Saturday, October 11, 2014

Postpartum Pressure

The season is upon us at MotherWit to embark upon our yearly postpartum doula training events.

I love autumn and winter for these trainings, because it gets us into the energy of hunkering down, lying fallow, resting up, and gathering power.  Every new parent needs this sacred time after birth to hibernate a little, and to process the lessons Birth has taught them. After their temporary withdrawal from every day life into the cocoon of the Baby Moon, they can unfurl like flowers in the spring, refreshed, renewed, vibrant, and confident in their new roles.

In "Westernized" societies, new mothers and fathers often eschew the more traditional approaches to postpartum healing, which include about a 40 day period of deep rest, within which the birther (and hopefully their partner/s as well) are fed, massaged and nurtured by older and wiser family members/friends/doulas, as well as kept skin to skin with Baby/ies for the vast majority of the time.

As a doula for over two decades, I do bear witness to the profound benefits to fully stepping into the Baby Moon period with the intention our ancestors supported. Parents seem to emerge from this potentially sweet and intense time having learned about how to tend to their particular baby/ies with a sense of calmness.  There seem to be less aches and pains.  They tend to have a greater sense of trust in their maternal/paternal decisions.  They seem less disturbed by the unpredictable ebb and flow of Baby/ie's needs.

Sadly, despite the tremendous benefits of taking advantage of the Baby Moon the way Nature seems to have intended, families often feel an incredible amount of pressure to do the opposite.  Much of this is fostered by the need to return to work soon after birth.  The work of sinking into the exploration of parenthood, rather than the frantic "let's figure it all out now, and FAST", is not at all honoured by our driven society which places higher value upon the power of "do".

New parents are often quite susceptible to this pressure.  They often feel that in order to be successful as parents, the house should look like it on the page of a magazine.  The parent who birthed should be losing the physical evidence of childbirth (soft tummy, extra padding, sleepiness, baby fog) as soon as humanly possible.  Money should be made, meals should be great, date nights arranged, schedules enforced, etc.  I get exhausted even thinking about it.

In my guidance of postpartum parents, we take a moment to honour their fears that the choice, if they are able, to sink deliciously into their Baby Moon is not always looked upon favourably.  There is often the fear that the very busy can be judgemental of those who do not appear to be very busy.

But let's look a little more closely at that. It is true media and community support a certain standard of postpartum "achievement" which can be rife with a sense of competition. We often applaud the person who may, for example, be in full hair, makeup, and heels bopping about town with a two day old (instead of offering her a chair and suggesting someone drive her home).  We ooh and ahh over the fact she barely looks like she just walked out of the delivery room.. We have to ask ourselves why we personally ascribe to this.

I have been there.  Often I still AM there. I have felt immense pressure to buy into the myth that the archetype of SuperMom/Dad is correct, and that to do otherwise denotes my failure as a "thriving" parent.  But what I finally asked myself was this: what if I unhook myself from that insane belief system, and realize that the one who exerts the greatest pressure upon me is ME?  It is easy to blame media, but what is my part in this? What is the worst that will happen if I take a few weeks after birth giving to simply hang out skin to skin with my baby lying down most of the time, reading, chilling, or taking short walks when I feel like it?  What happens if I make no apologies for my soft tummy, for holding court in bed without a shirt on when people visit, not getting up to make them coffee? What if I allow my older kids to watch movies without worrying about their development for a while, and let them go visit relatives for a few days at a time?  What if I say "YES" to offers to tidy up the obviously grungy kitchen and to hang diapers outside on the line to dry?  What if I commit to being present for all the crazy feelings and thoughts the postpartum period reveals without drowning them in "busy"?  What if I tell people right the heck off for encouraging me to smile because I have a healthy baby if I'm having a day that blows?  What if I trust the direction I want to take in how I gather information to parent instead of having it preached to me unsolicited?

I had the incredible privilege to think of asking myself these questions, it is true.  There are some new parents who are alone and without resources or community and must take care of all the kids and the household, finances, and errands on their own, sometimes in terrible situations.  But let us never refer to the Baby Moon as a luxury only for those who can afford it.  This dishonours its necessity for all human beings who have just had babies. We must also include in this people who have birthed and do not have their babies.  A period of healing and grieving  loss is necessary for them.  Parents who have new babies but who have not given birth also need time to adjust and get to know their child/ren.  Instead of "luxury", let us think of the Baby Moon more as an important healing option for those who want/need it,  What if there were a way we could work together to provide support to anyone who has just birthed/ received a child so they may get some hits of Baby Moon, even if it is only for a couple of hours at a time.? What if we invested in providing this support to our newly birthed citizens and their parents?  What would we look like as a society if this were considered of universal importance?

You know what happened when I took the plunge and chose to take my Baby Moon?  The sky did not fall.  In fact, I felt more thoroughly integrated, rested, and healed than I ever had with my first three children.  I felt more connected to my needs.  At one point I went for a walk, and went farther than my body wanted to go.  I tuned into the deep calling my body gave me to get back to my nest a little late, and really felt how beat I was after ignoring myself. When we give the time and space for Body to teach us, we absorb its lessons more readily. I learned many things during that exquisite Baby Moon, lessons which inspired me to encourage others to try taking their own Baby Moons, in whatever capacity they could, if they expressed the longing to do so.

Now I have the honour of training postpartum doulas, who are the keepers of the Baby Moon.  Even if parents do not want to take up this tradition in its entirety, the postpartum doula brings in an infusion of energy, a voice of support, and a whisper of encouragement to trust one's motherwit in the storm of postpartum recovery in a way that speaks to their unique needs.  Postpartum doulas listen, anticipate needs, gather information about what will bring the most energy to flagging parents (processing a hard birth, sleep, some tidying, baby tending lessons, feeding support,resource giving), and get the job done. We do this so the family has what they need to do their most important postpartum work, which is to bond with their new arrival/s, in whatever way they feel is best for them.  Sometimes a family who did not have a Baby Moon and is feeling the repercussions many months later seek out help, We can also offer them nurturing support to recreate that sacred space, if only for a few hours at a time.

Many families wouldn't give birth without a doula.  With the prevalence of postpartum depression, anxiety, burnout, and confusion, families are realizing the deep need to carve out a nest during their postpartum periods, relying on doulas to support them in this goal.  If this role speaks to your heart, join us!

Our next MotherWit Holistic Postpartum Doula Trainings are in Montreal (November  6th to 9th) and Toronto (November 13th to 16th).  If you are interested in an information/application package, email us at info@motherwit.ca