'She triumphantly gave birth at home on Saturday afternoon, ended up in hospital after losing a lot of blood, went home on Sunday morning still very shaky on her feet, cloudy in her mind and damaged in spirit. Then on Monday morning at 5am, eyes red and teary and heart full but heavy, she said goodbye to her husband as he went off to work. She was then left to care for her 2.5 year old, her 2 day old baby and her newly postpartum body, mind and spirit, alone.'
What happened to the magic 40 days of recovery for this second time newborn mother? That vital period of recovery barely exists for women living in a westernised society and it is causing a lot of harm.
During pregnancy we spend so much time and energy preparing for labour and birth that we often neglect to pay much attention to or plan for the days and weeks after the main event.
It’s usually only after we’ve given birth for the first time that we realize how underprepared we are for the momentous journey that commences after birth.
Add to that the frightening truth that about a third of us will go home not only with a tired body, vulnerable heart and a tiny new human but a wound from major abdominal surgery, the effects of anesthetics and pain killers and a cocktail of synthetic hormones circulating through our bodies.
The early days and weeks after birth are where a newborn mother and her baby learn to bond with each other and fall in love. The oxytocin from labour is still very high which facilitates this process. Breastfeeding is initiated, learned and consolidated and the flow of the new family dynamic is established.
A newborn mother needs time for her physical body to heal, regardless of the birth she had.
The 40 day recovery that is so common in nearly all traditional cultures happens to coincide with the time it takes for the uterus to fully contract down to its resting size and for the flow of lochia from the uterus to cease. A newborn mother also needs time to process many thoughts and feelings. The events of her birth - both positive and negative, perhaps the sadness of the end of pregnancy, perhaps gender disappointment, perhaps sadness at knowing this is her last baby, perhaps feelings that have arisen from previous births, the utter enormity of the entire life phase. There are hundreds more possibilities.
There is a saying that the first 40 days after birth impact the next 40 years of a woman's life. That's massive.
Newborn mothers desperately need their postpartum protected. This can be facilitated by her partner, family, friends or a local cooperative of friends specifically designed for this purpose (preferably all of the above).
With a protected and nourished postpartum, women benefit and a flow on effect is observed. Children benefit, families benefit and communities benefit which means the whole world benefits.
'She gave birth in her chosen place of birth, fully supported and honoured by her midwives, birth partner and other support people present who witnessed the miracle that she alone achieved. She was helped into her bed with her new baby and brought warm, nourishing food caringly prepared by those who love her. For the next few days she spent most of her time in bed, skin to skin with her new baby while those who loved her took care of her older children, the washing, cooking, cleaning and everything else her family required. She had supportive and nourishing company when she needed it and was left alone when she needed that too. It was many days, even a few weeks before she left the warmth and comfort of her house to venture out with her new baby and it was several weeks after that before she was again fully responsible for caring for all of her children and her normal daily life. But even then, she was a different person, she had given birth again, she had transformed again and everyone who loved her understood and honoured this, never once expecting her to ‘bounce back to her old self’ because that old self doesn’t exist any more. She is a newborn mother.'
The first story was my second postpartum experience, not dissimilar to my first. The story at the end is my imaginary ideal postpartum experience. I used to mourn the fact that it might remain in my imagination forever but now I'm lucky enough to be expecting my third baby and, come hell or high water, my postpartum is going to be amazing!
If you are pregnant right now, you have the opportunity to make the second story your reality. It takes planning, support and a willingness to say 'yes, I do need help' and 'I do matter'.
What was your postpartum experience?
I live in Darwin in Australia's Tropical North and am the mother of three beautiful children. I am blessed with working with women through their fertility, preconception, pregnancy, birth and early parenting journeys. I am committed to lifelong learning and am interested in nutrition and natural health, the childbearing cycle, natural parenting philosophy and practice and the spiritual journey of motherhood.