A new mother’s needs vs. social expectations
I’m an Ayurvedic Consultant and Postpartum Doula. I direct a program to teach this to others. I know the importance of the 42 days and the serenity in surrendering to this time of healing. Working with mothers before, during and after their transformation into motherhood is a mission and a passion for me. So why was it so hard for ME to sit back and surrender to being cared for?!? Surrendering is hard, yet the serenity in it is real. Practice…it gets easier =)
Yes, the world moves fast. And of course our modern society, far removed from ancient medicine, has little room for honoring the sacredness of birth and postpartum. Yet, even when my radar was up about what I should be doing (and not doing…), I was itching to get back into my regular activities.
Ayurveda identifies the 42 days after childbirth as a “kayakalpa”, or “body time”. Our senses are heightened, our tissues are ready for renewal, and the opportunity for receiving benefits from ANY conscious care is exponential.
In most ancient cultures and in many traditional cultures today, mothers are given seclusion with their babies. They are brought specific foods, they are kept warm, and family and friends take over mom’s responsibilities. And because it is built into the fabric of that culture, mothers expect and know how to receive this kind of care.
Unfortunately, there is little tradition to fall back on for many of us, and reaching out to solicit specific support from friends and family can feel hard. Downright presumptuous and intrusive sometimes! When care is lined up from professionals: birth and postpartum doulas, food preparation, herbal support, placenta preparation, lactation consultants, massage therapists, etc., family members may wonder why all this luxury is needed when generations before have “gotten by” without all the extras. Sigh.
Well, I am reinforced in my efforts by the ants in my own postpartum pants to jump back into action when I KNOW in my cells that the opposite is needed. Perhaps when mothers insist on their own extra support, daughters will remember. And then granddaughters will get stories of Grandma’s sacred window. They’ll hear stories about the family and friends who stepped in to bring food and take care of the kids. Then when their own time comes, they will have seen it done, and expect it for themselves.
It’s not just about knowing what to do. Surrendering into the sacred window is about recognizing that these 42 days are TEMPORARY. That the time to get back into action and pick up the pace will happen. It most certainly will, and if there are older children in your life, it will happen with a vengeance. There is serenity in patience. Surrendering to inaction is opposite to how I feel on a daily basis outside of my postpartum windows. I am moving most of the time! I have found rhythm in facilitating the lives of 4 children, numerous animals, work and maintaining a partnership with my husband. To lay back and receive….ASK for things….keep out of the ongoing activity happening downstairs and within earshot, is a different type of rhythm, and one that takes getting used to.
In Ayurveda, (nature’s law) life is comprised of different elements, which combine in different quantities in each season, during each time of life, times of day, and also each individual’s constitution of body, mind and spirit. The balance of the elements is affected by change and circumstance. After a woman has a baby, the elements of air and space (Vata Dosha), are heightened. In the body, an excess of vata dosha can cause dryness of the skin, and hair. It can cause digestion to be irregular, and gas to be present. The mind can feel restless, spacey, or anxious. Pile these symptoms onto a mom who has had little sleep, is recovering from childbirth, and is trying to integrate a new person into the family… it can be a recipe for major overwhelm!
Yes, there are preferred foods that can help a mom be nourished in the right ways. And yes, gentle postpartum oil massage is amazing for reducing vata on so many levels. Absolutely, a group of friends and family who can bring food and help out with mom’s responsibilities is SO important. These things will help reduce the feeling of restlessness. But sometimes there needs to be more.
The Serenity in Surrendering…
We can go on and on about the benefits of structured meditation, of specific breathing practices, pranayama techniques, and the like. And these benefits are real, vast, and wonderful. If there is a specific meditation and pranayama practice in your life, this can be used during postpartum to counterbalance the sway of hormones, fatigue, discomfort and transformation that colors the postpartum window. However, for many women who do not have a regular structured practice, I suggest something more simple and accessible.
I suggest surrender. Sinking back into those pillows and breathing deeply while my babe rocks that awesome latch that took 6 tries to get right. Surrendering to letting someone else help the screaming toddler in the kitchen downstairs. Filling my lungs and body with breath (prana) as I lay there (knowing I should be napping but can’t quite make it happen) and repeating the rhythm over and over again. By gosh – it is helping and somehow I’m feeling better!
I suggest surrendering to dragging myself out of bed when he’s up yet again to nurse, thinking of all the millions of nursing mothers who are in solidarity with me around the globe. I’ll sleep at some point =) My breath, my baby and me gently rocking in the chair in the quiet dark bedroom. My husband softly snoring and the kitty curled up at my feet. This is peace, for this moment. I’m tired, I smell like breast milk, and I have this wonderous being snuggled up to my body who is a gift from the universe.
I can just be. I can be tired, and I will sleep fully and deeply and uninterrupted again. I can be slow, and I will be running behind my little one as he toddles surprisingly fast through the house next year. I can be quiet, and I will be social with my friends and family when the time comes. I can be cared for and I will care for others when I am healed and ready. I can surrender to now knowing that each day I am gifting myself with energy for later.
Surrender takes practice and it takes reminding. I can put a little message next to my bed that reminds me to surrender. I can wear a little token around my wrist or neck that reminds me to be here, now, doing this surrendering business, because later I’ll thank myself. Breathe, sink back, surrender. Notice the soft sounds my baby makes, and how my breasts respond, aching to nourish him. Notice how the light lays on my bed, I’m rarely here during the daytime hours. Notice how my heart has grown larger, to take in the love I have for this new being who has graced my life. Taking pictures of his ten little toes, and a selfie or two of us during these precious slow moments. Sigh (of contentment).
Next time I feel the urge to go take care of something, I touch the token around my neck, or take a deep breath of surrender. The time will come. Now is for me, for him, for us.