Becoming a mother is arguably one of the most life altering transitions in a woman’s life. Traditionally, civilizations from around the world recognized this as a spiritual, emotional, and physical change from a maiden to a mother. For centuries mothers in law, mothers, sisters, aunts, wise women, midwives and doulas have encircled a new mother, descending on her to ensure she is nourished, rested, and celebrated. The focus wasn’t solely on buying the biggest and best baby shower gift, or “liking” and “commenting” on the picture perfect images shared on social media. REAL WORK was done for the new mother, who literally stood as a threshold between the spiritual and physical world to bring a new soul earth side.
In traditional cultures the mother was expected (albeit sometimes FORCED, which I know offends our American personality) to “lie in” for a period of 21-60 days, lifting not a finger to do anything but care for her infant, and herself. Special meals were made, special teas and baths poured. Herbs and oil massages helped the newly-made mother heal, mind and body. “Postpartum Depression” was a very real threat and these cultures believed, rightfully so, that by giving a woman the utmost care, the physical and mental ailments of womanhood would be avoided.
So what happened?! With all conveniences of the modern world why, oh why is the average 1 in 7 women suffering with a postpartum mood disorder!? With the constant connection of social media, email, and cell phones… why is isolation an epidemic in motherhood? Our society strives to be the MOST; the most productive, the most thin, the most tan, the most rich, the most INDEPENDENT. But what we are sorely lacking is community. We applaud the women who are back at work within a week of delivery, with their infants in a sling. We are bombarded by headlines and click bait that so-and-so “Lost the baby weight in 30 days” or “How to Bounce Back after baby.”
But…. what if…. there is no “bounce back!?”
What if we viewed this as a full transformation? That girl you knew before the baby… that girl is gone. There is now a MOTHER in her place and that mother needs time to heal, she needs time to process and she definitely needs time to figure out who the hell she is now. This lack of nurturing a woman in this time is the reason that PPMDs are so prevalent in our culture today. Women are not celebrated if they don’t jump right back on the payroll at 2 weeks postpartum. Women who ask for help are considered weak… even if it’s not stated blatantly, it’s implied.
You have to be everything to everyone and be the SUPER MOM always. And that chick just doesn’t exist.
Burn out is real, and it is rampant with the way society treats women. Women are the backbone of civilization and yet…. we are so often lost in the noise. Everyone wants to see the baby, no one wants to ask how a mother is feeling, if she’s crying herself to sleep at night, if she’s eating well, if her nipples are cracked and bleeding. Mothers are human beings, and mothers need to be mothered just as much as the infant that just emerged from their womb. Anything that the newborn needs to thrive, the mother needs also. She needs loving touch, she needs food, she needs rest and she needs love.
There are five ancient insights into the postpartum period according to the book “The First Forty Days” written by Heng Ou. These needs are retreat, warmth, support, rest and ritual.
Retreat is the need to stay still. Low activity levels are necessary for healing and keeping the immune system protected in it’s weakened state. Ayurvedic tradition says a mother moving around outside after birth is like leaving all the doors and windows of your house open and allowing the drying and physically/mentally disturbing winds of “vata” whip around inside. Keep from overworking the body and the brain during the postpartum period. Even just responding to emails, or taking a Zoom call is draining on the new mother.
Warmth is needed because of the sharp drop in blood flow after birth. Pregnant women almost double the volume of blood in their bodies during gestation, and this stops abruptly at the moment of birth. So it’s important to keep her warm to keep the blood flowing to avoid circulatory problems later in life.
Support is the key to keeping warm and being still. A mother shouldn’t be left to her housework, and childcare alone even if her partner returns to work. In fact, it is said you shouldn’t rely solely on the parenting partner for support because s/he is also going through a life changing transition and needs time to process all of his/her feelings as well. Not to mention, although the jokes are abundant… dad is actually losing sleep also with a new baby in the house. So mom needs HELP. Lots of help, and nothing is too humble for the helpers to do. Toilet needs scrubbed? Okay! Seriously, just do it… you’ll probably get to snuggle and sniff a newborn as a reward. Also, offer words of wisdom! If you know how to swaddle, or if you are a proficient breastfeeder, or if you have a book that saved you throughout the early weeks of motherhood then share it! “Postpartum support is often found on the internet as moms search for advice and companionship online at odd hours of the night.” (The First Forty Days) The internet is flooded with misinformation and conflicting opinions and those late night journeys across the world wide web can generally add more stress than anything.
Rest, what a joke, amiright!? Seriously, though, mom needs to rest as much as she can. Regardless of the type of birth a mother had she worked hard. I’ve read somewhere that giving birth is the equivalent of running not one but TWO marathons! Seriously, it really takes it out of you. Add to that the sleep deprivation from before the birth when heartburn and a squished bladder kept her up all night, and the sleep deprivation POST birth for obvious reasons… mom needs to rest in order to heal. Lack of sleep is one of the primary causes for mood disorders.
The last ancient wisdom insight is ritual… which is a bit of a struggle in our melting pot culture. If you weren’t raised with traditional rituals, then you likely don’t know how to have one. It needn’t be anything serious, or flamboyant. I strongly recommend looking up ancient rituals surrounding the rite of passage into motherhood and creating some of your own. Recognizing the metamorphosis from maiden to mother is really important for the mentality of the mother. Seeing her, as she is now, will help her to own her new self, and live her best life (as they say.)
So I want to call on the women in this culture, and the men too. Look at the girl you know who’s getting ready to have a baby and ask her what you can do to make her life easier once that baby arrives. Then do it. Take her a meal- a nourishing, warming meal. Load her dishwasher, hold her baby so she can sleep, and take the trash with you on your way out. Do not, under any circumstances show up and expect her to make you a cup of tea. Let her cry to you, help her find her way into her new role. If you are a mother, look for ways you can help new mothers that you know you wish you would have had during your own postpartum period. If you don’t have time to pitch in, buy a gift certificate for postpartum doula hours (I know a good one) so that your friend, sister, or wife can get the rest she desperately needs.
Be the village that it takes to raise the child, and the mother too.