Support is one of those terms we hear a lot in pregnancy and parenting after loss. But what does real support feel like? How do we know if we are supported?
Each mama, partnership, and blossoming family deserves to feel support all along the journey; pregnancies after loss are no exception. I’ve categorized the key characteristics of good and true support into four subsections that are each equally important to one another.
The 4 C’s are:
1. Communicate – Often in pregnancy and parenting relationships we don’t tell others what we need or we aren’t heard when we do. If we don’t communicate our needs, both emotional and physical, others tend to make assumptions. In other cases, we take the plunge to express our preferences and they are disregarded. It’s important that support people listen and allow space for an open flow of dialogue.
2. Care – The folks in your support circle find a great way to acknowledge your emotions. They truly care about how you’re feeling. They allow space for you to be whatever you are: happy, sad, angry, overjoyed, worried, or a combination of everything all at one time. They also recognize that right now you might not be able to take care of them in the same way, and that’s okay. Good and strong support relationships flow between give and take at different stages in time.
3. Choice – Support people realize that the choices you make are your own. They don’t need to convince you one way is right and another wrong; in fact, the way you choose to do something may be in direct opposition to the way that works for them. And even better, these same support people give the respect that comes with that freedom to choose and also stand by you when things don’t go as you anticipated. They are no “should’s” in support.
4. Consider – When people make suggestions or share information, it’s always valuable to consider the source. Random people at your local superstore or in some social media settings often don’t know your story. I also like to use this C to say consider finding a balance between peer and professional support. There are some pieces of information that are important to discuss with both groups; however others may simply not translate between the two. There is truly great value in having a network of peer support around you AND also balancing that with the qualified and diverse services of: medical care provider information, childbirth education, labor support, lactation support, mental health counselors/therapists, etc. One relationship cannot replace the other.
When we find ourselves in places along the journey that feel particularly challenging and we reach out for support, we can then ask ourselves questions like, “Can I Communicate with this person?”, “Does this person Care about me?”, “Are my Choices respected?”, and “Have I Considered the source?”. When we have valuable and expendable emotional energy, as is so often true in pregnancy/parenting after loss, these simple questions can help us evaluate how to build the support network we need to thrive.
As a professional doula, much of our time together in the prenatal and postpartum periods is spent fostering these 4 C’s. These 4 C’s are often the building blocks for trust and love, which encourage the flow of oxytocin, our love hormone. In birth, oxytocin contracts the uterus which in turn changes the cervix. In postpartum, oxytocin is one of two very important hormones of breastfeeding. There is real biological value in appreciating these 4 C’s, not to mention the equally important long-term emotional benefits.
In my experience, both personal and professional, it’s the reflection on these 4 C’s of Support that create long-lasting and quality relationships to turn to in all the ups and downs ahead.