The slow weeks
Historically, women have passed on the tradition of how to rest postpartum from mother to mother, from India to Mexico. The deep understanding that to care for the mother is as vital as to care for the baby is - unfortunately - something, that seems to have gotten lost in the Western societies of twenty seventeen.
Nowadays, mothers feel the urge to "bounce back" to their normal lives, their pre-pregnancy bodies and their daily routines as fast as possible. It seems almost like a race, with the mother who is out and about first, winning the supermom trophy. Particularly in the Unites States, where paternity leave is much less than Europe, women go back to the "daily grind" much faster. At what cost?
The few weeks after having a baby are a unique and special transitioning period that needs special attention and care. We go from "life before baby" to "life with baby" and being a mother, wether it is the first child or the fifth. The mother's body, who has magically expanded over nine months to grow a child and has had the ability to birth it, needs rest and special attention in order to heal and restore energy and strength. Birth and the hormonal transitions right after come with blood loss, sleep deprivation, hair loss, night sweats, headaches, and more. A mother's breastfeeding journey often comes with difficulties, but in any case with the feeling of "being drained" of one's energy. Not to mention the emotions every mother feels in these first few weeks - love, happiness, anxiety, angst, more love. It can be confusing to identify one's emotions, even if you are someone normally in touch with your feelings.
Many cultures around the world still honor this time as a special, if not holy period in a women's life. In Korea "samchilil" is a twenty-one to thirty day period of special maternal care. In Malaysia's "pantang" the mother receives massages, exfoliations, baths and more to restore the life source in her womb. Forty day rest periods are honored in Jordan, Egypt, Palastine and plenty of other countries. In Zambia, women are banned from all work around the house until the umbilical cord falls off. In Vietnam, parents wont introduce their babies to strangers for six whole weeks. There are so many examples around the world of how a woman's transition to motherhood can be made a period of rest and well-being, rather than stress, pressure and anxiety. It is believed, that the rest postpartum is an investment in future health - healthy pregnancies, better skin, easier menopause, less signs of aging just to name a few examples.
Personally, I remember the first few weeks after my daughter was born as the most wonderful time of my life. My husband and I retreated from the world to get to know this new life and this new addition to the family. We hardly welcomed people into our home and only went out for leisurely walks or short outings to our favorite coffee places for the whole first month. A time from which we emerged with feelings of deep love for each other, confidence to parent this baby, physically rejuvenated and generally relaxed. I will always cherish these three weeks as some of the best of my life.
These first weeks with baby Winter have not been quite so relaxing, as is to be anticipated when you also have to take care of your toddler. On top of that, we all came down with horrible colds, which meant that I got out of bed a lot sooner and helped out a bit more around the house than planned. Also, because Winter arrived twelve days past his due date, the visits we had arranged with family members and friends fell right into our first forty days, providing us with much needed help, but also a bit more commotion in the house. Despite all that, I have made sure to enjoy these first special weeks to the fullest. I firmly believe, that it is not just every mothers right, but duty to honor this restful period, to get pampered, cared for and to take time to heal and to bond with the new soul that she created. Also, it is important for all fathers to be able to take some time off, to get to know the little being, be included in all aspects of caring for this new life and to restore strength after the emotional and physical (yes, even for the father or any birth partner) experience of birth.
Every family needs their "slow weeks", as I would like to call them. Historically, geographically and personally there are many different ways to celebrate a new mother. To me, a few things are particularly important and we have tried to incorporate these into our life these past few weeks.
A "cozy nest" for starters. We spend so much time preparing a nursery, but what about the mother's bedroom and living space? After all, a woman most likely spends much more time in bed, or on the couch than in the nursery in those first few weeks after birth. Me and my husband made sure our home was clean and prepared for Winter's arrival. Due to having a home birth, we spent the first ten nights on a comfy mattress in the living room, as it adjourns to the kitchen and a bathroom and therefore I could avoid climbing stairs so soon after birth. It was nice to watch my toddler and husband play, my mother prepare healing food in the kitchen and the baby snuggling with me, as I was bedded in a comfortable, cushiony place by the window light. Once we moved back upstairs into our bedroom loft, I put on the soft new linen sheets I had previously purchased with the "laying in" period in mind (in German we call this time "Wochenbett" - which loosely translates to "weeks in bed"). I placed cherry tree branches in a vase next to my bed, in order to bring spring inside. It serves as my cozy retreat in the evening, and during naps. After an emotionally and physically challenging day it is my safe place to retreat with the baby for extra skin-on-skin time and bonding moments.
I read, that in Chinese medicine it is believed that a lot of a women's "jing" is lost during childbirth (one big reason being blood loss). In order to restore it, a diet of exclusively warming foods and drinks is recommended. In the last few weeks, I mainly stuck to healing soups, comforting stews, and a lot of hot tea (a mix of fennel, anis and carraway is my breastfeeding power drink, as you can read here). One day I was craving a salad for lunch and didn't think twice about it - the whole day I felt shaky and significantly less energetic. For breakfast I have particularly enjoyed a steaming bowl of oatmeal, topped with a variety of nuts, seeds and fruit.
Speaking of warmth. In the book "the first forty days" I have read that "At the foundation of many mother-care protocols is the practice of preserving and building warmth in the body. A woman's blood volume almost doubles during pregnancy to support her growing baby; after birth, the loss of this excess of warm, circulating blood, combined with her open state, means that heat must be recaptured and circulation boosted to optimize healing.". To me this was the perfect invitation, to cuddle up in my blankets and comfortable cardigans. Since I tend to have cold feet, I made sure to always wear my cozy wool slippers.
One thing that is hard to do in our busy lives is to remember to rest, rest, rest during these "slow weeks" and beyond. I try to lay down at least once during the day, preferably snuggled up with my new baby. It takes quite a habit shift to accept help and take time out of our bustling days. Family nap time is very much valued in our house. It restores me and gives me strength to be the relaxed mother I want to be for the remaining hours until bedtime. Sleep loss is a big thing to get adjusted to, during pregnancy and in the weeks and months after adding a child into the family. Instead of numbing the feeling of exhaustion with coffee, it is important to make room for some down time throughout the day. This is easier said then done, but I'm working on being very good about my "rest time".
It hasn't been easy to refuse invitations to the cafe, or to the park. I'm not used to saying no to social gatherings. The nice spring weather has lured me out to do more than I had planned to do at this point. However, I still try to retreat from the world and "regular daily life" as much as I can. It will still be waiting there for me, once I'm healed, rested up and ready to take my son (whom I will have gotten to know a whole lot better then) out into the so big, so blue, so beautiful world.
The beautiful linen you see in the photographs are made by "Magic Linen". The wonderful Vita who creates them, told me linen were always part of her life, wether she looks back on her grandparents tablecloths or her mothers dress. She remembers the unbelievable durability. Lithuania, were Vita is from, has a deep tradition of growing, weaving and sewing linen. She tells me it is something in their blood, that was a bit forgotten in the last century, but is now fashionable again. She is proud to have started this small company and the people in it, that make these wonderful linen goods by hand. Linen fabric is breathable and possesses rare healing properties, reduces gamma radiation, is anti-bacterial, thermo-regulating and extremely durable. The sentence that stuck out to me the most when communicating with Vita over my linen order was "In the times of mass production, consumption, rush, we all turn to seek for something natural, crafted with love, long lasting, REAL." - how true. Vita's work has hundreds of joyful feedbacks and I hope you go take a look at her beautiful store.