“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new." (Osho)
Did you (or are you going to) have a baby shower? How many presents did you get for the baby? How many presents did you get for you? What would you have really liked to receive?
In many cultures around the world, there is a period of time, usually around 40 days, where a new mother is expected to do nothing but rest and feed their baby. Other people around her - typically women of the family and extended family - take care of her by massaging her, bathing, cooking nutritious foods, looking after older children, cleaning and so on.
In the UK, if you're lucky, dad will get 2 weeks of paternity leave (possibly at a much lower rate of pay than the usual salary), and then mum is on her own. She may well have family or friends nearby to help, but she is unlikely to be getting regular massage treatments and will probably be doing at least some of the household chores herself. And then, unsurprisingly, we have mothers (parents) who are exhausted, struggling with feeding, sleep and postnatal depression.
It doesn't have to be this way! There is a growing movement of birthworkers and others here wanting to reclaim the postpartum period and help new mums have the support they deserve. They have, after all, just grown and given birth to a human being! New mums are dealing with the physical toll of pregnancy and birth, changing hormone levels, disruption to sleep, engorged breasts, and the completely life-changing event of having a new, completely dependent, person in their life.
So, how can we help?
I mentioned baby showers at the beginning. Next time you're invited one, perhaps consider how useful the gift is that you're buying. Does the mum need another 10 muslins? Does she need a babygro saying "born in 2019" on it? Or could you give something else, like a book on self-care, some healing bath soak, a gift voucher for a postnatal massage or postnatal doula, or lactation consultant?
Do you consider having a massage a luxury? I think most people do. A postnatal massage might cost £50. The most expensive travel system available on Mothercare's website is around £1400. Why is one of those ok, but not the other? In many parts of the world, massage and binding of the abdomen and hips are key parts of the mother's recovery in the postpartum period. Her body has undergone some huge changes, and the organs and other tissues need help to move back to their right place and size. The abdominal muscles in particular need to "knit" back together, having separated to allow space for the baby. She may have had, or still has, discomfort in her pelvis and lower back, which can be very painful and cause long-lasting damage if not treated. Massage also has the wonderful benefits of relaxation and boosting oxytocin, which you can read more about in the M is for Massage blog here.
Closing the Bones is a traditional South American ceremony which includes abdominal massage, pelvic rocking and binding. It can be a really beautiful and healing treatment, even many years after birth.
I covered doulas in the D is for Doula blog, but essentially a postnatal doula will help to look after a new mum so that she can look after her baby. This might involve cooking, helping out with other children or watching the baby while mum catches up on some rest. Many doulas are also trained in other aspects of postnatal care such as breastfeeding, massage or babywearing. They can also provide a wonderfully comforting listening ear when mum needs it.
Pregnancy books often advise parents-to-be to fill their freezer with meals that can be heated and eaten quickly during the newborn haze. This is a great idea, but sometimes things don't go according to plan. Maybe you could take a meal round when you go to visit. And then hold on to baby while mum eats it! Or - even better - maybe you could get a group of friends together and create a meal train, where each of you provides a meal on a particular day. Not only does mum (and family) get fed, but she'll get a lovely warm fuzzy feeling from having such nice friends.
I wrote above about all the things that a new mum has to contend with, physically and emotionally. It's obvious, and yet somehow often forgotten about after the first couple of weeks. But it's so important to remember that she is healing, even months down the line. Some scientists estimate that it can take 18 months for the body to heal completely from pregnancy and birth. One parent will typically have to go back to work after a couple of weeks, so they're extra tired as well as missing out on time with the new baby. Even when it's not the first baby, there is still a huge amount of adjustment going on. So remember, having a baby is hard work! Be kind, and ask what you can do to help.
Most parents will, at some point (all the time?) want to rant about how tired they are, how many times their baby woke last night, how hard they're finding breastfeeding, how messy the house is....the list goes on. Sometimes, a rant is all that's needed! It's not always necessary to give a solution, just be there, empathise, and let them know they're doing a great job.
The Little Book of Self-Care for New Mums, Beccy Hands & Alexis Stickland
What Mothers Do, Especially When it Looks Like Nothing, Naomi Standlen
Doula UK Registered Postnatal doulas https://doula.org.uk/find-a-doula/
Closing the Bones and Postnatal Recovery Massage practitioners https://www.closingthebonesmassage.com/find-practitioner/