Let’s talk about healing.
Has anyone else noticed the lack of openness, awareness and interest around the postpartum healing process for women? (aka the creators, the nurturers, the ones who bear witness to the magic of life and, often almost instantaneously, death with their courageous bodies and hearts), Our little babe came earthside 3.5 months ago. It’s been a blustery season of learning, rocking, singing, laughing, sighing and full-on physical healing. And it’s been an equally confusing season of scouring online forums to review insights, stories, tips and warnings on all of the above. Of all the info: why isn’t more dedicated to me, the mama and why does my healing seem to take much longer than other mamas?
More individualized mama care…
To my dismay during research, much of the medical material available online omits the reality of post childbirth months for most women. You can find ample resources for childrearing: how to get your baby to sleep, how to create a routine for your baby, how to watch for milestones…. But where is the real and raw information for my healing and traumatized body? Why do I only find standardized timelines that package us all neatly into one box?
Us mamas need care and attention. We are thrown head first into a brand new world after surviving labour (a feat of endurance and intensity like no other). Once completed, there is minimal realistic guidance out there for the recovering body. The last visit with a midwife or obgyn in Canada is 6 weeks postpartum and this has quietly become the normal expected end point for the healing process.
After the 6 week visit, or even earlier, the ‘shoulds’ creep in: I should try to lose weight, I should aim to fit into pre-pregnancy clothes, I should feel romantic and sexual with my partner, I should be the perfect mother and give my all to baby, I should spend my days with other mamas and their babies, I should easily ignore all the judgements coming from all angles and most strongly from within.
Perhaps if we addressed the root of the issue - that women are undergoing all types of sensitive healing and hormones for months and even years after childbirth and if we were more open about it all – the shoulds wouldn’t weigh so heavily on our actions and thoughts.
I’m going to get real about the phases of healing and a new me.
In the light of openness, I’m about to share what was healing in me, what continues to heal and change in me. I personally was not prepared for some of the phases listed below and was further shocked when researching what should be ‘normal’. Now I understand that it’s all normal, it’s all natural. I was truly blessed with a smooth labour and somewhat smooth transitions into this new cycle, yet am not numb to lows, exhaustion or the unbearable pains and challenges that others around me experience. I write this for all of us, because we all need to stand behind one another. Mamas-to-be may want to skip it if they’d rather discover a journey of healing on their own. This may be useful for papas-to-be in order to be stronger supports for the healing mama.
No matter how it looks, we must honour it ALL as a path along the feminine trajectory. It’s transformative, raw and mamas can project true grace and power by embracing each challenge with inquiry and patience.
When it’s hard to sit, stand, poo or smell like flower:
- One of my biggest 'ahas' on the isolated healing journey was wearing a diaper-like pad for 5 weeks. Yes, 5 weeks. Many websites I came across sited that the lochia or most of the bleeding should stop at 14 days. Well lucky you. If you can relate to me, air that poor area out whenever you can. I kept thinking: my connection to and empathy for babe is stronger because we are both in diapers.
- Bleeding and intense pain down there while healing correlates to pain when moving from sitting to standing and vice versa. I was way too polite when guests were over and sat on the couch when I should have lay on my side. Also: pain when sneezing, or laughing (really, try not to).
- Now that the baby is out, there emerges a new and real fear of pushing in this area (I cannot speak for cesarean births). 5 words: stool softeners and prune juice. Every day, for weeks and weeks. Let that area feel breezy, soft, light, flowing and everything nice so it can heal up.
- My partner and I are big proponents of doing what works for the baby, for their personality. With ours, co-sleeping worked wonders for the first 7 weeks or so. Such a special experience that also allowed us all to get sleep. Surprisingly painful were (still are) the knots, kinks and aches from contorting my body to make space for the tiniest human in our bed. Get a California King.
- Hey, have you ever taken a hot yoga class? Or a killer spin class? That kind of sweat is my life now. All day long. I pray you differ from me in this area.
- Because the hormones are still raging for months postpartum (especially if you are blessed with milk to breastfeed), you could be wondering what that disastrous smell is following you around. Oh wait, it’s you. Sweating profusely and it stinks? Good thing I’m not a yoga teacher.
- More about expelling: those big beautiful breasts full of milk leak everywhere and the nectar is sticky. If you don’t massage them constantly, you risk blocked ducts and other lovely ailments. As grateful as I am for all they do for my babe and my partner’s amusement, my boobs are dead to me now.
- Every time I stand up from sitting now, I literally am hunched over for a few extra seconds until I begin my slow rise to standing tall, with deeply bent knees and a ton of low back/hip flexor pain. Yay! I have graduated from sitting on a doughnut, to geriatric status: stiffness in every muscle around the pelvis and a build up of scar tissue from holding my legs in Happy Baby pose for 3 hours, while pushing. Again for emphasis - pushing for 3 hours.
- Did I tell you that I pushed my baby out for 3 hours? Her neck was kinked in the canal but she was thankfully unaffected by it. I, however, have been left with a cute little condition called prolapse. This means one of the organs above the vaginal wall has fallen because ligaments and tendons holding it in place are overstretched (in this case, it’s my bladder that has prolapsed. Told you I’d be real). Prolapse doesn’t only happen in pregnancy or labour but also in athletes, from poor posture (don’t jut those front ribs out, girl) and from being overweight. I think mine is a combination of pushing for so long, pregnancy weight and my posture that cause the prolapse. I felt it at 5 weeks postpartum but some women don’t feel until months and months after. Guess how much research I had to do in order to piece together this short explanation above? And guess who self-diagnosed herself? And now guess who is spending heaps of money on private instruction / physio and her 1 hour of ‘free time’ at night doing therapy to reverse this uncomfortable prolapse? (it is working though!)
- Intense waves of drug-like hormones and uncontrollable emotional sensitivity are almost a daily occurrence, so there is never a dull moment in this rollercoaster of a mind / body I inhabit. Balance is a whole new concept which I have yet to comprehend or get a handle on. I guess this entire point encapsulates the beauty of being a woman (with or without child) and I am LIVING IT SO HARD RIGHT NOW.
- Asking for help is the new black. It’s been so hard for me to continuously ask for the same things - water and food. As hard as I try to stock up, whenever I sit to feed our babe, I seem to have miraculously misplaced both. But it takes a village and my village is always there, offering with perfect timing, just when I think I am done with asking. I couldn’t imagine if I had needed help carrying my baby (as many do after childbirth) or help changing gauze or support to grieve a passed babe, or being faced with days or weeks in the hospital. Those are all advanced practices on asking for and receiving help…. I bow to those women and families.
Slow down and heal your powerful self.
I hope we all stand up against the shoulds, timelines and expectations placed upon women to get up, bounce back and get at ‘em right after childbirth. It’s not that we are weak and traumatized victims in the post phase, quite the opposite, but the body has been a vessel for the most transformative event on earth. After such creation, a period of slowness and conscious physical repair is the best thing for the body. This is partly why we can and do rely on our village, our communities to support the process of entering into motherhood. I pray that we help uncover the veil of 'shoulds' to those who have turned a blind eye to the beauty, destruction and transformation entwined in life.
I see you, mama.
I write not to allude to some kind of norm but to simply offer that there is no one perfect way to heal, no smooth way to dive in and no turning back. And we eventually sink into a rhythm, a ritual that is beautifully steeped in love. Only the mama understands how this rhythm unfolds as she plants seeds of gratitude and prayer with every breath in the days after giving birth. As much as she has endured and continues to haul through - she realizes that the rhythm she carries within is a living celebration. That’s it: she is here not only to create life but also to celebrate it. Not to celebrate a regression into what life used to be but the stepping into life now. To celebrate honestly what lives at her core. She is changing, she is strength embodied, she is unlike any other.
The mama may jump out of bed in the middle of the night to feed the babe.
She may be up at dawn to work in the field or tend to the garden.
She may look as though she has bounced back.
Yet months and years later, healing is still very real for her and often overwhelming.
The healing has made her more sensitive and attuned to those who have had it easier as well as harder than her.
It has caused her to hurt for those whose babies are no longer in their mama's embrace.
The physical and emotional healing is not only for her but also for millions of mamas before her.
It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it all takes time and a gentle openness.
The healing is easier if I can call it my own season, if I can celebrate its tedious lows and highs, if I have your listening ear, your soft understanding, your shoulder to cry on and your mama belly to laugh with mine.