How can we care so much better for newborn mothers, especially during the early time after giving birth?
After my first baby was born, I felt as though I’d entered into a secret sisterhood. As if I’d become part of a private group of women who’d all journeyed to the edges of their souls to bring babies into the world. And who then never ever mentioned it. Instead this life-altering experience was disguised with glowing photos of peaceful bundles wrapped in bunny print and discussions of how much baby slept and fed, or not.
Giving birth the first time left me feeling broken. It was hard. I struggled to recover and couldn’t understand why no one had told me how hard it could be. I didn’t know much about what to expect regarding birth injuries – was it normal to be so leaky, or not be able to walk or roll over, or even sit comfortably? I had no idea how to nurture myself through recovery. Or even that I’d need to recover. I didn’t have much support around me as I had no concept of the far-reaching impact that giving birth can have on a woman’s body, heart and mind. I honestly thought I’d be back to normal in a few days, or weeks at the most. And now seven years after first giving birth I’m still recovering. But that’s another story and is exactly why I want to share with you the immense value that simple rest and nurture can offer a new mama after she’s given birth.
Mama. You don’t need to ‘bounce back’. You don’t need to lose the ‘mummy tummy’ or the ‘baby weight’ or feel pressured to conform to any other term or phrase or expectation that objectifies and disrespects bodies that have borne children.
After birth, instead of heading out to the shops or the gym and ‘back to normal’, I wonder, have you heard of the ‘the golden month’ or ‘the first 42 days’ or ‘the sacred window’?
These are names for something like what we once called ‘confinement’ or ‘lying in’ back when your (great) grandmother was birthing her children. My grandma told me how she wasn’t allowed out of bed for two whole weeks after giving birth. Traditional cultures around the world nurture and support women who have recently given birth. They feed the mother nourishing food, massage her, keep her warm and protect her, usually for around six weeks – the first 42 days after giving birth.
For women in Western cultures, this deep care and nurture post birth can seem like an indulgent luxury or even an intrusion on our independence. But motherhood is a long haul, and giving birth is just the beginning. If you don’t recover well after giving birth, that sets the scene for postnatal depression or postnatal depletion, both of which are becoming more commonplace amongst mothers of young children. Early motherhood is a wonderful time to learn the arts of rest, asking for help, and receiving support.
Just for a moment why don’t you think of your body as if you sprained your pelvic ligaments and strained your pelvic floor muscles. Compare this to if you just rolled your ankle and over stretched the ligaments there. You could add in some stitches in lieu of a torn or cut pelvic floor, perhaps imagine when you fell and twisted your ankle you also tore your calf muscle requiring stitches. Like the pelvic floor, your calf is a muscle you use when walking. If you had a cesarean, then add some more stitches, perhaps imagine these holding together a deep wound in your thigh muscles. Then imagine an open wound on your other leg, like the one left inside your womb by the placenta, and think how much care you need to take of that wound to prevent infection or excessive bleeding. The placental wound inside the womb bleeds for up to six weeks as it heals, this blood is called lochia. Now give yourself a puppy to look after. All by yourself. Doesn’t sound like that much fun does it?
Can you imagine how much help and support you would get if you had these injuries on the OUTSIDE of your body? Can you imagine how much you might rest to ensure they healed well and to prevent re-injury?
Tissues of the body have a very specific time frame for healing. The same or similar time frame applies to all injuries, wounds and surgeries. Regardless of whether you’ve just given birth and CANNOT see the injuries or if you were just a bit clumsy and stumbled managing to roll your ankle, cut and graze your leg, and end up with stitches, bandages and crutches.
It takes six weeks for INITIAL healing. This is your six week check. That doesn’t mean go jogging the same afternoon after you get home from the appointment! It means you’ve completed the initial phase of healing and now still need to take care of your body as IT CONTINUES to heal for up to TWO YEARS.
The need to rest and recover after giving birth can so easily be neglected. And the reasons we need to rest so we can heal can be hard to discuss with other women. We all want to look like we’re thriving.
There are so many things we often don’t know until we’ve had our own children. And these are things we need to talk about. We must speak up about. We have to open up the conversation around childbirth and recovery from childbirth as being normal if extraordinary life events that require deep reverence and nurture for both baby and mother.
So rest now mama. Rest, relax and recuperate. Your priorities for now are for healing, learning to breastfeed and bonding with your baby. Everything else can wait. So rest up mama.
You matter. Your body matters too. xo