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Your postnatal recovery isn’t about how soon you can start doing chores

This morning, a antenatal teacher friend  shared the local hospital’s leaflet about the timeline of physical recovery after a cesarean.

It’s been a while since something in the birth world has triggered me as much as this leaflet did.

The leaflet, whilst I’m sure is well meaning, appears to be something straight from a 1950’s housewife manual.

It mostly states when, following a cesarean, you can start ironing, dusting, pushing a shopping trolley and doing various chores.

You can read it here

It triggered me for two main reasons.

First, I seriously doubt that a leaflet about post op recovery after major abdominal surgery for men would include how soon he would be able start ironing.

So this leaflet, whilst well meaning, illustrates so blatantly how patriarchy and sexism is still alive and well in the medical world (not that I didn’t know that already…)

picture by Jacqueline Grimsley

Secondly, it also illustrates how terribly wrong the focus of our society is when it comes to postnatal recovery, and it’s made even worse by the fact that this leaflet is about postnatal recovery following a cesarean birth, which means that the new mother needs to recover from both growing and birthing a new human, meet said new human needs 24/7, AND recover from major abdominal surgery all at the same time.

Imagine for a minute : if a man was told he’d have to have a major op, and someone said “oh and you’ll have to have 24/7 responsibility to make sure this tiny, helpless infant is fed and happy”, I’m pretty sure most would reply in outrage “I can’t do that, I’ll be recovering from major abdominal surgery!”

Now, I need to do a disclaimer here: I don’t live in  fairyland and I know that what’s described in the leaflet is likely to be a reality for most new mothers.

I know that our country only gives partners 2 weeks leave after the birth of their baby (compare that to the 6 months they get in Norway!).

I know that many families haven’t got support from local family, and that many cannot afford any other forms of support, including doula support.

And I’ve been supporting families through the transition to parenthood for over 8 years now, and I am fully cognisant in the reality of new motherhood.

However, IT DOESNT MEAN THAT THIS IS RIGHT.

This leaflet epitomises everything I hate about our culture’s lack of focus on newborn mothers.

It implies that the most important thing after the birth of their baby is to go back to doing household chores.

It implies that they should “go back to normal” (whatever the fuck this normal is supposed to mean), ASAP after birth, prioritising chores over their own and their baby’s well being, because that’s what’s revered in our world.

It completely ignores the real needs of a new mother (I’ve written about this here, here and here before)

It ignores how fragile a new mother is, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

How she needs tender, loving support.

How she needs rest and good food and knowing that the chores are taken care of, at least for while, whilst she gets to know her new baby, establishes feeding, recuperates from growing and birthing her baby (or god forbid, multiple babies!), and has some time to make sense of her experience and her new sense of self and identity.

It’s not rocket science.

Women need a village around them.

They need to be revered like the goddesses that they are.

They do not need to be told when it’s time to start doing the fucking ironing.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Kathryn Kelly on July 9, 2018 at 8:49 am

    I’m really torn, Sophie. On the one hand, I TOTALLY agree with you: men would not be given a leaflet stating when they can do the ironing again. On the other hand, I imagine that this list comes from women’s questions, and perhaps for some women there will be a protective factor in being able to say ‘but the hospital says I can’t do that for another few weeks’, and maybe sharing this information with partners will be helpful to those women. WRONG, I know. And maybe this leaflet is a somewhat mechanical and inept attempt to actually create the space for women that you’re calling for? It is good to see swimming, cycling, and contact sports on the leaflet, which does acknowledge women’s full and diverse lives. Thank you for drawing this to my attention, as I can use it with students to explore perinatal gender roles.

    • sophie on July 9, 2018 at 1:34 pm

      I’d love to see is this leaflet replaced with something more empowering and positive that focuses on the mum’s wellbeing instead. I’m sure many women ask questions about housework, but general information about physical activity would prevent stereotypes being perpetuated? More focus on the need for a period of rest and recovery would be lovely too.

  2. Lisa Casson on July 9, 2018 at 9:15 am

    Loved this, honest and powerful and the message that needs to be shared. WIDELY!

  3. Vibeke Fjeldheim on July 9, 2018 at 9:47 am

    Oh, how I agree to everything you say here! However I need to adress a litle mistake; partners in Norway does not get 6 months of work, they to get 2 weeks here. They can take 6 months later, but not at the same time as the mother. The mother then has to go back to work.

    • sophie on July 9, 2018 at 1:31 pm

      I’m sorry to hear that, have thing changed over the last few years? When my Norwegian friend had her baby about 6 years ago (I visited her at home during this time), both her and her partner took time off at the same time?

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