Blog post by Jenni
One of the things most of our clients learn about me is that I love cookbooks. I also seem to have grown up being infused with a love of lists, and I make mental lists even when there is no paper available. A recipe, to me, evokes both of these in a succinct, yet entirely flexible format for ultimate enjoyment. Like many recipes, the ‘recipe’ I used for my postpartum time worked well, with some tweaks along the way. Like all recipes, it may work for some and not for others, depending on what you have in your kitchen already (though that’s part of the recipe) and what your body and mind want and need at the time. I don’t know anyone who has sailed through the fourth trimester without a few days (or more) of discouragement and challenge so I was really prepared for emotional mood swings and lots of doubt. Physically you have to recover from the birth also (my first preoccupation). The combination that worked for me is below. Feel free to substitute as needed, or to ask your midwives (wink, wink) for other suggestions.
Fourth Trimester Wellness
- Rest and physical relaxation
- A key support person
- Community surrounding
- Bodywork for as many in the family as you can afford
- Gentle steps outwards into the broader community
Begin the fourth trimester with a home set-up that is as restful and as physically relaxing as possible. This may be hard with older kids and other responsibilities but try and keep your space as gentle on you and your new baby as possible. We were lucky in that our teenagers are quite self-reliant, other than meals, and Christy and I were able to cuddle with Haven a good part of every day after he was born. We had a couple of interruptions to the restful space (he was born just a few days before the fourth of July) and I just kept as cocooned as possible, sleeping as much as possible.
The key then is to stay in that space for at least ten days. I didn’t move far from my bed for at least 9 days; on the tenth day I walked down the driveway to the mailbox and back. That’s all. I believe that the time I took (and was able to take – so grateful for a little bit of paid work leave) was one of the key reasons that Haven breastfed so well. He still doesn’t have an amazing latch (at 7 months!) but I gave my body the physical rest it needed to help us both learn how to breastfeed and for my physical body to heal from birth. Ten days is just a minimum, by the way; cross-culturally forty days is much more common.
Add in a key support person, partner or like-minded family member to help ease this physical transition. For me, Christy’s physical presence in the house constantly for the first week and her making and feeding me meals totally made it possible for me to enjoy the early time with Haven. Her knowledge and experience as a mom before and as a midwife of course didn’t hurt either, but you don’t need to have a midwife live with you 24/7 to feel supported and able to focus on your baby. An identified person who knows your probable needs postpartum and who is relatively comfortable with babies can and has made a huge difference for new parents who have just birthed. I’ve seen it over and over again as a midwife, and so we planned for Christy to have the least amount of other responsibilities in early July as she could manage to do and still pay our bills. I was lucky to have additional support people too, after our practice work started up again. My mother arrived after about three weeks and appeared a little surprised at our already established routine. She helped our garden survive the hottest part of the summer, and her presence and her stories of me as a baby made those next two weeks very sweet as we watched Haven growing and having more alert periods. My dad visited around week eight, listened to all my excitement and my worries equally, and got to witness the first smiles and giggles and Haven trying to roll over. Christy’s parents, our constant support people, continued helping us out regularly with house stuff and being with Haven when I returned to work in September.
Our community is amazing and we let them surround us in the postpartum. So much generosity!We had not organized meal deliveries (which IS something we recommend to clients in our practice), but our community stepped up and about every three days for the first four weeks we had lovely meals cooked or picked up for us, and no one stayed too long! We did make a typical mistake and had three sets of people visit the day after he was born, but we quickly realized that was too much for me and for him and we dialed it way back for the first week. Everyone who offered something was totally fine with us setting limits on how they could help, and I was glad that Christy could help set these boundaries for all of our sake.
The one exception to leaving the house initially may be to add in some bodywork or other healing treatments for you as the birthing parent and the baby. We got preventative and healing bodywork for both him and I AND Christy, several times in the first three weeks, and all of us did so much better because of that. Cranio-sacral or similar bodywork is such a wonderful start for babies, as I’ve seen again and again, and Haven was no exception. It even seemed to accelerate the disappearance of the mild jaundice he had, though there is nothing in the research that I can find that would support that. Our appointments were made in the middle of the day (to minimize time spent in traffic) and were short initially. We also only went to practitioners who we know to be good with babies so that he and I could both go at the same time. (The MotherBloom website has a list of these, and people who want to gift something to new parents can get gift certificates for them from most of these practitioners.)
There are lots of additional things that can help individuals, but the time does come when you want to be out in the wider world again. The ninth or tenth week mark was very emotional for me. This was about the time when Christy started to have more births again, and five nights in a row of being with Haven almost completely on my own really wore me out. I had also started working three days a week and, though Haven was sleeping two long stretches a day, I was still tired from the feedings every two hours at night. Luckily, I had been considering another part of the ‘prescription’ I often talk to new parents about: community building with other parents. At the last minute, I contacted Lanell Coultas about her local Mothers Unfolding group and was able to join that. It was a five-week one-morning-per-week get together facilitated by Lanell and as an amazing bonus we were fed by a lovely chef and parent herself, Raini Gomez, who also held babies when needed. The combination of nourishing food that I didn’t have to plan and prepare myself, and the lovely reflections that Lanell offered us were exactly what helped me enjoy the new baby time and relax into my role as a parent. As a bonus, I discovered the book Momma Zen through Lanell and that was inspirational to read during these weeks. The people in this group created a community too, as we found common questions and interests and connected individually as well. I definitely credit that group and the peer-to-peer support with helping to further ease the next round of transitions, as we as a family figure out how to have two working parents and still meet all our commitments with home schooling one teenager and our daily farm chores, amongst other things.
This recipe has and is working really well for us. We are figuring out together how to have a sustainable and happy life, enjoying the support of each other and our community.