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Mother's Helper

Ann Marie White and her husband, David Mowry, prepared diligently for the arrival of their first child. They transformed a bedroom of their Ossining, New York, house into a nursery, laundered dozens of brand-new undershirts, and secured the grandparents-to-be to pitch in after the baby was born. The plan: White's parents would drive down from Rochester, New York, to help out for a week. Mowry's mom would fly in from Oklahoma and take over after they left. Mowry had arranged to take two weeks off from his job as a lawyer in New York City. Every detail, it seemed, was in place for a stress-free delivery.

The grandparents' arrival certainly made the transition from hospital to home easier (especially after White went into labor a week early, the evening of Christmas Day). But by the end of January, Mowry was back in the office, working long hours. All the in-laws had gone home, and the pediatrician had warned White against taking Alexander outside in the cold, or exposing him to other children to ward off respiratory syncytial virus, a potentially serious lung infection. She was housebound for several weeks. "I loved taking care of Alexander, but I felt isolated and helpless," she admits. "I didn't want to bother anyone else with questions about the baby, or if I needed supplies, or even just to talk. I wanted to be self-sufficient."

If you're equally reluctant to ask for help, you're not alone, says Ann Grauer, the Milwaukee-based president of DONA International, the world's largest doula organization. "Women place such a premium on being independent, but there is nothing wrong with being dependent after having a child," she says. In fact, research shows that feelings of helplessness can contribute to postpartum depression -- so if you find it hard to accept aid, you've set yourself up to be unhappy, says Grauer.

The notion of self-sufficiency is relatively new. For centuries, childbirth and childcare were a community effort. Experienced moms attended a delivery and shared their parenting secrets. While you may not want a gaggle of women comparing notes in your hospital room, even the most independent mom needs plenty of support, and can get it if she follows these steps:

Figure out who can -- and can't -- help you
Before the birth, take stock of your friends and decide who can take on which tasks. But consider that the people you most want to be with you might not be the best equipped to handle the heavy lifting you'll need.

Marda Todd of Pacific Palisades, California, knew she was risking some hurt feelings when she asked her mother-in-law, not her mother, to help out after her daughter, Haley, was born. "It was just a practical decision," she says. "My mother-in-law is in much better shape. Keeping up the house was really exhausting." Todd kept her mom involved by asking her to attend the delivery.

Of course, your partner will (and should!) shoulder a number of the household responsibilities, but Ann Grauer cautions against overburdening him. New fathers are trying to adjust to their new role -- and yours. "They have needs of their own," she says.

So you'll want to establish a support network outside the family and make the most of your existing social outlets. After her second child, Matthew, was born, Jennifer Sims was overwhelmed by the aid offered by members of her church. "It felt like a huge extended family," says the Edmond, Oklahoma, mom.

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