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Mothering the Mother

Birth Without Fear recently posted a great piece on post-natal care (or lack thereof). Criticizing the "a healthy baby is all that matters" philosophy, Svea Boyda-Vikander calls for a more comprehensive approach to care and uses traditional cultures around the world that require a 40-day rest period for new mothers as an example. 

New mothers need support, love, tenderness; good healthcare and maternity leave. While some feel ready to do so, most of us don’t need to work out, hop back in the sack, or feel compelled to present a perfectly made-up face to the outside community. If women were able to follow the 40-day tradition, and were encouraged to truly rest during that time, it would be so beautiful. While 40 days of rest is not realistic to those of us who need to look after other children, go to school, or work to pay bills, we can change our attitudes about what is expected of ourselves and other women post-partum.

I've already made some of my problems with the "a healthy baby is all that matters" philosophy. However, I had never thought about the ways in which this idea keeps us from taking the time we need to heal after giving birth. 

I can tell you how valuable having that time is because I had it.

As most of you know, I give birth at home. However, I do not give birth at MY home. I give birth at my parents' house. When Griffin was born, we had not moved into our new house yet so it only made sense. When Amos was born, I had assumed we would move to festivities to my house. My mom changed the plans. She said her house was bigger and it would be easier to take care of everyone from her house.

You see, I don't just come over, give birth, and leave. I stay a while.

With Griffin, we stayed for almost a month. With Amos, we stayed about three weeks. My mother is out of school for the summer and my stepfather has a flexible schedule due to his work. So, when Nicholas returns to work, they take care of us. Meals, grocery runs, laundry, Mommy's Day Out dropoff. You name it they do it. 

I cannot fathom how people survive without that sort of help.

It even continues after we return home. After Amos was born, Griffin was still in a crib but I was strictly forbidden from lifting him for four weeks by my midwife. So, everday a family member would come over and put him down for his nap. At the time, the prohibition annoyed me but now I realize what a gift it was to me (and my abdonimal wall!).

I know so many of you don't have that type of family support and, in her post, Boyda-Vikander points to another piece of the puzzle that could help those without family nearby - the midwifery model of care. Again, this is something I benefited from and can't say enough about.

My midwife is there from the moment the contractions begin and stays with me until the baby is fed, asleep, and I'm on my way to bed. She bathes me and clothes me and makes sure I have everything I need. Then, she comes to my house every day for three days and then once a week for several weeks afterwards. 

No schlepping to a doctor's office or long afternoons in a waiting room. Just me and her on the couch talking things through.

I had a difficult few days after Amos's birth and I have no doubt that the reason those difficult days didn't morph into months of post-partum depression is due to my midwife. She knew me. She was in my home. She saw the signs immediately and she shut. it. down.

I am so incredibly grateful I had such extraordinary care. 

And I would still be just as grateful if I could instead describe that level of care as ordinary.

~ Sarah Stewart Holland

Reader Comments (4)

There is no one - other than my husband and kids - with whom I could share space for that period of time. However, I wholeheartedly agree with your premise. If my daughter (and sons if their wives don't hate me) has kids I look forward to providing the kind of support you describe. (And your midwife is pretty awesome. I don't remember the no-lifting rule. Pretty sure that means I broke it. Pretty sure I didn't tell her I broke it.)

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Michelle, I think a big piece of it is I'm at HER house. My mom doesn't fill like a live in servant and I can relax as the guest and feel like there is stuff I "need" to be doing.

April 4, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Stewart Holland

I'm lucky that I can also count myself blessed with family to help. I wrote about my own village not too long ago. I tend to lean on my family a lot and did so during my pregnancy this past summer and after my own homebirth.

Thanks for the commentary! I'm so happy to hear about the wonderful care you've received. It sounds amazing. Like you, I wish it were the norm...

One of the many things I didn't address in my post was the way that a community of other people looking after us can end up being a double-edged sword. Especially today when parenting beliefs have changed so much over the course of a few generations. It's wonderful that your mother sounds so well aligned with your own beliefs. I know many women struggle with the 'help' that they receive because it turns out to be anything but help at all...

Midwives are like mothers we choose. So that's a blessing, too. ;)

April 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSvea Boyda-Vikander

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