Monday, May 24, 2010

Trying to Put My Feet UP!

I have in my possession a really wonderful book called, Natural Health after Birth, the complete guide to postpartum wellness by Aviva Jill Romm. My friend Sabrina dropped it off with a bunch of teas and pork chops last week. I have actually never read this book and have not finished it, but I picked it up and realized that it is a wonderful little book of motherly wisdom. I have always told my clients, half joking, that while birth is important to learn about and take seriously, postpartum is what you should spend your time actually preparing for. If there is any fear involved in the process of having a baby, don't waste it on labor pains, invest it in the post-birth time. I'm not trying to be cynical but for most women (and men) the period after the baby is born lasts a lot longer than the birth actually did. But people don't often talk about the longevity of the postpartum time. According the most obstetric definitions, its the six week period after the birth and involves your reproductive organs getting back to their non-pregnant state. However Romm quotes Midwife Raven Lang as saying "As long as the baby is still in diapers and you are up in the night, you are postpartum." Our medical culture does not allow for the holistic view of this precious time. Its does not take into account the psychological, social, emotional and spiritual experience women go through after the baby comes out. Especially for first time mothers. And maybe this is not the job of the medical world, maybe its the job of the postpartum mother's community, her postpartum doula, her family and religious community to take seriously this time in a family's life, to take seriously the post-birth mother, to nurture her, support her and love her.

First time mothers, have a lot to figure out, mainly what does my new roll as a mother look like? What does my career look like with a baby in the middle? Am I still going to have a career, or be a career mom? How does having a baby change the relationship I have with my spouse or partner? Romm writes about the relationship the new mom has with her own mother. This can become complicated if new mom makes different choices or parents differently than her own mother. For example if the new mom's mother was a "stay-at-home-mom" and the new mom decides to continue pursuing her career, or the other way around. I personally have decided that spanking is not for us, we are followers of the gentle discipline philosophy and when my mother found out she was somewhat defensive about spanking. Either way a lot of things change with the first child and all of this gets sorted out in a sleep deprived, raging hormone, muddled brain. Somehow on top of figuring out our new roll as a mother, and what that looks like in our world, we are learning how to nurse, recovering from birth, producing milk (my current super power), trying to figure out what is making the baby cry, why the umbilical stub is bleeding, and is this color of poo normal? All this while being in complete awe if this beautiful baby who is so amazing it makes you cry every time you look at its pink little face.

I just had my second baby last week. In some ways this postpartum is much easier than the first. For starters I'm not so anxious about everything. I'm not loosing sleep to watch the baby sleep (yes I did this with my first, I would just lay awake watching her breath... and I wonder why I had so much anxiety!), my hormones are much less dramatic this time (probably because I am sleeping a bit more), nursing is a bit easier this time around (and this kid was not born with teeth so that's already an improvement from the first) and because of all the above I'm having a lot more fun with the baby. On the other hand its got its difficulties too. I have a three (and a half if you ask her) year old who still needs me to be her mother, I can't just say "I'm on bed rest fix your own lunch" or just hold off our bedtime routine and skip snuggling and prayers while I heal. I'm not spending time in bed healing like I did the first time, and I'm paying for it. My firstborn and I have a relationship that still needs tending to, it cannot be set aside until the baby is a month old. For her I set everything aside for the first month, maybe longer time had no meaning after she was born. I deal with a little guilt for being frustrated with her when she gets bored and does something naughty to get my attention. I feel like I need to do something to entertain her, keep her busy. But then I'm not resting or really doing anything to make progress healing. I also have a little guilt that I cannot be everything I was for her less than two weeks ago, that there is this new little person in the middle that gets in the way of her needs or wants sometimes. And while I know she loves her new baby brother and I want to nurture that relationship between them, she is not old enough to carry him around like she wants to and thus hears "no he's too little" or "please be gentle with the baby" about half the day.

One of the things I really appreciate about the book is that Romm gives us mothers the permission to not have our act together. There is no way to predict which mothers will "have it together" fairly quickly and which ones need more time to sort out the details of mothering... hey if we had to have the details sorted out ever, then most mother's I know would say they never have it all together. Either way I think the point of the book is to let women know that the postpartum period is not easy, its got its bumps and pot-holes, and without a good nights rest you cannot expect yourself to have "your act together". Give yourself time to stumble down your new road and give yourself grace. Don't get upset if you didn't get the laundry done because the baby was up half the night and you chose to nap with the baby instead of having clean underwear and socks. My house has piles of cloths in just about every room, baby stuff that is getting sorted through, clean piles that need to be put away, dirty piles that need washed, and then there's the cloth diapers and borrowed maternity cloths. This morning I woke up and felt like the piles were caving in on me. Tonight they are still lurking around. Spouses don't act shocked if you leave the house and return and the postpartum mama is still in the same spot doing the same thing, even if its been 8 hours. The past few several days my husband has left for work and kissed me good bye at the couch nursing our newborn only to come home 8 hours later and find me in the same spot nursing again! Its kind of comical when he says, "So what did you do today?" to which I say, "Nursed."

Postpartum while it does have its downs can have some really great ups too. I have enjoyed getting to lay on the couch with both of my babies reading good stories and laughing at my firstborns silly stories and songs. I have enjoyed watching Curious George at 4:30 every afternoon, and eating snacks together on the front porch. I have gotten to watch the foot and bike traffic leaving for work or school at the university and then watching those same people walk or ride home at the end of the day. Marin and I have enjoyed watching the cardinals in our back yard during breakfast, and the crazy squirrels digging up who knows what. I have really enjoyed watching my husband take seriously each of the children and making a point to have one-on-one time each day. Now after reading through most of Romm's book while I am still going to try and get rid of some of those pesky piles, at the end of the day if I was needed more on the couch reading or nursing I'm going to let myself off the hook and not be so harsh with myself. I'm trying to take seriously the relationship I have with Marin and the new relationship with Owen, and save some energy for night time conversations with my husband too, if I can find him among the piles.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Thanks for the wonderful post! Balancing the needs of two kids is certainly a challenge for me as well. I am trying to be gracious with myself too, and I have the dirty laundry to prove it :)