The postpartum paradox

For most women, the first weeks after ushering new life into the world are arguably the most difficult times they will face. Physically depleted. Emotionally raw. Exhausted. Vulnerable. Scared.

Yet this is when we ignore mothers the most. At least, that’s the case in Western countries.

We do a marvelous job of supporting women during pregnancy. Special vitamins, baby showers, babymoons, prenatal massages, endless birthing classes, books and other resources.

But as soon as the baby arrives, the focus shifts. Is the baby on schedule? Has the baby regained its birth weight? How much is the baby sleeping? Sadly, this is where our care and compassion for the mother ends.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, in most places, it isn’t this way at all. Dating back many centuries, cultures around the world have focused on offering their most comprehensive care postpartum, and the focus is on the mother. The ancient knowledge, passed down through the generations, states that to take care of the baby, you must take care of the mother first. A supported mother means a thriving baby.

Serving as an advocate for the mother can take many forms, but postpartum care could include:  

Facilitation of her physical healing. Childbirth is physically exhausting, and few women take the rest their bodies need to heal and restore. While sleep is an important factor, additional support like herbal sitz baths and massage can help the body begin to repair itself.  

Support for setting boundaries. Self expression is difficult for most people in the best circumstances.  In this vulnerable state, many woman struggle with what they want to do as opposed to what they believe they’re expected to do. Hosting visitors. Listening to criticism from family members. Getting dressed to look presentable. Many women could use an advocate to help them set boundaries, act on their behalf and help navigate this stressful time.

Permission to feel her emotions. Some new mothers suppress their emotions and suffer in silence. Some have a preconceived idea of what a “good mother” is (maybe modeled after their own mom), and they criticize themselves for not living up to that ideal. Some new mothers don’t connect with their baby the way they believe they’re “supposed to.” Regardless of what she’s going through, she needs permission to feel that frustration, sadness, insecurity or anger, address where it’s coming from and process it. The postpartum window marks a significant transformation and no one should feel expected to love every minute of it.

Space to adjust to motherhood, at whatever pace she needs. This transition feels different to everyone, and it brings up different emotions and struggles depending on the mother, the baby and their circumstances. The mother should feel supported to adjust when and how she wants to, based on what feels natural to her. Obsessing over timelines from books, expectations from others, or what’s portrayed as real life on social media will only lead to disappointment.

What happens when a mother finishes her transition into motherhood confident, empowered and whole? She is equipped to operate at her highest potential and show up for her family in a way that’s loving and sustainable for years to come.

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