I was recently reminded how monumentally significant the event of childbirth is for a woman, and how its imprint endures for her, her baby, her family, and her community.
I was sitting in a circle of women who felt called to the mission of Postnatal Support Network. We were there to be trained as postnatal support helpers. During the training we held space for a Mother-honoring ritual, learned nourishing recipes specifically suited for the postpartum period (which we prepared and ate together), and shared intimate details – joys, regrets, tears, traumas, crises, memories of wonderful and difficult moments – of our own birth experiences. What had brought us together was a common, heartfelt desire to shower new mothers with extraordinary love, support, nourishment, and compassionate care during this tender and pivotal time in their lives.
This is not a revolutionary notion, according to Ingrid Bal, director of the Postnatal Support Network (PSN), an international organization currently based in the Netherlands. The idea and practice of a 40-day postnatal healing and bonding time has been present in many ancient and traditional cultures. “For example, there is this Chinese tradition of ‘sitting moon’ – a period where mother is being served by grandmother or auntie for six weeks (after giving birth).” In this tradition, women’s needs were tended by other women, foods specifically selected and prepared to support the healing process, and special attention given to assure proper healing and bonding time with the baby.
The mission of the Postnatal Support Network is to re-introduce this idea and, through it’s international training program and network, provide the resources to make it a reality for Western women. “Our Culture has this idea that it is pretty cool if you’re back on your bicycle within two weeks after your labor, and if you can fit into your old jeans again, but this is not something that we would encourage or support.”
The weekend-long Postnatal Support Network training provides insight into the complexity of childbirth from the perspective of Kundalini Yoga. The Yogic tradition holds that during the birthing experience, a woman delivers from her deepest, most precious life-giving and life-sustaining resources physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Her need for rest and healing in the wake of these events is extraordinary.
For me, remembering the exhaustion and physical and emotional challenges of my own perinatal experiences – sleepless nights, nursing difficulties, long hours alone while my partner was working, and the sometimes frustrating trials and errors of getting to know my babies and understand their needs (never mind time for my own needs!) – made this training concept seem like a Godsend. I had tried hard to be a strong soldier, and gave most of my energy to my babies. In terms of nourishing myself – if I couldn’t prepare it, eat it, and clean it up with one hand, it just didn’t happen! Years later I recognized how I expected too much from myself; and tearfully remembered the pain of deprivation and exhaustion. I decided that I want to pay this forward to other women.
The physical, emotional, and long-term clinical implications of mothers not receiving enough rest, nourishment or support before, during, and after childbirth have been reiterated to me again and again in my study and practice of Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Both of these traditions recognize that prolonged periods of exhaustion and depletion can have longstanding impact on health and immunity. The postnatal period is an especially vulnerable time for a woman in this regard.
“(There are) a lot of things to deal with when you are just becoming a mother.” Ingrid emphasized in our interview. “You need to become adjusted to the needs of a newborn baby; it’s care, food, love, attention 24 hours day. (You also) have to re-set your whole role and identity to being a new mother, and also a father.”
In addition to addressing the needs of the mother, PSN’s weekend training included a discussion regarding the significant shift that occurs in the family dynamic around the events of childbirth for the partner and siblings. A calm and supported postnatal period is meant to provide the entire family with stress-free time for rest and adjustment. PSN also recommends “that the (newborn) child remain in the presence of the mother the first 40 days after birth. It will establish a safe and recognizable reference and can avoid confusion for the baby.”
Ingrid shared about her own experience with having a postnatal helper after childbirth. Her in-home helper provided three warm, freshly-prepared meals per day, gave her massages, and “listened to my crying stories.” It imparted a “deep, deep awareness that you don’t need to be alone in this. There is a world of people willing to help.”
“It doesn’t come natural to us as women in this day and age (to rest for extended periods). Our mothers come from a generation of being strong and healthy – roll up your sleeves and do the work. This is was our reference.”
She notes that she also had difficulties asking for help. “What I realized when I did call out, they were honored that you asked them. How big and deep and beautiful. “
PSN is founded on 3 pillars; education, empowerment, and exchange. By educating future mothers, birth professionals and would-be helpers about the delicacy and wonderful opportunity for rest, recovery, and family bonding in the postnatal period, they intend to empower family and community members to provide support. They also encourage mothers not to feel afraid or ashamed to ask for help. “We want to create a safe environment…. please make sure you honor yourself, your family, and your time as a mother. Take it very slowly; allow time to heal the wounds of your labor, to adjust the relationship with the father or partner, and have time to communicate with your child.”
Through it’s website, PSN provides a platform for connecting families with trained helpers, as well as tools for setting up a postnatal support system that addresses each family’s needs and lifestyle. For more information and advice for organizing your or a friend’s postnatal resting time, check out the website or contact a local coordinator. If you are inspired to help, you can become a member or donate to ensure that this work will reach many future mothers and families.
Author: Jennifer M