I’ve just finished looking after a new mum as a postnatal doula.
As I supported the new mother, once again I was reminded of the fact that our culture’s focus, when it comes to postnatal recovery, is completely wrong.
Our culture got it wrong because it focuses entirely on the new baby, when it should be focusing on the new mother.
I have touched on this before when talking about postnatal recovery, but I need to dedicate a whole post about this topic.
What it boils down to is in fact very simple.
A new baby’s needs, too, are very simple: food, warmth and shelter.
But those needs are also incredibly intense and time consuming, because babies need a lot of cuddles, and feeding little and often.
Traditional wisdom around the world understands this well, and new mothers are nurtured, and are not expected to cook, do chores and or look after other children etc for at least a month after the birth of a baby.
The support often comes in the form of extended family and local community, or an older woman or young girl is hired to help.
This happens because these cultures understand how important it is for a mother to recover physically and emotionally after growing and birthing a baby- and also how important it is for her to have time to get to know her new baby.
The nurturing takes place in the form of special nourishing dishes, as well as physical practises such as massage and/or binding of the abdomen or hips with a cloth (again many cultures are very specific about this, understanding how vulnerable the new mother is).
Since I started teaching the closing the bones postnatal massage 4 years ago, and started learning about the importance of this practise to help a new mother regain her strength and energy, I have taken it upon myself to ask every foreigner I meet what the traditional postpartum practises of his or her culture entails, and I have found that some form of nurturing practise of this kind (usually involving massage and/or binding of the abdomen hips )is ubiquitous around the world.
An Indian mum told me how her mother hired an old lady from the village who came and gave her a full body massage EVERY DAY for a month after the birth of her twins. A Kenyan mum told me how people would fight over whose turn it was to cook her food, and how she was so well looked after, she didn’t even wash herself.
What do we get, in the Western world today, on the other hand? As clinical psychologist Mia Scotland said at the doula UK conference, “Two weeks paternity leave and sleep when the baby sleeps”. We get presents that are entirely focused on the baby (bar the odd bouquet of flowers maybe-but you can’t eat those sadly), which again is very telling about what our culture considers important.
New mums aren’t nurtured, quite the opposite, in fact, their needs are ignored, nobody is admiring and respecting them for the amazing feat they just accomplished (growing and birthing a whole new person!), and they are even encouraged to “get back to normal” as soon as possible and admired if they do so.
This is SO wrong.
It also means that women feel guilty for seeking support for themselves, because of this bullshit, superwoman, “I can do it all by myself” crap that is peddled by our culture.
As I mentioned above, a new baby’s needs are simple, but they are also intense, and so what the baby really needs is for his mum to feel strong and nurtured enough to be able to meet those needs.
The needs of a new mother too, are incredible simple when it comes to it.
She needs good food, and she needs rest.
She needs not to worry about meeting anybody else’s needs for a while, but her own (and her baby’s).
But those simple needs, in our nuclear family culture, can be incredibly hard to meet.
So as I mentioned in my post “why you need to write a postnatal recovery plan” before, I would like to encourage expectant parents to plan a few weeks of support after the birth of their baby, thinking about how they are going to eat, rest and look after their house/family for the first 4-6 weeks after the birth.
You could call upon your family for support if this is a good option for you. When my children were born, my parents came from France for 2 weeks under the agreement that they would take care of all the shopping, all the cooking and cleaning etc and that my husband and I wouldn’t lift a finger. I get on very well with them so for me, this was heaven. I know, however, that many new parents do not have any family nearby, or that the family’s company may not necessarily be the kind that brings, calm peace and rest, and it will only work if that is the case.
You could plan ahead and batch cook and freeze food, or order some in.
If you can afford it, getting some support in the form of a postnatal doula, a cleaner (even if only for a short while), a mother’s help, or any other extra pair of adult hands which can take the weight of for a bit is completely priceless.
I just supported a new mum, and during the first 2 weeks postpartum, I gave her the closing the bones massage 4 times. It felt great to be able to nurture her this way, and it also felt very much needed. But I am also aware that, whilst I offered this to her as part of my postnatal doula package, not many mums who haven’t got a doula skilled in doing this would feel they can justify the expense, because of the misplaced cultural focus I mentioned above.
So if you are reading this and you’re an expectant mother, I urge you to write a postnatal recovery plan, and demand presents that support you and your growing family rather than your baby.
If you are reading this and you know a new mum who could do with some support, either give her that support directly if you can, in the form of some nourishing home cooked food delivered to her house with no expectation of entertainment in return, in the offer to play with her kids or hold her baby whilst she naps (tidy her house up, fold some laundry and empty her dishwasher whilst you’re at it), or if alternatively, buy her some help-a few hours of support from a postnatal doula, a delivery of frozen dishes that she can just pop in the oven (my client used this company ), or a closing the bones massage or 3!
Together, we can slowly help change our culture’s focus to one that honours and support new families.