grace to latch on to feed.
- I'd get uterine cramps that felt almost as bad as labor pains every time my milk "let down."
- Having to wear those huge postpartum maxi pads (I still don't know what they are actually called) and "granny" panties.
- Feeling pressure from my guests to bring my newborn baby down so that they could meet her and pass her around.
- Feeling like it was my job to entertain everyone who was downstairs (and that I was letting them down).
- Feeling like it seemed like everything was much harder than it should be.
- Grace and I both cried a lot — she was hungry; I was so tired and overwhelmed!
As I look back on this day, almost 15 years later, what really stands out is that I had no idea about what to expect it was going to be like to be postpartum. I had spent so much time during my pregnancy preparing for Grace's needs as a newborn that I had not prepared for my own needs as a mother. I spent time and energy doing things like memorizing what T.A.C.O. stood for, but did not think, or even know to expect, that I would have my own postpartum needs.
As I imagine myself sitting up in my loft and trying to feed my hungry newborn baby, I want to scream at everyone who was there to go home. I want to grab my husband and bring him up to the loft to be with me and support me. And I want to be able to give my 28-year-old self a huge hug and tell her that her feelings are valid, that it is super hard to have a newborn, and that it's totally okay to ask everyone to leave to be able to focus on breastfeeding. When I think back to this day, this quote by Maya Angelou often comes to mind:
"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better."
I share my story often as I now know that I am not the only woman who was unprepared for (and had unrealistic expectations for) the postpartum period. Since having Grace I have met countless other moms who had similar postpartum experiences. This was exemplified in Aeroflow Breastpumps' recent survey of almost 400 mothers about the "First 42 Days" of postpartum recovery.
Key Findings From Aeroflow's Survey Include The Following:
- Almost half of respondents did not feel prepared for what to expect and how to care for their bodies in the first six postpartum weeks.
- 2/3 felt that the postpartum period was more difficult than they anticipated.
- Common postpartum struggles included breastfeeding problems (66%), postpartum depression and/or anxiety (48%), lack of social support and isolation (39%), newborn care (28%), and complications and/or concerns with postpartum healing (24%).
- 9 out of 10 felt that our current system of educating mothers about what to expect during the postpartum period, along with available resources, needs to be improved!
Based on these survey results, it's clear that we still have a long way to go in terms of preparing pregnant women for their postpartum journeys. We need to increase awareness of the postpartum period as being a time of great physical, mental, and emotional transition for new moms and help mothers to prepare "postpartum plans" in addition to "birth plans."
Mainstays Of Preparing For Postpartum Recovery Include The Following:
Figure out who your "village" is going to be to help you after your baby arrives. This is usually some combination of family, parents, friends, and neighbors. Once you've identified your village's members, chat with them, and brainstorm how they will be able to help you. This can be with simple things, like coming over to help fold laundry, or more complicated endeavors, like arranging a "meal train" so that you will not have to worry about cooking for the first few weeks at home. Forming a village might be a little more complicated in the era of "social distancing," but your friends and loved ones can still do things like shop and drop off groceries, order takeout, and mow the lawn for you.
Taking care of yourself will help you to heal and recover and make you a better mom.
Learn about all of the changes your body will go through. Common physical postpartum symptoms include vaginal and rectal pain, bleeding, uterine cramps, and edema (swelling). Prepare ahead of time for the items that you will need for your own physical recovery, such as sitz baths and Peri-bottles. Frida Mom and MOMBOX sell ready-made kits for postpartum recovery and Aeroflow Breastpumps sells both postpartum recovery garments and breastfeeding/lactation supplies. Lastly, the book The Forgotten Trimester, by Megan Gray, MD, is an excellent guide to postpartum care.
Explore your postpartum resources ahead of time. UNC's 4th trimester project's New Mom Health website has a wealth of resources for new moms. Other helpful websites for new moms include Postpartum Support International and kellymom.com. There has been an increasing number of virtual support groups for new moms during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well. If you are planning on breastfeeding, it's a good idea to research local lactation consultants, and you may find ones who offer prenatal visits to help prepare for breastfeeding ahead of time.
Postpartum doulas can be a wonderful source of support as well. Many doula companies are offering virtual support during the pandemic and, depending on the area of the U.S. you live in, some are able to come into your home to help with both newborn care and household tasks.
We need to increase awareness of the postpartum period as being a time of great physical, mental, and emotional transition for new moms and help mothers to prepare "postpartum plans" in addition to "birth plans."
It's Important To Have Realistic Expectations For Both Yourself And Your Newborn Baby, Including The Following:
- Neither of you are going to sleep through the night for a long time.
- You are not going to "bounce back" to your pre-pregnancy weight anytime soon.
- If you are breastfeeding, plan to be half-naked for several weeks as you and your baby learn to breastfeed.
- You should not have to entertain family and friends when you have a new baby!
Lastly, remember to love and take care of yourself. Make time for small breaks doing things you love. This can be as simple as sitting outside in the sun, going for a walk, taking a bath, or getting a massage. Taking care of yourself will help you to heal and recover and make you a better mom.
Anyone who tells you that the postpartum period is easy is lying, has never had a baby, or had their baby(ies) so long ago that they've blocked this period of time out in their memories!
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.