A conversation on Self Care for Parents with Kerry Ingram, Founder, Community Supported Postpartum
This month we are talking about self-care for parents in all the different ways that can look, whether it's nutrition or self-regulation or ways we can be in a partnership that enables us to take care of ourselves.
I interviewed Kerry Ingram from Community Supported Postpartum to talk a little bit about community support. Kerry teaches postpartum doulas, birth workers, and other postpartum practitioners how to get their individual practices going, and where they can really be integral in supporting families. So, Kerry supports the people who support families! Kerry also facilitates a parent and baby group. Kerry has over 22 years of experience that she brings to her work with families. And one of the things that I love most about Kerry is that she is a biological mother of a little one, and she identifies as a mother of loss, and she’s able to support families who have lost their little ones and then she’s also a foster parent. So there is no doubt that Kerry offers a broad spectrum to her work with families.
Kerry and I had a wonderful conversation about self care for new parents in which we shared perspectives on carving out time for this “mythological self-care” (as Kerry so aptly put it!)
Kerry Ingram: When I hear the term self care, there's this feeling in me that feels like time is actually squeezing me. I wonder how I fit in this mythological self care? For me personally, and for the work that I do with new parents, I've redefined self care and how I define it now is, time delegated, and being in choice of how I spend my time. And, of course the work that I do is really about community care, but I want to answer the first question about self-care first. Self-care what that really means to me is what is meaningful to me, and then somehow choosing how to align my time with those values and meaningful things.
So there's a bit of a process to that. So if I'm speaking to your audience, which is new parents or parents that are in early parenting, that's where I would start, really thinking about what are your values? What is meaningful to you? And take your time, maybe write a list, or just be in conversation about that.
Ask yourself: What are the things that feel valuable to you? And then what does that look like? What does that look like in real life? Maybe something that's valuable to you is being a good steward of the earth. What does that look like to you? Maybe that's spending time in nature, maybe that's contributing your time to local parks, buying a park pass every year and showing up for a volunteer day. Maybe having community, and having good relationships is meaningful and valuable to you. So what does that look like? Is that saying yes to making a little extra portion of something and sharing it with a neighbor? Is it accepting help or helping others—I'm just trying to keep in mind that I am speaking to new parents and you should all just be receiving right now, just receive! I think that a place to start is what's meaningful to you? What's valuable? And then what does that look like in the practical sense of activities? As we all know, time is our most precious non-renewable resource. So let's really be in choice and in that powerful position of ‘how do I wanna spend my time?’ And I know in those early parenting, weeks, months, and years, it feels like we’re just reacting. We’re in response to a need because everyone has their needs and babies have so many needs. So there's a lot of time given. So that's why when you do have time, it's nice to use that discernment and have it aligned with what is most meaningful. Right now, the idea of self care can sometimes be commodified and commercialized that it looks this way, but it looks so many different ways. It's really worth exploring what’s meaningful to you.
That is so thought provoking because, I agree, I think there's this pressure to do self care in the way that we're told, such as ‘go get a pedicure’ or ‘go get a massage,’ which for some people might really feel like self care if your value is physical touch or connection in that way, but to your point about we are giving so much as new parents, that to carve out time as a counterbalance to give to ourselves and defining what that is, is so important. I do a lot of coaching with moms advising them that, no, actually you have to step away for four hours every weekend and let your partner figure it out with their baby. And really trust that everybody in the family has their own unique rhythm and way to be with each other. It's important, especially for new parents to step away and not be engaged in the family. And just so they can be with themselves, as a form of self care.
Kerry Ingram: You know, there is this expectation—I don't know if I should even call them philosophies or frameworks or ideologies—of attached parenting or, responsive parenting, that you need to be there all the time. And the problem is some of these ideologies came out of a time or a place or a culture where everyone was involved and where there were people all around that provided. You can think of concentric circles, there's the new child and parent or parents, or whoever's in that diad or triad or there's another sibling. And then there's another circle around that, like the trusted intimate circle. And then there's a non-intimate circle that could be neighbors and friends. And so there's all of these circles that show up in all the different ways, so that everyone had needs provided for, it was just natural. We knew what to do because we were immersed in it. So sometimes these expectations that you need to do it all on your own, are a result of a social narrative that we need to be all the things. It just doesn't work! It's like we can't even feel the water in which we're swimming! We are supposed to do all of these things and we've gotta show up. And if I don't, I'm a bad parent and there's this ‘never enoughness’ and then there's burnout and it's a result of so many systems, and there's just so much we could say about that. Sometimes we do chain ourselves to this idea that 'I have to always be there.'
For me, I did a whole values clarification exercise one time and what came out of that exercise was I need connection. I didn't expect that, but when I sat with it for now, I can see that, yes, that is the thing that makes me feel okay. If I'm overwhelmed, it's conversations like this, it's meaningful connection, meaningful conversation with dear sisters or friends that makes me feel like things are balanced again. I recognize that's not for everybody, but it's for me. So if I can get that throughout my week, I'm steady. Without that, that's when I start to feel a little bit lost.
And one of my dearest friends is somebody who needs alone time. So what support looks like to her is somebody handling what needs to be handled, being with her children or somebody bringing over a meal or whatever that is. So she can just go sit outside or go for a walk and just be alone and be silent.
I actually had a discovery a few years ago that I'm really sound sensitive. And one thing when I discovered that, I asked myself what are ways that I can handle this? So I invested in noise canceling headphones, and there are just times that I just put them on and breathe and it feels so good. And I'll also be honest when I had a foster baby here who would cry for sometimes four to six hours straight with an extremely loud and upset cry, I would put those on while I held her and I would just be with her for those hours. But that was one way I could sustain myself. And while it didn’t cancel the noise out completely, it toned it down a little bit so that I wasn't so frenetic in my energy and I could meet her with a calm, loving energy.
And then another way I like to meet this question of self-care or designated time or care, self love is thinking of your senses. What are those sensory pieces for you? You know, do you want to be touched? Do you want to hear music or put on that favorite dance mix? Or do you love fresh flowers in your home? Or now's the time to just invest in those bath products that you love so much! Just go for it right now, as much as you can, bring in those sensory pieces, because you're giving so much.
And finally something that is my work in the world is community support and finding those people. I facilitate a parent and baby group. I've been doing that for nine years locally here in the Bay Area. And then I also teach other people all over the world with an online course, how to do these parent and baby groups. And what I find, which is really wonderful, is that in these groups, people make connections and they stay together. The people in the first group I facilitated are still helping each other nine years later! During the pandemic they supported each other with distance learning and pods and carpooling and childcare, and being willing to just open the door. And especially when we feel the most vulnerable and imperfect, just opening that door to see that you are not alone, you are not alone, in where you are, and being able to have that peer support and seeing, ‘oh, okay, so this is what it looks like.’ And then the other aspect is the community, the community that is not, in the early parenting season, how can we teach the community how to show up for new parents in these non-intimate ways that really acknowledge and support them where they are?
Yes, it's true. I think historically families were surrounded by extended family. That's just sort of how it was structured. There were grandparents and aunts and uncles, and everybody was nearby one another. Now in this modern day, a lot of times it's, it's one parent or two parents, but not a whole lot of extended family. So it's a totally different structure. We have to intentionally create our community, whether it's dear friends and other parents in town, or it's trusted therapists and acupuncturists and nutritionists and that type of community, because without that, it can feel so isolating. It can feel so confusing. The internet is not community. I mean, it can certainly serve a wonderful purpose, but it's not, as you said “nurturing” and there's something about that sort of real community that can be so nurturing.
There's nothing that replaces heart to heart in person connection and having a person that you can text on the phone and say, ‘Hey, let's meet in the park.’ Or, ‘Hey, I made an extra pot of soup. I'm just gonna drop it at your front doorstep.’ Or ‘what do you need right now, just checking in’ and knowing that it's not some person half, half the country away, but somebody that's actually in your neighborhood that is invested in community. And, and as time goes on, you're gonna share experiences and have that sense of place.
Yes. I remember I had two girlfriends who had babies of my daughter's age when we were new moms and we would text each other every morning and say: ‘I made it through the night.’ It was when I saw the sun come up, I’d breathe a sigh of relief and think the night's over. We're gonna start this day. I don't know how it's gonna go, but we were each other's invisible strings to say, ‘I made it through the night, did you?’ ‘Yes. I made it through the night.’ It was just something about those texts. It was like, I knew they were going through the same thing I was going through and I felt connected to them even though we were many miles apart.
Right. That connection is really the antidote for individualism, which doesn't work for new parents. It just doesn't.
It's so true.
Kerry believes that community support is essential for new parents (and every human). She teaches birth-workers and postpartum caregivers how to grow their business by adding in-person classes for new parents.
To learn more about Kerry Ingram and her work, visit Community Supported Postpartum.