Just recently, I was finally able to finish reading the book, The Red Tent after starting and stopping it several times. Must have had something to do with having a child and working full-time. Anyway, part of the book documents what life was like after women gave birth in ancient times. Apparently, they were waited on hand and foot by their sisters and mothers and their feet never touched the ground for one month. Two months if they gave birth to a girl. Say what? Man, I’m lucky if I got to shower or eat a warm meal after I had Mia. The closest I got to not having my feet touch the ground was when I was recovering from my c-section because I could not feel my legs. But I was back on my feet walking (or pacing) the hospital room as soon as I could because I was feeling a bit stir crazy and because I thought it was just expected of me to give birth, get out of bed, strap my baby in a sling, and live a normal life once again. I didn’t want to be viewed as the weak woman wallowing in postpartum recovery.
But life was never going to resume as usual and it took a while for me to fully comprehend that I needed to slow down and take care of myself and my newborn no matter what when I came down with a severe case of mastitis. And it never really occurred to me, until I recently came across this article that the postpartum period should be viewed as the fourth trimester – a time of unparalleled change in your body as it adjusts back to its non-pregnant state. It is a critical time that requires moms to relax, recover, and bond with baby. The piece also explores current postpartum cultures in other countries, many of them sounding like slightly revised versions of the ancient rituals described in The Red Tent. As I am nearing the end of my third trimester in this pregnancy, I became intrigued by this fourth trimester that is not really talked about in our culture, except maybe in terms of postpartum depression or anxiety. For me, it was probably the hardest (and my least favorite) part of the whole birth and child rearing process the first-time around.
The article outlines what other nations are doing in the realm of postpartum practices and I really want to share these with you all and get your thoughts:
In the Indian Ayurvedic tradition, new mothers stay at home and are pampered for 22 days after birth. This period of rest is considered vital to protect the delicate nervous systems of both mother and infant. Few visitors are allowed, and mother and child are protected from wind and bad weather.
Hey, I’m having a winter baby and it sure would be nice to stay warm and cozy until spring hits.
In Japan, a new mother is treated as if she were the baby—she’s put to bed for 30 days, waited on, and indulged while she recuperates from the birth.
In parts of Southeast Asia, a father begins to collect wood during the pregnancy, stacking it in a special place, and reserving it for a practice called “mother-warming.” After the birth, the house is closed up and a sign on the front door announces the new arrival, letting the community know that the new family needs quiet time. The father lights a fire next to or beneath the mother’s bed, and she and the new baby are wrapped in warm blankets. Mother and baby are kept inside this womb-like environment, removed from the demands of daily life, and kept safe from wind and rain for several days or weeks, depending on the culture.
Sounds good to me, although I would not let my poor hubs go out and chop wood, our gas fireplace will do just fine. And can you imagine being wrapped up like in the womb removed from the demands of daily life? Hea-ven!
After reading all this, I started to feel a little gypped of postpartum pampering and began to think how tough modern women of America have it. We bear the children, and then get right back to work, and cook, and nurse, take care of our spouses, and rear our children as best we can, and worry our heads over getting back to our pre-baby weight ASAP. And many times we’re still judged for our choices. Let’s not even discuss our country’s abominable family and medical leave system. On the other hand, many new moms (myself included) have a hard time asking for help once the little one arrives. Katie addressed this beautifully in her recent post. It inspired me to ask a family member to help us out once this baby arrives by picking up our daughter from school for the first few weeks of my recovery. I was so afraid to ask such a giant favor, but not only did they happily agree, they went out and purchased and installed a car seat for their vehicle. This is modern American mother-warming in my eyes.
So I guess I am not feeling entirely defeated by the fact our country has not adopted a sensitive and supportive outlook on postpartum recovery. And even though the women in The Red Tent had awesome post-natal care, they did have it tougher than us after the first twelve weeks. After all, they were one of four wives and bore children in droves. They basically were servants to their husbands and were deemed marriage material based on dowries. When Matt and I moved in together, my dowry was clean 300 thread count cotton sheets and a spice rack. After Mia was born, I was lucky I had a good job to go back to and seeing my family on the weekends was enough to know the three of us were loved. And these long weeks of confinement spent with family members? I am not sure I could tolerate my mother-in-law for thirty minutes, much less thirty days.
I guess I am hoping to reach a happy medium as an American working mom about to give birth in a culture where women strive to have it all. I just don’t believe I have to do it all at once, especially after bringing a new life into this world. I think I deserve a break.