What I would have given for a Jess Prescott after I gave birth to my first baby. And my second. And right now, for that matter, as I tow my 3 + 5 year old to daycare and rush to work, only to rush back two hours later with reports of a snotty nose. Then home to the impossible task of working while parenting as my “sick” child climbs mountains of folding yelling for snacks. Infinite, eternal snacks. 

Jess says postpartum is forever. And maybe that’s a healthy way to look at things. Because rates of postpartum depression are at an all-time high. Daycare fees are inordinate. And a third of mothers describe their birth as traumatic. There’s immense pressure to look incredible, have meaningful careers and “hold space” for our kid’s tsunami of emotion. All on Very. Little. Sleep. 

We need all the support we can get. At a policy level, in the workplace, at home, in life. Jess provides that support through Mama Goodness. And teaches us how to ask for it.

Ashe Davenport: There’s pressure on birthing people to “snap back” after the baby arrives, physically, emotionally, socially, etc. How much do you hate that on a scale of 1-100?

Jess Prescott: I don’t ‘hate’ it per se, but I am deeply saddened by it as it is detrimental to the mental and physical health of birthing people, which trickles down to their children, their community, and society at large. Nothing is the same after birth. How can they be when we have gone through one of the most monumental transitions we will ever go through as humans? To grow and birth a baby is a massive undertaking that requires deep rest in the days, weeks and months that follow. Birthing people need to be physically and emotionally nourished, and given the time and space to bond with the living, breathing piece of themselves they have brought into the world. And not worry about whether or not their jeans fit.

My Maternal and Child Health Nurse was most interested in weighing grams and ticking boxes. And my Parents’ Group was grim. What do you think is missing from the standard support systems available to new parents? 

Compassion. Help. FOOD. Raising little humans is just so hard, and even with the best supports in place, sleep deprivation can make the strongest of people unravel. There needs to be more acknowledgment of this, and the narrative needs to shift so that people feel safe admitting they aren’t coping. We need to normalise the challenges that parents of small humans go through, so that others know how to help, and so that help becomes the norm and not the thing we seek out only when we are at rock bottom.

It also truly baffles me that support tends to only last for 6 or so weeks, and anything beyond that is considered indulgent. After the meal train runs out and the doula and midwife visits stop, we are left on our own with a tiny baby and sometimes multiple other children. Most babies are still waking multiple times in the night and we are unable to put them down in the day time, not even to shower or fix ourselves something to eat. Time after time, I’ve seen new mums struggle with this as I bid them farewell at my final Postpartum Doula visit. There is a sense of bewilderment as they wonder how they will survive the days alone after feeding their hungry little babies all night now that partners have gone back to work and all paid support has come to a bittersweet end. Society needs to change its view of mothers so that they are shown the reverence they deserve, rather than being cast aside until they are able to rejoin the workforce.

I notice a lot of people’s eyes glaze over when I talk about motherhood. Either that or they’re completely horrified. How do you respond to that?

Haha oh the eye glaze. I mean, I get it. They have different interests to me and that’s ok. I’m not sure I was overly excited about the children of strangers before I was a mother myself. Now I understand that to most people, our children are an extension of ourselves, and when people pay attention to our kids or our boring stories about our kids, it is deeply validating. People who GET that are very special. 

As for the horror, well, I remind them that the love outweighs it all. It really does. It doesn’t make sense until you know that love yourself, but it does. Motherhood is the most deeply humbling journey I have ever been on, and it has added a depth to my character that I am grateful for, even on the hardest of days.

Social media: friend or sadist to a vulnerable parent craving connection/visibility? 

Both! We are very lucky to have access to so much information and connection at our fingertips and I know I’m not alone when I say that Instagram made the endless hours of breastfeeding more bearable. But it is up to us to curate our feed. If someone makes us feel yuck, either unfollow or mute them. We owe no explanation to anyone except ourselves.

I burned with shame at the thought of someone knowing I wasn’t coping. What would you say to that new parent who desperately needs help, but refuses to admit it?

Oh gosh, I wish you could see how hard it is for everyone, that you are not alone in your struggles and that even that ‘perfect mum’ to whom everything comes effortlessly is struggling. Everyone is struggling in their own way, even non-parents. It’s ok to need help. It’s normal to need help. How this help looks will be different for everyone but you are not alone. It is FUCKING HARD to raise a family.  It’s not something we were ever supposed to do alone, so to feel like you need help means there is something RIGHT with you, not something wrong.

I also want to add that postpartum depression is most commonly diagnosed when the firstborn child is 4 years old – regardless of whether subsequent children are born. Keep checking in on your friends, people. Especially the strong ones and even when their babies aren’t babies anymore.

How do you hope a new mum feels after a delivery from Mama Goodness? 

Loved. Seen. Relieved. Overjoyed. Like a giant weight has been lifted off their shoulders. That they can rest easy knowing that meals and snacks are taken care of for the next few days, and that everything they consume will be bringing them maximum nutrition. Like they are a part of our village.

What’s the last miniature joy you experienced?

Oh, they are all around me! This morning when Andy handed me my coffee. Every morning when Jude says ‘you have a good sweep mama?’ as he wraps his little body around mine. Or when he grabs my face and says ‘I wuv you so much’ followed by ‘I wuv your hair’.

How should people support new mums when they are visiting – What are the visitor ‘do’s and don’ts’ for 0-6 weeks postpartum?

Don’t expect to visit in the first couple of weeks. It is such a tender and raw time, most people have no idea what day or time it is and are still bonding with their baby and learning to breastfeed. If you are lucky enough to receive an invite over, bring food. Send a message when you’re on your way, reminding them that they don’t need to tidy before you come, and asking if they need anything. Even if they say no, ALWAYS BRING FOOD. Only stay for a maximum of an hour and make sure you wash your hands but don’t for one minute expect to hold the baby, unless they ask you to so that they can shower/go to the bathroom/play with their toddler/nap. Make them a tea and wash any dishes in the sink while you are at it. Ask how you can help. Give heaps of attention to their other children. Don’t be late, they probably have naps and midwife visits scheduled around your visit.

And 6+ weeks postpartum?

Again, food. Don’t expect that because the birthing person is past that 6 week mark they are miraculously able to resume their old life. Getting out of the house with a small child is a full time job. Offer to go to them, unless they are desperate for an outing in which case, invite them over and send them home with food. Tell them how amazing and beautiful they are, tell them you are in awe of them, and ask them how they are TRULY doing. 

Did I mention you should always give a person with a new baby FOOD??!! Even when they have a 6 or 9 month old, they need food!

What food should we bring to a friend who has just had a baby?

Anything that’s easy to digest, can be eaten with one hand and can be frozen if their fridge is full already (lucky them!). Think soups, stews, lasagna, cottage pie etc. To me, a perfect food hamper contains a lasagna, a soup, a loaf of bread, something sweet such as chocolate or cookies, and tea. Of course you can always just order a pack from Mama Goodness. But seriously, even a pie from your local bakery will be appreciated. New mums are HUNGRY!

FAMILY FAVOURITES

Family cafe

It’s not really a café, but a small Turkish bakery that my family frequents – Tammy’s at the Preston market. Tammy is the loveliest person and she is vegan which means there are endless vegan options as well as non-vegan options. The mushroom and cheese borek is heaven and if you are lucky enough to visit on a day when Tammy has made dolmas, you are in for a treat. I love it so much. There are so many great cafes in Melbourne but none of them feel like home the way Tammy’s does.

‘Me time’ activity?

Pilates, baby!

Sunday morning breakfast ritual? 

Sunday mornings are just as chaotic as the rest of the week as the boys still want brekky at 6am which is way too early for me to eat. But on a good week, I make sourdough on Saturday which I then bake first thing Sunday morning. By the time it’s ready to eat, the boys are ready for their second breakfast and we sit together and eat endless slices. They call it ‘mama bread’. It’s really special.

Weekend getaway?

Anglesea used to be our go-to because my in-laws had a house there. They recently sold, which is bittersweet because we truly love that part of Victoria, but it means we are being forced to explore other pockets of regional Victoria. I have to say, I am yet to be disappointed, we are really very lucky here and manage to find yum food and good op shops wherever we go.

Head to Mama Goodness to book one of Jess’s postpartum doula or food services. And you can check out her brilliant cookbooks, Vegan One-Pot Wonders, Vegan Goodness & Vegan Goodness: Feasts

Need support with perinatal anxiety and depression? You’re not alone. This is a serious illness that affects up to one in five expecting or new mums and one in ten expecting or new dads. PANDA (Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia) is a great resource for women, men and families who need help – click here to find out more.  

Cookbook author, postpartum doula and co-founder of Mama Goodness, Jess Prescott, with her two boys Louie and Jude. Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Little Jude and Jess reading a book. Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Jess and her husband Andy at home in Preston. Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Andy, Louie, Jude and Jess in bed! Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Jess with Louie, who started school this year. Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Jess is a vegan chef who has written multiple coobooks! Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

The family at their dining table. Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Jess letting Jude outside. Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Louie checking on the lemons in the backyard. Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Jess and Jude cheersing with watermelon! Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

Jess and Jude having a snack. Photo – Bri Hammond for The Design Files.

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