My Head Got Cut Off in the Picture. A transitional story of the fourth trimester.
"She's absolutely beautiful" they say.
You look up and realize of course they're not looking at you, but at the tiny bundle of joy in your arms. Which is fine really, because your belly is looking like a deflated basketball, the bags under you eyes could tell their own stories and at this exact moment you realize you meant to change out of this shirt with the spit up on it but forgot.
And you beam, because damn, she really is the most beautiful thing you've ever seen.
Thankfully no one asks you to get up, because even days later your lady bits still feel like you biked the Tour de France naked. You haven't told anyone, but you're actually afraid to go pee because of just how horrendous the whole ordeal is. Why does no one mention this part??
As everyone chats you let your mind drift, staring down at this little life you've created, thinking about how you'd do anything for her, whenever, whatever.
But that's the problem isn't it. It's your wonderful right of passage as a mother to learn how to give more of yourself then you ever thought possible to another human being...but who's giving anything for you?
By giving, I don't mean gifts. Goodness knows you've got enough of those. We're talking about support.
In many cultures around the world, the postpartum period is considered far more sacred than the pregnancy itself. Women in China for example practice a month long transition period called zuo yuezi. During this time, their female relatives will surround them with support, warm food, healing broths, PJs, blankets, slippers and love. The purpose? To allow time for the mother to recover and to fully bond with her new baby.
This type of tradition is echoed in places like India, Latin America, parts of Europe and in cultures such as the Native American culture. In their own different ways, all of these rituals are designed around helping MOM to recover her strength and discover, at her own pace, what it means to be mother.
Here in the US things have gotten very different.
You're a first time mom. You had a great vaginal birth, no complications, which is awesome. Except it means that your hospital stay is really short. And as much as you just want to be home in your own bed, you know that there will be no more check ins, no more lactation consultants, no one to help you waddle to the bathroom, or watch your baby while you shower.
Here we expect moms to go home and get on with it. Do all the things. Get that baby to its pediatrician visits. See how fast you can leave the house. How quick can you get back in the gym and get that "pre-baby body" back? Get back to work, because you just can't afford not to.
We are now in a time where many women have mothers who had short maternity leave and also worked full time. While women playing a much bigger role in the economy is a great step forward for our equal rights, this cultural shift towards "getting back after it" has left little space for the fourth trimester. The golden recovery period so crucial to both the health of the mother, and the development of her baby.
These new moms have moms who don't have any idea of how help them breast feed, of what it means to be cared and watched over when you're both madly in love and terrified of the great unknown. When you look at yourself and barely recognize your own body, when you have questions about who you are supposed to be moving forward. What is your role now as a mom, a wife, a colleague, a friend? Who comes first? What are my priorities? What if I fail at this? Why do I feel like I don't want to go back to a career I busted my ass for? Is that ok?!!!
As a society we have robbed our new mothers of the precious time, care and space they need to answer these questions. We have taken away their time of not only physical recovery, but mental and emotional recovery as well. There is an unspoken pressure to be able to "manage" as it seems like every other mom on instagram is doing so well, and we feel discomfort in asking for the help that we so desperately need.
Our mamas need a tribe. They need a community of women to surround them with love, support, and maybe some cake. They need someone to recommend a sitz bath, to plump up with pillows behind us when we're trying to breastfeed. To wash the sweaty sheets again, and heat up a cup of soup because we're so tired we forgot to eat. To hand us the water that's just out of reach when we're nap trapped and remind us that we are still us and that we're doing amazing when it's not everything we thought it would be. To let us know how much they struggled, and also how they succeeded beyond what they thought they could. To give us precious time to go within, and just BE with our baby. To discover who we both are, and where we go from here.
This lack of support is leading us down the path of moms that are nutritionally depleted (leading to health problems later in life), more prone to postpartum depression, and to babies who may be impacted by the decreased ability to properly bond with their mother during this important time.
We can do better. We can still change direction. Back to what our bodies biologically require and what our souls yearn for.
If you've just had a baby, this is your permission to ask for help. To take your time. To be okay with not being okay all the time. To enjoy this new world and forget everything else. To follow your heart, whether that means taking pump breaks at the office, or quitting that career you had thought you wanted. Remember that the postpartum period is not just twelve weeks. It can take over a year for your body to adjust to this new life, so be kind to yourself. You have permission to skip the family party, and to leave the house a mess when a friend shows up with a home cooked meal.
If you're pregnant, now is the time to find your tribe! Search out those ladies that make you feel the best, the ones you know will never judge you. Join moms groups that support your choices like breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby-wearing or career moms so that you have people to talk to who have traveled that path already. Find your support crew whether it's your mom, MIL, bestie, postpartum doula, hubby, whoever you know you can count on when you're feeling your best, or your worst. Set aside your time. Figure out how to allow yourself at least 30 days to rest, heal and transition into your new life.
Not a new mom or mom-to-be? Then YOU are the support! That friend who just had a baby who's "doing great" just might actually need some hot broth and a shoulder to cry on. Your SIL who's "figuring it out" might be "failing" at breastfeeding and needs the info for your lactation consultant. They need you to be there without them asking. They need you to look at them too. To ask how you can help, to tell them they're still beautiful, that they're doing a great job. They want you to be okay if you invite them out and they say no, and to know that you'll keep inviting them anyway, no matter how long they need. They need judgement free zones, and for goodness sake they need someone to take a picture of them with their baby where they look okay and their whole head makes it into the shot!
We can be the change. Let's do this. For the moms, and for the babies who will one day be moms, or partners to moms. A better future starts here.
Dr. Katie O'Connor is the expert prenatal chiropractor at Life Naturally Chiropractic, an Orland Park, Illinois based chiropractic office specializing in the care of women before during and after pregnancy. Contact Dr. Katie O’Connor at Life Naturally Chiropractic for more information today.