Perhaps because pregnancy and birth get all the magazine covers and headlines—no surprise, as these events sell more stuff—we’ve overlooked this last part of the childbearing story. A woman’s postpartum experience might be given a brief nod at the end of a pregnancy book, or thirty seconds of footage at the end of a TV show, but a deeper look almost never occurs. Rather than get invited to take a sacred time-out after delivering her child, the new mother is more likely met with pressure to “bounce back”—back to her pre-pregnancy productivity, back to her pre-pregnancy body, and back to her pre-pregnancy spirits.
But when it comes to becoming a mother, there is no back; there is only through. After birthing her child, every woman must pass through this initial adjustment phase. It is a strange and beautiful limbo zone that is both exhausting and exciting, mysterious and monotonous. When she arrives at the other side of the postpartum phase after roughly a month and a half, she will most certainly be facing forward, prepared to take her next steps into motherhood.
—Heng Ou with Amely Greeven and Marisa Belger,
The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother, page 10
I love this quote. Birth often steals the limelight, but the season before and especially the season after are oh-so sacred, perhaps even more so than that fleeting moment.
How similar is Christmas Day! Like birth, it woos our attention but represents a mere day in a significant, hope-filled season.
Advent began two weeks ago. And so we approach the ides of December and this sacred time of waiting. Our hearts resonate with this season, don’t they?
I’m waiting. We’re waiting.
Many of you are also waiting—and even longing.
- for birth
- for conception
- for a soul mate
- for personal or vocational fulfillment
- for Christmas break
- for a new year of new possibility…
But what happens when the yearned-for arrives? Is it an end in itself? Or perhaps a gateway in a grander narrative?
Like the days after Christmas, the postpartum period may feel like a letdown (pun intended). But for anyone with the privilege of bearing a child, this may be the most pivotal passage of your life. Below are a few hopes I wish I could share with every new mom.
Sometimes I coach women about to enter the sacred postpartum season. And sometimes I have the unique honor of being directly involved in their care. This month is all about the latter.
As I walk alongside a newly delivered mother, I’m reminded afresh of the miracle of this time. My role is peripheral: cooking quietly in the background, preparing her warm meals, serving her herbal teas, nourishing her body, mind, and spirit. But it plays an important supporting role to her central one: she nourishes the body, mind, and spirit of her new little one to set herself and her family upon a firm foundation for decades to come.
It is a weighty, yet hope-filled, charge.
Whether you have one kid or several, an abundance of help or nary a third hand in sight, there are simple ways to traverse this rite of passage with solemnity and celebration.
Even if you’re not a new mom (or a mother at all), there’s something universal about my wish list. You might find that these points resonate with you this season, too.
These 12 points are my (very tangential) ode to the 12 days of Christmas, which like the postpartum days emerge on the heels of a pivotal day yet give rise to a richly imbued time of reflection, joy, and awe for this miraculous, life-giving season.
What I long to tell every new mom
- Hold your baby. From mealtime to naptime, a kid kept close provides infinite comfort for both mother and newborn. Babies, whether awake or asleep, belong in arms, especially in those precious first few weeks! And it’s much easier to do if you…
- Rest. Do you really need to go anywhere? Eliminate all nonessential travel, recruit help whenever possible, and savor this season of solitude. That sets you up for success to…
- Nourish your baby well. Breast milk is best. Prioritize nature’s perfectly designed first food. If for some reason breast milk isn’t available to you in your situation, seek out donor milk. But most birth mothers can produce enough if you…
- Nourish yourself well. Simple and soupy is the way to go. Favor ample fats, easily digested proteins, and slow-releasing carbs. The well-intentioned casseroles can wait until you’ve emerged from the sacred six-week window, and your digestion can stomach denser fare. And if you want more than just good food…
- Sip warm drinks. Teas and tonics (caffeine-free!) help with 3 and 4. Plus, a savored mug provides more than hydration—the ritual can nourish mind and soul, too. And it’s a great carrier to…
- Spice it up. From food and drink to aromatics and decorations, herbs and seasonings fortify your body and ward off the maladies of the season. Heating spices like ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, garlic, and star anise also help you…
- Stay warm. Wrap up in a blanket, put on a hat, pull out the leggings, take a hot bath—dispel chills in any way you can. Ensconce yourself in not only external warmth but also the ethereal warmth provided when you…
- Cherish family. Babies bring generations together in ways that nothing else can. If you have healthy relationships with parents and grandparents, siblings and cousins, aunts and uncles, and whoever else makes up your extended family, let them help to the extent that you’re comfortable. If you don’t have access to family, then…
- Invite friends. It does indeed take a village to raise a child, and postpartum especially is not a time to go it alone. Find ways to re-create that village, perhaps even before birth, so you have helping hands when you need them most. Even with help, there may be times when life feels surreal, overwhelming, disorienting—and you just need to…
- Cry. New motherhood presents a time of great physical upheaval as your body reintegrates and returns to normal—and also presents unforeseen challenges. Talk through your birth story, confide in a friend, process your emotions now, and then let them go. But at the other end of the spectrum (or perhaps merely the other side of the same coin), take ample opportunity to…
- Smile. Especially at your baby. She sees little more than the hazy glimmer of your face in those early days, but she can’t get enough of it. You’re her world. Your expressions help her understand that all is aright. But also smile—and perhaps laugh—at yourself. Offer grace in this season. Give yourself space to…
- Savor each day. It’s far too easy to count the days. The days to Christmas. To another year. To your baby’s monthly milestones. To the time you can exercise again. To the end of your maternity leave. But this is a precious passage. Let go of expectations and destinations. Enjoy the journey through.
If you have a new baby around, how well are you taking these hopes to heart?
If you will have a baby around soon, how well are you preparing for the pivotal postpartum passage? (If you need help, feel free to connect with us personally.)
And if you don’t have any babies around, this still applies! Don’t merely dismiss this list and close the window. Do you see how apropos these points are for so many of life’s transitions? We all thrive on wholesome foods, material and immaterial warmth, community support, and periods of introspection to ponder the miracle and solemnity of life born and sustained. This wish list, while penned with mothers in mind, isn’t far from what I hope for each of you this season.