Mothering The Mother
In some cultures there is a period of 40 days where new mothers are nourished, and looked after as they look after their babies. There is no cooking or cleaning to be done. These new mums are not expected to leave the house and run errands or do the grocery shop. They are allowed to rest and to bond with their babies while other women take over the duties around the house, offer support, entertain the older children, and prepare food.
Two or three generations ago in New Zealand it was the norm for women to spend up to two weeks in hospital with their babies. Some women loved the enforced rest, particularly if they had older children at home, while others found this period restrictive and uncomfortable and would rather have been at home. To be fair women were not even allowed to get up to use the loo during this time – bed pans were brought to them - so it’s understandable that this form of confinement was a bit much for some! Once home it was common for family members to bring meals and to help around the house.
Today we often find ourselves isolated from our families as we choose to live in different parts of the world. Friends are busy and may call in briefly for a quick cuddle of the baby, but probably fail to see the vacuum in the middle of the floor or the washing pile on the chair next to them. Or if they notice don’t think to do anything with either.
Labour is sometimes an endurance event, and even when it is short it is generally hard and intense work. Physically there is recovery to be done. Mentally, emotionally and spiritually there are adjustments to be made. New mothers are tired, even overwhelmed, and keenly feel the expectations of society. There is so much pressure, both external and internal, to get this parenting gig ‘right’. But how many other jobs are people thrown into without some sort of support from those more experienced? Why should motherhood be any different?
We all know about birth plans and perhaps more consideration could be given to postnatal plans. What does a new mother need? What will help her to get through those first foggy weeks where days are muddled by sleep deprivation, dirty nappies, sore nipples, cold cups of tea, and 2pm showers (hurried affairs stolen between baby naps)?
Here are eight suggestions for Mothering the Mother. If you’re a very new or expectant mum you could send this list out to friends and family. If you’re an experienced mum you may be able to offer up some of these things to the women in your life who are just embarking on their new parent journey.
Above all leave the new mother with her baby when you visit (unless she wishes to escape to the bathroom uninterrupted by her little one), and you make the tea, fold the washing, stack and turn on the dishwasher, or even prepare a meal and pop it in the oven. Don’t be the person who comes for a cuddle and disappears again. New mothers remember gratefully the people who support them through the early days and weeks. Women matter. Mothers matter. Remind her of that through your actions.