If you’re a parent, you already know that all the cute onesies you received at your baby shower or birth blessing paled in comparison to the home-cooked meals delivered to your door postpartum. The wipe-warmer and stuffed elephant were sweet, but the friend who picked up your groceries and washed your dishes felt like a superhero.
But—what about all those cute tutus and matching headbands? What about the mountain of goods that companies will tell you that you can’t live without—that will make your life easier? I’m going to let the cat out of the bag: it’s real people and real-life support that will make life easier, not any things.
For nearly 20 years, I’ve worked with families as a kindergarten teacher, a doula, a foster parent, and now as a mom and facilitator of parent-child classes. Four times a year, I offer an online course for folks who want to create a local, intergenerational gathering for parents and babies in the postpartum year to receive resources and build community. It’s called Community Supported Postpartum, and I can say for certain that a well-supported parent and family is the best gift that anyone can receive.
By supporting a family during the tender postpartum time, the community enhances the health and well-being of the entire family—and the health of the community is also nurtured.
The transition into parenthood (or into parenting more than one child) is truly a rite of passage, and one that needs the support of a strong community. The first few months of parenting is a challenging time in itself—a time of vulnerability and transformation, and a time that new parents need to be around folks that they feel good being around.
When mothers feel supported, they have a boost in oxytocin, which helps the production of breast milk, reduces stress, aids in healing the body, promotes mama-baby bonding, and even helps to balance hormones. Anthropological evidence shows that oxytocin levels are greater in women who live near family or in a close community, as seen in indigenous cultures. Not just birth moms, but also partners, foster parents, and adoptive parents get a surge in the “feel-good hormone” when they feel supported by others.
Nowadays, many of us need to re-create the village to receive our support and nurturing, and that’s where a community-supported postpartum (CSP) plan comes into play. You’ve probably heard of a CSA (community-supported agriculture), and maybe you’ve heard of a herd share, where you pitch in to receive weekly milk or meat. Community-supported initiatives all share the same foundation of ideals: when we can come together with shared values, it benefits everyone involved. When many hands pitch in, the work is lighter and the connection is stronger: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
"Community-supported initiatives all share the same foundation of ideals: when we can come together with shared values, it benefits everyone involved."
Through CSP, we use the same great format to support folks who are welcoming a baby. The shared value is that families need extra support in the postpartum time—we can all stand behind that notion. My hope is that we can start incorporating intentions of true community support into every baby shower and prenatal gathering, so that families can experience how valuable community can be in the postpartum time.
One way that I help new families is by creating two circles of support. The first is the intimate circle of people that a family feels most comfortable and connected with—a small group that you could call upon any time of day and share your tears and your most tender feelings with (it may or may not include blood relatives). This circle is supported by the second, larger circle of community, which can help with non-intimate tasks such as running errands, picking up groceries, dropping off food, and even tending your garden. Think of concentric circles, with the new family in the middle.
In a time where so much value is placed on how much one can accomplish, overextending ourselves feels like the new norm. Parents I work with often use the words “overwhelmed” and “depleted.” We hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations, and often we don’t want others to know that we’re struggling to keep up. On the flip side is the goodness of human beings: we naturally want to help! What if we could reframe “asking for support” into “building community”? Is it possible to think of our requests as invitations to connect with a friend or family member?
"What if we could reframe “asking for support” into “building community”? Is it possible to think of our requests as invitations to connect with a friend or family member?"
New Dream’s SoKind registry is a great tool for coordinating requests for postpartum support—and building community in the process. Setting up parents to be wrapped in a tapestry of support in the first few months after baby arrives takes inquiry, organization, and scheduling. As a result, families feel less stress, community is more involved, and there is less consumption, more connections, and even more ease. SoKind is completely customizable, so you can ask for any type of support you can think of, from home-cooked meals to help around the house.
This autumn, after one of my best friends had her second child, I witnessed the most supported “fourth trimester” that I’ve ever seen. She had nearly three months of meals delivered, friends come clean her home, rides to preschool for her older daughter, body treatments in her home, a diaper service, and a host of folks that would come over when she needed something in town or an extra set of hands. This required quite a bit of organization before baby came, but taking the step of asking for support seemed to extend the time that my friend received it.
Check out a sample registry on SoKind that you can use as a template or as inspiration to receive valuable postpartum support, whether for your own family or for a friend >>
Over the last seven years, I’ve offered in-person gatherings that provide resources to new moms and build community by inviting in local experts on topics that support the well-being of new families. From family and marriage therapists to nutritionists, doctors, and baby massage educators, our community has so much to offer—sometimes it just takes inviting folks in to share their gifts. Through my online CSP course, I help folks bring this type of gathering into their own towns. My experience facilitating in-person groups has also blossomed into a new project with our local time bank, matching community members with families who will receive six weeks of non-intimate postpartum support.
When someone you know is about to welcome a new baby into their family, offer them the gift of a supportive community. Check out the community-supported postpartum sample registry on SoKind, and invite folks in to celebrate the new family in a sustainable way that build relationships.
Kerry Ingram is a mother, foster parent, postpartum doula, educator, and nurturer. She is devoted to uplifting the postpartum journey by building community, and helps families create multi-generational supportive gatherings for mothers and babies in the postpartum year without reinventing the wheel. Learn more about her here and visit the Mothering Arts website here.