I’m going to share something with you today that’s kind of hard for me to admit. I’m not sure why it’s hard. Maybe it’s my own stuff, or maybe it’s how we’re set up culturally. Either way I felt it important to share.
The reason I set up Wisdom For Working Mums is that I believe the world needs more women having a positive impact in the world. Women like us. But to do this we need to find a way to combine our work and motherhood in a more sustainable way. Because how can we change the world when the day-to-day balance of work, motherhood and life leaves us feeling exhausted?
This journey of exhaustion often starts from the moment we give birth. For many of us it leaves us feeling depleted, frazzled and fragile. I know it did for me when I had my first child. I was so focussed on ‘bouncing back’ to my old self I gave little or no respect to the life altering experience I was going through.
As a result, the 12 months after having my son lead me to experience postpartum depletion. At times I literally didn’t have the energy to look after my son, which was not only scary but left me feeling ashamed and helpless. Before I got properly diagnosed I thought I was suffering from a life threatening illness – dramatic I know but this probably gives you an insight into how scary it was.
Looking back on this horrible (but powerful) journey I realise my depletion started before I got pregnant. But back in my pre-children days at least I could have a lie-in or go slowly at weekends to replenish some of the depletion I was experiencing due to my non-stop, superwoman lifestyle.
But the real impact came after I gave birth. I’d given so much focus and attention to my pregnancy and birth, I really wasn’t prepared for how I was going to cope post-birth. As Kimberly Ann Johnson writes so beautifully in her book The Fourth Trimester:
“The turbulence caused by the transition into motherhood is real, and yet, we are left totally without any guidance as to how we are to restore ourselves after such a tremendous body and life altering experience.”
In many cultures and traditions around the world great respect and care is given to supporting new mums in the days, weeks and months following giving birth. But I believe that we don’t in our society and culture. We seem to admire women for having a super-fast birth recovery and getting back into their pre-pregnancy jeans as quickly as possible. Our society seems to glorify and reward these superwoman qualities. I personally believe this is not only very unhelpful, but also dangerous.
I believe it’s dangerous as it ignores the very real needs we have as a new mother to rest and recover after the huge journey of bringing life into the world. Dr Oscar Serrallach, author of The Postnatal Depletion Cure states:
“Our Western culture has done mothers a great disservice by not honouring them on their road to recovery and giving them the time they need to adjust to the monumental changes in their lives.”
So I’m going to share something that feels really uncomfortable for me, as it goes against our Western cultural norms and expectations. I’m going to share what I’m doing to prepare for a smooth transition into motherhood with my second child. It’s uncomfortable for me as it requires me to admit that I’m not superwoman (as much as I might try to be). It requires me to lean into my feelings of being vulnerable as I come to terms with not feeling as strong or as capable as our culture might expect me to be…….or as I expect myself to be (I’m often my own worst critic!).
So I’ve spent quite a bit of time this pregnancy planning for my postpartum recovery. Thinking about the fourth trimester, those all important three months after my baby is born. As Kimberley Ann Johnson states in her book:
“What many women don’t know is that the three months after your baby is born are just as important as the earlier three trimesters. You need at least as much, if not more, attention and care as you did when your baby was in the womb. And when we respect our real and unique needs during the fourth trimester, we set ourselves up for a return to radiant health.”
Many cultures respect and protect the mother-baby unit during this time. In India’s traditional healing approach – Ayurveda – they call it the sacred window. It’s a vital element of setting up both mother and baby’s health and wellbeing. The Chinese apparently call the period zuo yuezi which means ‘sitting out the month’ or sometimes the ‘golden month’.
So this time around I want more for my own health and wellbeing during this sacred window. Especially as I’m having a planned caesarean section birth with this baby. I’ve learnt my lesson and I’m giving myself permission to do things differently. Even if that leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable, as I’ve had to overcome my inner-critic calling me selfish, spoiled, weak, needy…..and the list goes on. But I’m not allowing my inner-critic to win.
I’m giving myself permission to ask for more help than I think I might need. I’m overestimating the help I might need this time around after completely underestimating this last time! So I can focus on nourishing my baby, here’s a list of the things that I’ve decided I need to nourish me:
A cleaner. Having a clean and tidy house is really important to me. Probably more important than it should be. I’ve heard the advice from everyone about ‘just let it go’, ‘just lower your standards’, ‘turn a blind eye’. But the honest truth is I can’t do this easily. So instead of letting it stress me out, or trying to do it myself after my c-section, I’ve asked my cleaner to come twice a week. Yes you heard me. Not just once a week but twice a week! ‘How overindulgent’ my inner critic shouts! But that’s what I feel I need, so I’m honouring that during my sacred window.
A postpartum doula. This wasn’t even something I knew existed when I had my son. A doula is someone who can provide continuous support for the whole family through pregnancy, birth and the early days of parenthood. They are trained to know and serve the physiological and emotional needs of new mothers.
As I don’t have my own mum around to support me after the birth I decided that I would hire an amazing lady to come and help me out. She will be offering flexible, practical and emotional support in my home after I give birth. This might involve holding the baby whilst I go and take a bath, helping me get to grips with breastfeeding, giving me a massage or even cooking me some food. Or just being a shoulder to cry on when I feel overwhelmed.
Placenta encapsulation. With my first child I had heard of this practice and, to be honest, I thought it was just damn weird. Why would anyone want to have their placenta turned into pills and then digest them?! But after suffering with my depletion first time around, it was something that I was willing to look into for this birth. Whilst there are no scientific studies on the known effects of placenta consumption, many women report more stable moods, more energy and an easier recovery after giving birth. I figured that if all my nutrients are going into my placenta to nourish my baby then it can’t do any harm to use them for me after the birth. Even if it’s a placebo effect I’m willing to try everything I can!
Gathering my tribe. With my first pregnancy I didn’t realise the need for having a village around me. I tried to mother from a place of being strong and independent. This left me feeling isolated and under-resourced. So this time around I’ve consciously built my village. I’ve reached out to my tribe and been honest about what I think I might need this time. Some of those conversations have been really difficult for me to have. I’ve had to overcome my inner critic telling me that I’m needy and weak and I’ve had to get comfortable asking for help and being able to receive it.
Nutritious food. After my first birth I focussed so much on looking after my new baby I totally lost sight of looking after myself. Although I was breastfeeding, I didn’t pay any attention to nourishing myself properly so that I could nourish my son fully. Like most new mums I was lucky if I found the time to eat. Let alone have the energy to make anything remotely nutritious.
So this time around I’ve batched cooked to see the family through the first few weeks. I’ve stocked up the cupboards with healthy snacks. After the first couple of weeks we are planning on using a meal delivery service where a meal box is delivered with all the ingredients so that my husband can make nutritious and delicious evening meals. I now understand the importance of using food to heal myself in my postpartum recovery.
Protecting the relationship with my husband. When I had my first child I gave little or no thought to the impact this would have on the relationship with my husband. I was probably in the naive bubble that most couples are. Believing that a baby would bring us closer together and be a wonderful bonding experience. But anyone who has had a child will know that whilst it is an incredible bonding experience it can also be really difficult!
Having a baby is such a life changing event that it can put an often unspoken strain on a relationship. Mums are often so focussed on the baby that the dads can feel isolated and disconnected. Sleepless nights, worries about the baby’s health or routine, changes to the relationship dynamics, differences in parenting styles ….the list goes on….. all can have a negative impact.
Relationship experts Doctors John and Julie Gottman found that a high percentage of couples who were considering separation or divorce, the beginning of the deterioration in their relationship started in the first 12 months after their first child was born. And in the first three years after a child is born marital satisfaction typically drops 67 percent!
So this time around I’m more conscious of protecting and nurturing the relationship with my husband. This will involve prioritising our couple time even if it’s a few minutes a day in those first few weeks. Being more open and honest about how I’m feeling and encouraging my husband to be too. Kimberly Ann Johnson has a great postpartum relationship plan template in her book The Fourth Trimester to help set your relationship up for success after having a baby – it asks some really helpful questions that you can reflect on before baby arrives and help couples to stay connecting during this time of change.
Rebuilding my body. With my first child I thought the focus for rebuilding my body after birth was about getting back into exercise. I felt a failure when I didn’t have the strength, energy or inclination to do this. It seems that culturally we focus on getting to the 6 week postnatal check and then think we should be getting back to ‘normal’.
This time around I’m really going to focus on resting when ever I can. So I’m going to try (notice I use the word try as this feels like it could be difficult for me!) and follow the guidance of Caroline Flint, a past president of the Royal College of Midwives. She believes that mothers should stay in bed for 10 days after giving birth. It’s based on five days in the bed and five days on the bed.
I’m also going to be working with my close friend and physical therapist Beth Gardner who is trained in something called KORE therapy. She has an incredible knowledge of the human body as an integrated system. Beth is incredibly passionate about the post natal recovery for women. I would have felt that doing anything like this with my first pregnancy was just a luxury as my focus was completely on my new baby and I paid no attention to my physical recovery. That led to some pretty painful physical symptoms a few months down the line after breastfeeding and carrying the car seat.
I’m also going to give myself permission to have nurturing treatments such as reflexology, acupuncture and massages as and when I feel like I need to do some self-care. Again these were just not on my agenda with my first child. I would have judged myself pretty strongly for taking the time out in the first 6 months with my son. So I didn’t allow myself the self-care I desperately needed. This time around I’m going to be kinder to myself. Because if I don’t I know that my health and wellbeing will suffer. And ultimately that will impact my baby.
I started this rather long blog (thank you if you’ve stuck with me this far!) with the concept that the world needs us as women and mothers to take care of ourselves. We can’t affect the change we want to see in the world unless we have the energy and vitality to make an impact.
The fourth trimester is one of the most important opportunities we have to set ourselves and our families up for life long health. As Dr Oscar Serrallach says
“healthy societies need healthy families, and healthy families rely on healthy mothers”
So I hope sharing my postpartum plan helps other women emerge from the transition to motherhood stronger and happier. Because, not only do we deserve that, our families deserve that, and the world needs us to do this too!
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