My daughter Eevi is now 4 months old, and we have survived the newborn period and the fourth trimester! She is my second child, and the past 4 months have felt like they have just flown by.
Over the past few years, since the birth of my first child, Kristjan, I have become very interested in the concept of mothering the mother, and the post-partum period, not only for the health and wellbeing of mom, but for baby as well! And so, I would like to share with you my thoughts....
We have all heard that it takes a village to raise children, and the support that comes with this village is so crucial to the wellbeing of moms and babies.
Did you know, that in many cultures, there is a rest period for moms after giving birth, ranging anywhere from 20-60 days, whereby their 'village' takes care of all the day to day activities so that the new mom can rest and fully heal from birth and focus on bonding with her baby.
In Chinese culture and medicine, new mothers have a confinement month, sometimes called the golden month, during which new mothers are cared for to aid them in healing and recovering from pregnancy and childbirth. Healers, massage therapists, and herbalists that come to their house daily for a 40-day period with special recipes, herbs and various wraps and customs to assist them through the transition to motherhoods.
In India, the time after birth is called the sacred window, where new mothers return to their own mother's home for 6 weeks to be fed, bathed, and kept calm as they get to know their baby. The idea is that by going to their mother's home, they are relieved of all household duties - leaving them with the sole 'job' during this period of time after birth to heal themselves and get to know their baby!
In Turkey, women are kept in the company of loved ones for forty days in order to distract evil spirits.
In these cultures this rest, or confinement, period is often seen as a right of passage that one must honour. These women know that they are not alone, that they can relax because there are other women and loved ones who can take care of the home, care for the baby, and care for the mother in this new, and often vulnerable state.
After giving birth to my son Kristjan, now a busy toddler, I started reading and learning a lot more about infant mental health, birth imprints, postnatal care for women, and the concept of the fourth trimester.
The more I learned, the more curious I was as to why our culture seems to have gotten so far away from this concept of the village and resting after birth.
And why, in our Western society, you have a baby and are sent home....to figure it out on your own, while also feeling a kind of urgency to get our pre-pregnancy body and life back as soon as possible!
While pregnant this second time around, I decided that I really wanted to experiment with this concept of a 40-day confinement/rest period to really and truly get to know and bond with my baby, while also giving my body the time it needed to heal.
Well, I gave birth right before Christmas....literally 3 days before having a house full of guests - my in-laws. And while it was so amazing and nice to see them and have that family connection over the holidays (Christmas is one of my most favourite times of the year), it was also very exhausting.....I was not spending as much time in bed resting and bonding with my baby as I would have liked - mainly because I really had this fear of missing out, of not being a good hostess, of not being 'social' enough....
I did however allow myself to sleep in in the mornings, to sit/rest in one spot for most of the day, while directing and socializing with those around me, and let my husband and in-laws take over looking after my toddler, getting the Christmas meals and decorations organized, and just taking care of themselves!
It was much harder to do than I anticipated...giving up that control and feeling that I needed to take care of everything and everyone, but it was also very freeing at the same time!
I also didn't leave the house for a full 3 weeks! This was surprisingly easy for me to manage.....even me, a type A, perfectionist, needing-to-be-busy-all-the-time person. Granted....we were in the midst of the coldest temperatures of the year at the time!
And I didn't book any visits from friends, play dates, or outings/gatherings with other new moms until I hit the 6-8 week mark!
Yes, I had many moments of guilt creeping in - around all the 'lounging' around and not really 'doing anything'. But I let that come in, and then I consciously reminded myself of my goal to have a 40-day rest period. I was actually doing exactly what I had set out to do, what my baby needed from me, and what I needed to do to allow my body to heal!
I was doing something that doesn't come easily to me .... I was taking the time for ME to do what I wanted (which often involved napping, catching up on some taped shows, or reading on the couch). And yes, I often had my nursing baby attached to me or sleeping on me, but because I changed my mindset from one of DOING and caring for everyone else, into one of BEING and caring for ME and bonding with my BABY, I was okay with this!
It was okay with me that my baby needed me. And to be honest, I kind of needed this constant contact with her right in that very fresh newborn time, while we both learned to live apart and separate from each other.
Overall, my '40-days' of confinement/rest was not at all like how they do the resting and caring for moms in other cultures. I did not have a massage every day (though that would have been divine), or have special recipes and potions to take on a daily basis. I also did not stay 'confined to my bed or bedroom' for any of those 40 days.....
However, I did rest way more than I did with my first child, I leaned in and accepted the support of those around me more easily, and I consciously decided to reduce social engagements during that time.
And you know what?
It was refreshing, restful (as much as you can expect with a newborn), and I really did feel like I was doing good by my own body and by my new baby with all the connecting/bonding that was my priority. This conscious 'resting' helped me adjust my expectations, it allowed me to soften into a slower rhythm instead of rushing around at my 'normal' and familiar fast pace. It allowed me to relish in myself and my baby (with a little side dish of guilt - let's be honest). I was able to be more present and to savour the experience of my birth and my newborn baby.
In her book, 'The Fourth Trimester: A postpartum guide to healing body, balancing your emotions, and restoring your vitality', Kimberly Ann Johnson discusses the many similarities in the ways that women all over the world for are cared for after giving birth. Though specifics may differ (ie. getting daily massages, or having a confinement of 20 days vs 40 days), what is shared is the concept of creating an environment that puts importance on five universal postpartum needs:
- An extended rest period;
- Nourishing Food;
- Loving touch;
- The presence of wise women and spiritual companionship; and
- Contact with nature
In our Western culture, where this time after birth is not explicitly honoured, we as women have to take measures to create our own sanctuaries of relaxation and restoration. We need to let go of the 'superwoman' and 'I can do it all' mentality - the one where we bounce right back into our pre-pregnancy body and life - and allow ourselves as new mothers to be 'mothered', so that we can effectively learn how to lean into our new life and way of being as a mother.
And so I challenge us to challenge our current cultural and societal views. I challenge us, as a society, to try out the idea of the fourth trimester that includes a period of forty days (or however long one chooses) spent resting, nurturing ourselves and our babies, and letting others nurture us.
And if you are past the fourth trimester, then I challenge you still to embrace this concept of allowing yourself be nurtured, and supported. Allowing yourself to rest and heal. Allowing yourself to think of those 5 universal postpartum needs as non-negotiable!