Welcome to the first post in this series, Thriving through the 4th Trimester. Follow me as I share what I learned applying traditions from other cultures to my own postpartum journey. It is my hope that this knowledge will serve as a guide for how to truly care for a woman, as she transitions from maiden to mother, in the most wholistic way possible.
During my first pregnancy, I read a variety of books to prepare me for how to be a mother. They covered how to combat common ailments during each of the three trimesters of pregnancy. Topics included: nausea, muscle cramping, and difficulties sleeping. They also offered tips for nursing and sleep training, and discussed a parent’s options regarding vaccinations. But I read nothing that prepared me for how I would feel during the early days postpartum. I knew caring for my new little one was going to be a 24/7 experience, but the effects of hormonal imbalance combined with prolonged sleep deprivation came as a shock. I didn’t anticipate the whirlwind of emotions: fear, anxiety, sadness, joy, guilt, anger, frustration, and love. Sometimes they hit me all at once, and I felt overwhelmed by the deluge.
So, during my second pregnancy, I found myself more drawn to books on how to prepare for the fourth trimester.
The fourth trimester refers to the twelve weeks following delivery. During this time, the infant is getting acclimated to the world outside the womb, and the woman is transitioning into her new role as mother. This transition to motherhood is also known as matrescence, and much like adolescence it can be hormonally and emotionally charged. There are physical, psychological, and emotional changes occurring simultaneously during this monumental time of transition. Many women wrestle with things like accepting/loving their new identity (physical and egotistical); family dynamics (relationship with partner, self, and baby); feelings of guilt or shame; and mourning the loss of their social life, privacy, or “me” time.
Sounds fun right?! Since I dealt with a lot of those issues in my first postpartum experience, I decided to make an effort to do it better the second time around. A couple of my friends recommended the following books, and said they might help me feel more prepared:
Ayurveda Mama – “The tools needed to assure that your Sacred Window, or postpartum period, is one of the most profound and memorable experiences of your life; assuring that you are deeply nourished and cared for so that you can care for your little one.”
Mama’s Menu – Use food to “Regain your vitality quickly, as well as avoid problems including low milk supply, exhaustion and baby colic.”
The First 40 Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother – “As modern mothers are pushed to prematurely “bounce back” after delivering their babies, and are often left alone to face the physical and emotional challenges of this new stage of their lives, The First Forty Days provides a lifeline—a source of connection, nourishment, and guidance.”
I devoured these books. I loved that there were cross-cultural similarities between the Chinese and Indian authors’ instructions on how to care for a mother during this sensitive time. I loved that all of the efforts were to help the mother heal to the best of her ability: emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And, beyond healing, these types of support helped her transition from maiden to mother in a way that allowed the mother to focus on the relationship she would be developing with her child. Each book gave guidelines as to how to achieve that. And the messages were so similar.
My mind was blown. I felt like my American-white-girl culture had robbed me of this knowledge and replaced it with ideas of consumerism, one in which “help” was understood as synonymous with purchasing power. The people in my circles were kind and generous. They had good intentions and genuinely wanted to help, but their question was always, “What do you still need for your new baby?” And, as a first time mother, I truly didn’t know what I needed- but I definitely had enough stuff.
This focus on buying support is endemic to our culture because marketing has a stronghold on our education in and around birth and the postpartum window. My grandmother was anesthetized during her birthing experiences. She bottle-fed with formula, because that’s what the media was encouraging women to do at the time—insisting that formula was the superior choice for a baby. (Sidebar: that is not a diss on formula or bottle-feeding. It’s a diss on marketing driving the American education around birth, the postpartum window, and, ultimately, the choices we make as mothers. I supplemented with formula, and I hold the belief that fed is best for a number of reasons. But that is for another blog post.)
My mother chose to breastfeed, without any kind of lactation consult or help from her mother on how to make that work. And, at that point, there wasn’t even internet to look up how to deal with any of the problems that can arise with breastfeeding. Her second child had “colic” and struggled with food allergies throughout childhood and adolescence.
What I know now makes me wonder: How much different could my mother and little brother’s experience have been if our culture prioritized education around this transition to motherhood? What knowledge could have been passed through the generations, what benefits gleaned, and what harms avoided?
So there I was, seeking a better way on my own. I had no innate knowingness of how to care for a new mother ingrained in me or in any of my lineage, so I started looking for guidance from other cultures in the hopes of creating a paradigm shift in my own.
See, in my culture (through my lens as a Physical Therapist specializing in Women’s Health) I have observed the postpartum window as the beginning of chronic physical maladies, mental health issues, and hormonal imbalance. Prolonged issues of these kinds can lead to pelvic floor pain and dysfunction (e.g., incontinence, pain with sex, diastasis recti, low back and hip problems, organ prolapse), chronic obesity, and emotional problems like anxiety and depression. When these issues go untreated, they can negatively affect relationships with those we are closest to. Sometimes marriages even suffer or fail as a result.
The books listed above were all saying that caring for the mother during her early postpartum window was essential to preventing these very issues. So I wanted to see first hand how it affected me. I tried to apply the concepts from these books, to the best of my ability, during my second postpartum experience.
It felt important. And I want to tell you all about how and why.
So I’m writing this series of posts because I want to make it my mission to spread the word on how we can do this better. This postpartum window can be a healing and rejuvenating experience. Let’s take care of the women in our families and our friend circles in a way that’s truly helpful. Not because we should be pampering or spoiling new mothers, but because we should be helping them feel supported, nourished, and cared for during this vulnerable time. Together, we can create space for them to fully heal and come out of their postpartum experience completely rejuvenated.
I hope the things I’ve learned will help you on your journey!
If you are currently pregnant, or have just had a baby, consider sharing this with your support group so that they can provide you with the kind of help you need to be able to focus your time where it’s really important!
Next in this series—Thriving Through the 4th Trimester: Setting the Intention to Rest