So much of our focus as pregnant women lies in preparing for the birth and the practical preparations around the house. Yet what we are often less prepared for is how we will feel in body, mind, emotion and energy once baby is here. The overwhelming tiredness, anxiety, raw emotion and uncertainty which often accompanies the early weeks of learning how to care for our babies can take us by surprise.
Here I’m beginning a series of articles which explore our early post natal experiences and how an attitude of gentleness towards ourselves cultivated through our yoga practice can be of much needed support in our post natal recovery.
As pregnant women we are busy, we continue with work up until maternity leave, are busy with practical preparations and our minds are filled with thoughts, hopes and anxieties about our impending labour. Alongside this, our bodies are working harder than they ever have before, preparing themselves to labour, birth and nourish our babies.
However our babies arrive, labour and birth are tremendous. The experiences are unique, intense and for some of us, traumatic. Our body, mind and emotions are pushed way beyond their usual zones of comfort and normality. Our hormone levels peak higher than any other point in life, and aside from the physical intensity, shock and sometimes trauma of birth, receiving our beautiful baby opens us up to feelings of depth, shock, anxiety, love and intensity never before experienced.
Yet we are rarely expecting to feel this way; rather we expect, and are expected, to feel happy and joyful and calmly get on with loving and caring for our baby. Therefore when we do feel crashing exhaustion, immense panic at the overwhelming responsibility, doubts of our ability to feed, care for and settle our baby, alongside emotionally destabilising tides of love and despair, we, and those around us, start to worry.
Yet becoming a mother transforms us on so many levels (indeed this is what my book in the making Milestones of Motherhood explores in detail); we cannot go back to how things were before; we are in new and unfamiliar territory and we may well grieve the safe familiarity of our pre-mothering life. The process of labour, birth, meeting and mothering our babies changes us, and will continue to do so, yet change is a process, and this takes time. So in the immediate aftermath we may well find ourselves overwhelmed, anxious, and tired beyond what we may have imagined possible.
What I would like to say here, is that these feelings and so many more are normal. All of the pieces which constitute who we are physically, mentally and emotionally have been blasted apart, and they have not yet come back together. And in all honesty, this is a good thing. For we are in a state of flux, change and transformation; we are changing from woman to mother. From an individual to a woman with maternal responsibility. It would be more disconcerting if we did not feel such tremendous tides of change.
Change on our inner, emotional and outer, practical landscapes takes time. And in this time, our physical, mental, emotional and energetic selves are separated into many pieces. Our bodies have been through a huge ordeal, we have lost blood and fluid, perhaps received surgery or intervention and are experiencing huge waves of intense physical, emotional and hormonal change as we come to hold our baby in our arms and create space for him in our lives and hearts.
Certainly with time, patience, rest and experience the many pieces of our being come back together, yet we will be different; reformed in the image of a mother. Our pieces will have come back together, but in an entirely different way, as we re-create ourselves as mothers with our baby at the centre of our new and tentative world.
The purpose of this first post in this series of Post Natal Nurture articles is to acknowledge this unnerving, exhausted and physically, mentally and emotionally anxious and wrung out post natal state so many of us find ourselves in. This will pass with time as you recover physically, begin to process your emotional journey and slowly start to trust in your abilities to understand and care for your baby.
Be gentle with yourselves gentle mothers. Look at what you have been through. What you need most is to rest, to let yourself be looked after so you can let your body start to recover as you learn the often confusing and all consuming art of nurturing and mothering your baby.
As I write in Milestones of Motherhood, as new mums we are as embryonic as our babies; we are fledglings, with no experience to guide us. We are at the beginning of a very long, steep and continuous journey. And we are beginning this journey after months of waking through the night and pregnancy discomfort and the physical, emotional and mental exhaustion of labour and birth. We don’t need to rush and have it all worked out. We need rest, help and time to recover.
Recognise the fragile vulnerability of yourself in the immediate post natal weeks. And give yourself permission to feel everything you feel; to cry tears of fear, love, joy, confusion and release. For as we cry, we regulate our emotions and help to release the super high hormone levels from our system. Reach out and talk with your partner, friends and family, and don’t feel you have to hold it all together and be there already… this journey is a journey, a journey of change and transformation, and this is a process not a destination, it takes time.
Be gentle on yourself and acknowledge what you have been through physically.
Let yourself rest and be with your baby. Take lots of unhurried time skin to skin, let yourself sleep, rest and read. This isn’t being lazy, it is essential for your physical recovery. Ask for and receive help with shopping, cooking and practical things around the house.
Don’t be afraid to ask visitors to come at a time when you are feeling more ready to receive them, when you are less raw physically, mentally and emotionally.
Give yourself permission to take the space you need to let your pieces come back together in their own time. Getting out and about to groups and with friends is wonderful and there is so much time for this. But don’t put yourself under pressure to do so before you feel ready. Listen to your body, let your bleeding begin to lighten, give yourself time to get feeding established.
Good rest and a thorough, unhurried post natal recovery is the foundation for our onwards physical and mental health and enjoyment through mothering and our long term pelvic health, so give yourself the time you need, let your body rest and begin to recuperate, take slow days in bed and around the house holding, feeding and being with your baby.
And let some of the all encompassing love and nurture you feel for your baby wash over yourself too.
You are amazing; you are exactly who and what your baby needs. Love yourself tenderly and fiercely as you learn to love and care for your baby and grow into yourself as a Mother. Let your partner, friends and family love and support you, and gently guide them as to how this support would be most useful.
The following articles will explore how we can nurture our physical, emotional and mental re-constellation with yoga and an attitude of gentleness through the amazing and overwhelming early post natal period.