When I was pregnant, I felt like I was going through a tunnel. I knew there was some new world on the other side, and I could see a little bit of the light, but it was incomprehensible at that time. I was excited, scared, apprehensive, giddy and sad all at once.
Sad because my old life was quickly disappearing. Excited and giddy at the new possibilities. Scared and apprehensive that I would be a huge failure.
I didn’t get clear I wanted to even be a mother until I was 33 and got pregnant exactly a year later. I had it that being a mother was not enough. I valued my work more than family for the decade leading up to my pregnancy and didn’t want to be like my own mother who gave everything up to have me.
As women have gone into the workforce over the past century, our culture as a whole has devalued motherhood and the feminine in general. Many of my friends are afraid of giving up their lifestyle and their career to have children. More and more women are waiting until they are in their late thirties and forties if at all.
The moment my baby Kali came out, my entire world shifted. In an instant, everything was the same while everything had changed. I had to simultaneously learn how to take care of this little one while my body recovered. After a 24 hour labor to deliver a 9.1 pound baby naturally at home, I was beat. That first night I had to get up and nurse, something that neither Kali or I had any clue had to do, I was in shock. Infants have to learn just like we do. I was exhausted and yet I couldn’t let her starve. That instinct alone was new to me and was the driving force to get me out of bed no matter what I felt. I had to keep going and put aside the traumatic experience until I couldn’t ignore it any longer and burst a few days later, having a complete emotional breakdown as I recalled the difficult from my labor.
I suddenly had this new respect and reverence for all of the women who had gone through this before me. My eyes opened wide to the strength of my own mother in “giving everything up” for me. I realized that she didn’t give anything up. She gained everything in stepping into becoming a mother.
The strength and endurance it takes to give birth, let alone the first month of sleepless nights and endless feeding and burping, is no small feat. As my partner said: “If men had to give birth, the human species would be extinct!”
I felt very fortunate that my friend Cara had offered her service called The First 40 where she organized my meal train and chores so I had help during that first six week transition into this new realm.
I’ve had countless women say to me that they wish they had asked for and received support during their first 40 days and others thank me for being an example for them on what to do when they give birth in the future.
Widely practiced in Indian and Chinese cultures, the first 40 days is a tradition where the mother is expected to only nurse and heal. She is not to do chores. She is not to carry anything. She is not to even leave the house other than short walks around the block.
For me, I was so depleted and exhausted that the only thing I could do during the first week was nurse. Brent handed me Kali and when we finished, he picked her up to burp and change her. With my second degree tear, I could barely walk to the kitchen so I tried to stay in bed as much as possible. I also experienced depression, crying endlessly for a few days straight. I felt wounded, exhausted and vulnerable. I hated not being able to do anything and was tired of the physical pain.
So I put out a Facebook post asking for help. I called in the troops. I realized that in order to nurse my baby, I needed to be nursed back to health. Self-care wasn’t enough; I needed care by community.
In honoring myself as a mother, I was being an example of bringing the reverence back to motherhood. I treated my first 40 days as sacred and my community was happy to contribute to my wellbeing.
It takes a village to raise a child, but I realized I am one of the few women who knows how to ask for support from community.
In my opinion, one reason why women get postpartum depression is that they spiral down into the baby blues, too ashamed to talk about it and get the support they need before it gets worse. They are also blood deficient so their body is depleted.
If I was to do it all over again, this is how I would set up my first 40 days. I had simplified my own process so any mother could do it, regardless of how small her support system is. She doesn’t even need to ask; she can simply hire Cara or put the service on her registry so someone can give it as a gift.
Get a cleaning team for day after birth then weekly
This is especially necessary for a homebirth. Our house was a disaster and we didn’t have time to clean so it just kept piling up. I wish I would have had 2-3 people come the day after the birth and just clean up everything. Each week, we needed help with chores and for one reason or another the people who signed up had to reschedule. I would consider putting emphasis on the importance of getting household help.
Get 6 women to make meals once a week for 6 weeks and drop off at the door
If you don’t have a large community, all you need is 6 friends or family members here. Also, there are some Ayurvedic recipes that I loved here, traditional for the first 40 days in India.
Schedule visitors midday 2x a week
Having someone drop off food everyday can be overwhelming if that person is also coming to visit. Luckily, my friends were mindful of what I needed. I would limit my visitors for the first few weeks to 2 or 3 people per week. All that energy in the house can be draining and a new mother needs all the energy she can get.
Have your mother or mother-in-law stay at the house for the first week
My mother-in-law-to-be came to stay for 3 days the morning after the birth and she was a godsend! Having someone who knows what she’s doing to help with burping, changing, cleaning and cooking was huge. In Indian culture, the mother goes to live with her own mother for the first forty days so she has that support. If you don’t have this option, ask a close friend or relative who you trust to stay with you for the first few days.
Give your friends guidelines to support your process
I wrote this guide for friends of the mother who have not had kids so they can be more supportive than disruptive during the first 40 days. Being upfront with expectations will alleviate problems.
Schedule healing sessions
I had reiki, massage and chinese medicine during the first month because I needed to be nourished and healed. You need to be filled up to give to your baby round the clock. The more depleted you are, the more chance of becoming resentful and feeling like a “milk factory”.
After the 6 weeks, I had a massage therapist who specializes in pelvic floor work come to work on softening the scar tissue. This is absolutely critical for mothers who had a c-section, episiotomy or natural tearing. The sooner after the stitches come out the better before the scar tissue becomes dense. This will help with the next birth and make sex less painful. Kimberly Ann Johnson is a specialist who also has a lot of postpartum information available to support your pelvic floor health here.
Get your “mama wellness” kit together before the baby comes
Most women are so focused on the birth that they forget to prepare for after the birth. Or they focus on getting everything ready for the baby and they forget to prepare for taking care of their own bodies. Here is the list of must-haves for a mom after birth:
- Tummy wrap, or belly bind, for holding everything together (remember, your hips, ribcage and organs moved to make room for the uterus to expand so you need support to hold it all together)
- Mother’s Milk tea and Fenugreek herb for breastfeeding support
- Nipple Butter to prevent cracking and bleeding
- Peri bottle to spray instead of wiping
- Peri spray to help vaginal healing
- Adult diapers for the lochia, or fluids, that come out after birth
- Bone broth, dried mulberry and goji berries for blood deficiency
This is one of the biggest transitions of your life, what I would call a rite of passage. And when you cross over the threshold, sometimes, you have to endure some pain. The hero’s journey involves overcoming obstacles to find victory. For women in our heroine’s journey, we come to know the resilience and strength of our bodies through the pain and intensity of the birth process. It’s a complete miracle and that’s what makes it so sacred. Treat it as such. Be in reverence of your body and it’s ability to create life. Practice this exquisite self-care by getting “care by community” so you can settle into this next beautiful phase of your life. And don’t worry; you will quickly forget any pain that you endured. Billions of women have walked this path before you. You’ve got this.