You spent 853 hours searching for the right cloth diapers.
You feel like you spent 853 hours in labour.
You read all the books, you spent hours drinking tea and scribbling down birth preferences with your doula.
it feels like you’re free falling.
The well-meaning people who brought you lasagna in exchange for a few minutes holding your baby
And you’re like: W. T. F.
Over the past few years, there’s been an influx of postpartum doulas, most of whom provide pragmatic support like breastfeeding education, a few loads of laundry and a freezer meal or three. Gradually, women (and our society) are starting to recognize that a) the postpartum period might be something in need of as much consideration as pregnancy and birth; and b) professional help could be quite handy.
Although this kind of practical help is valuable, I have come to believe that there’s an entirely other kind of postpartum support also required, aimed at guiding women into motherhood as a rite of passage. It’s more than “what will I eat for lunch today” or “how will I get all this milk-stained laundry done” and more “how can I begin to integrate the experience of pregnancy and birth into my physical and emotional landscape” and “who am I now that I’m a mother.”
In my doula practice, I’ve had the opportunity to study and use some beautiful practices that support the latter, many of which come from traditions as old as the hills.
I want to offer these up to you in the form of a timeline for a different kind of postpartum experience: one that acknowledges your transition to motherhood as more than just a series of new tasks, but rather a complete identity shift.
–> Carefully consider what you would like to have happen with your umbilical cord and placenta. Consider that these life-giving elements that nourished your baby for ten months might be sacred, and could be honoured. Read this book before you birth, and be in awe.
–> Have someone bring you the exact food you want to eat, as soon after you birth as possible. Because birth is an inherently cooling process, warm, soft foods often feel best and will support you the most (ice chips, be gone!). Hopefully, someone feeds your first postpartum meal to you. You’ve worked hard, and you should be honoured with deep nourishment.
In the first week…
–> A traditional birth attendant I worked with once put it this way: “five days in the bed, five days on the bed, and five days around the bed.” It’s the most brilliant postpartum advice I can think of. This might seem challenging to you (especially if you’re harbouring any feelings that this new wee babe is the only thing holding you back from being your Normal Self again…I get it, I really do). It might even feel challenging for the people around you, who harbour well-meant concerns about postpartum depression and the belief that You Should Probably Get Out of The House. (for the record: clinical postpartum depression rarely shows up before six weeks postpartum; also, “getting out,” especially if it involves separation from your baby, is generally more anxiety-producing in new mothers). Please, please just believe me: try to set up the supports you need to just stay. in. bed.
–> Eat more warm, nourishing, comforting food. Slip this book to all the foodies in your life and bask in their delicious attentiveness (note: make sure you ask for the chicken date soup. This is what I bring to all my new mamas Trust me, you won’t regret it).
–> Have someone do a closing of the bones ceremony for you. This is a traditional South American practice in which your body, so vulnerable and open in so many ways, is wrapped in rebozo scarves. Although it’s hard to explain, it feels like a giant hug for your newly widened hips and your big postpartum feelings. When I do this practice with my postpartum clients, I include a healing Reiki session, aromatherapy, and sound therapy: it is positively magical.
In the weeks and months to come…
–> Consider doing a birth story healing and integration session with a trained professional. Birth stories are the currency for connection for so many new mothers, and the vast majority of women believe that telling and re-telling the story of their birth that they remember – or that they’ve pieced together from others’ perceptions of their birth – is the most constructive way to integrate The Biggest Experience of Life, whether it was positive, neutral, or traumatic. However, stories are funny things. They become real in our minds with re-telling, such that we actually create them based on reality, but they are not necessarily reality. For example: if you don’t remember pushing your baby out (many of us don’t, fully, because it’s a non-cognitive process), but your partner, who was terrified at the time, tells you about their experience of it, you will eventually adopt that story as your own, and tell and re-tell it until it’s consolidated and interpreted by your brain as Reality. In my ten years of experience, I can say that so much birth trauma is actually created in this way. What is needed is a way to work with your birth story, process it, and begin to heal it, if necessary. I don’t think there’s a single woman who’s had a baby who can’t benefit from this.
–> Remember that the transition to motherhood takes 2-3 years. Go easy on yourself when you’re unsure, tired, angry, frustrated, or sad. Flex your “asking for help” muscle. Circle up with a group of likeminded mothers and be together in this process.