I recently finished a series of classes with some truly beautiful, anticipatory, and excited pregnant women and their partners. I cover postpartum planning during the final class and I always feel a tension between accurately addressing the emotional upheavals of welcoming a baby into your life and marriage and “protecting,” in a sense, their innocent, hopeful, eager, and joyful awaiting of their newborns.
This time, I started with a new quote that I think is beautifully true as well as appropriately cautionary: “The first few months after a baby comes can be a lot like floating in a jar of honey—very sweet and golden, but very sticky too.” –American College of Nurse-Midwives
In Uganda there is a special word that means “mother of a newborn”–-nakawere. According to the book Mothering the New Mother, “this word and the special treatment that goes with it apply to a woman following every birth, not only the first one. The massages, the foods, the care, ‘they have to take care of you in a special way for about a month.'”
There is a special word in Korea as well. Referring to the “mother of a newborn child,” san mo describes “a woman every time she has had a baby. Extended family and neighbors who act as family care for older children and for the new mother. ‘This lasts about twenty-one days…they take special care of you.'”
These concepts—and the lack of a similar one in American culture—reminds me of a quote from Sheila Kitzinger that I use when talking about postpartum: “In any society, the way a woman gives birth and the kind of care given to her and the baby points as sharply as an arrowhead to the key values of the culture.” Another quote I use is an Asian proverb paraphrased in the book Fathers at Birth: “There is a proverbial saying in the East: The way a woman takes care of herself after a baby is born determines how long she will live.” While this quote usually gets some nervous laughter, I think it is impresses upon people how vital it is to plan for specific nurturing and care during this vulnerable time.
Dana Raphael, the author of Breastfeeding: The Tender Gift, who is best known for coining the word “doula” as it is presently used, also coined another valuable term: matrescense. “Nothing changes life as dramatically as having a child. And there was no word to describe that. So we invented the word—matrescence—becoming a mother.”
The postpartum law of threes
I also share the “law of threes” with my clients which I learned from an article titled “Baby Moon Bliss” by Beth Leianne Curtis in Natural Life, Fall 2008:
A helpful tool I share with students and clients of mine is what I describe as the ‘law of threes’ when beginning the postpartum period. The first three days after your baby is born, try to stay in bed or at least in your bedroom. Many other cultures worldwide have much longer ‘lying in’ periods for mother and baby. If you can give yourself the much-deserved rest of focusing on breastfeeding, sleeping, eating, and recovering from the work of labor, your body and your baby will thank you for it. While birth is a healthy, normal event, honor the recovery process that your hard working body needs and deserves. The less you physically do in the initial few days following childbirth, the better and stronger you will feel in the weeks ahead. …Next, prepare to have three weeks of meals readily available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner….” (don’t forget plenty of snacks at easy reach for breastfeeding!)
Finally, understand that those first three months after birth are truly a time to embrace the unexpected…for some mothers, after three months is when breastfeeding really begins to be fun and easy. Many parents find that at the end of this [fourth trimester] transitional time, baby has moved through any colicky phases and that suddenly baby looks and acts more like a ‘real person.’…Physically, this is when your body begins to return to its pre-pregnancy state.
When I present about this topic to groups, sometimes I hear the following types of remarks: “Getting back out made me feel better, I would be miserable lying around in bed all day”—at the time when my own first baby was born, I would have said this was true for me as well, but looking below the surface shows me something else. Someone who hadn’t planned for a nurturing, comforting, supportive postpartum cocoon and who hadn’t given herself permission to rest, relax, and restore. The same high-achieving style that served me well in the workplace did not nourish me physically or emotionally as a tender new mother. I firmly believe that a nurturing postpartum downtime lays foundation for continued “mother care” self-nurturing for the rest of your life.
Then, in my notebook, I found the following relevant quotes that I had saved from the book Natural Health After Birth by Aviva Jill Romm:
“Too often women develop the mindset that a good mother gives all and takes nothing for herself. Remember, this is a great cultural fallacy. A good mother gives of herself to her children, but she has to have a self to give. A good mother nurtures herself, develops her own interests, even if in small ways, and grows as a person along with her children. Children don’t need us to be martyrs; they need us to be their mothers. A self-actualized mother sets an example for her own daughters that becoming a mother expands identity, not limits it.”
–Aviva Jill Romm, Natural Heath After Birth
“To put a child on Earth, an immense amount of creative intelligence flowed from the Great Spirit, through nature itself into your body, heart, and mind–remaining now, as an integral part of your own spirit. This energy is yours forever. Like a pocket, deep and filled with magic seeds of creativity and healing, this is the source of unconditional loving from which every wise woman since the beginning of time has drawn her strength.”
“Motherhood is raw and pure. It is fierce and gentle. It is up and down. It is magic and madness. Single days last forever and years fly by…Be gentle with yourself as you travel, dear mother. Don’t miss the scenery. Don’t miss conversation with your traveling companions. Laugh at the bumps and say ‘ooh, aah!’ on the hairpin turns. Buckle your seat belt. You’re a mom!”
–Aviva Jill Romm
Planning for Postpartum—this is one of my past articles that I remain proud of
How other cultures prevent PPD—helpful article by Kathleen Kendall–Tackett
DONA’s handout for making a postpartum plan—I think couples should spend at least as much time to developing a postpartum plan as they do to making their birth plans.
Support & Sanity Savers handout for class from Great Expectations—this is one of my very favorite postpartum handouts to use for birth classes, particularly the last page which is a “request for help after the baby is born” letter to prospective helpers that includes a “coupon” for people to fill out with what they’re willing to do for the new parents.
“sometimes I hear the following types of remarks: ‘Getting back out made me feel better, I would be miserable lying around in bed all day’—at the time when my own first baby was born, I would have said this was true for me as well, but looking below the surface shows me something else. Someone who hadn’t planned for a nurturing, comforting, supportive postpartum cocoon and who hadn’t given herself permission to rest, relax, and restore. The same high-achieving style that served me well in the workplace did not nourish me physically or emotionally as a tender new mother. I firmly believe that a nurturing postpartum downtime lays foundation for continued ‘mother care’ self-nurturing for the rest of your life.”
I totally agree with the heart of what you’re saying here. We all deserve (our own and everybody else’s) permission “to rest, relax, and restore” and be nurtured and supported during the postpartum days and months. But I also believe that what truly feels like “nurturing postpartum downtime” for a particular person may not be forcing herself to stay in bed when she doesn’t want to be there. I lounged about with my baby and partner on our sofa and in bed a ton during the months (years!) after Noah was born, and I didn’t get dressed a whole lot during those early weeks. But I also took him to our co-op (with my mom and Eric) for a quick outing the day after he was born, not to go grocery shopping but to get outside and show off the baby to my community, and it was wonderful. We went to our famers’ market that week, and the love and sunshine we got there were incredibly nourishing. I got scolded by the appalled woman who ran a nearby Ethiopian restaurant because my family went there for supper one night when Noah was maybe a week old–why was I not still in bed?!?–but … I wasn’t in bed because I wanted to gorge on Ethiopian food with people I loved, baby included.
I was in labor for a few days and stayed in one room the whole time, which left me sort of stir-crazy (I’m a bit claustrophobic). We didn’t have a gorgeous outdoor area around our home like yours; we’ve always lived in apartments. Getting out, a little at a time and not to accomplish anything or out of any sense of obligation, was deeply soothing for me and was my way of introducing and integrating my precious tiny baby to the world I loved. That seems different to me, and okay.
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I’m about to have baby #2 and I worry about an abundance of support the first week (when we have a postpartum doula), the poof! I’m not feeling closely connected to that many friends who live nearby, and family will be flying in from out of town in very short shifts, possibly staying at hotels. I don’t feel comfortable giving friends a form to fill out. One friend was miffed that I emailed a list of desires for the birth, when I asked if she’d attend and be our toddler’s care giver! Suffice it to say, she’s not attending the birth now. I’m planning a home birth and worried people won’t realize I am healing, because I am not in a gurney in the hospital. How do I get adequate support?
These are good questions! I would suggest perhaps seeing if you can hire the postpartum doula on a reduced schedule for the second week following the birth. Can your partner take more time off work? Would it be an option to send articles like the one you commented on or some of my others to people and let them know that these are the thoughts that are on your mind? You can maybe tell people exactly what you’ve said to me–“I’m really excited to have this baby at home and recover amidst your loving support. It may be more difficult to remember that I’m in a healing process and need a lot of support, since I won’t be in the hospital, so I hope you will remember that I need time for restoration and recovery as well as to get to know our new baby. If you would like some specific ideas of how to help here are some articles and/or here is a list of things I think we’ll need. Thank you so very much for your care and support!”
Do you have anyone to set up a postpartum Care Calendar for you? That works really well with my circle of friends and might be helpful to you as well!
Best wishes for a beautiful birth and a rich, nurturing postpartum babymoon!
Thanks for this insightful response.
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