I just came across this amazing article about our culture of postpartum care for the mother – or lack thereof. Because I’m postpartum myself and not up to writing a huge post about it, I’m just going to quote extensively from the article. But really, you should read the whole thing.
The main gist of it is that in the United States – unlike most other parts of the world – we do not take very good care of women in the postpartum period. It’s about the healthcare system, yes, but it’s mostly about our culture. About what moms expect of themselves and what others expect of us.
She starts off by comparing the care we give pregnant women versus the care we give postpartum women.
“For the expectant, we issue reams of proscriptions—more than can reasonably be followed. We tell them what to eat and what not to eat. We ask that they visit the doctor regularly and that they not do any strenuous activity. We give them our seats on the bus. Finally, once they’ve actually undergone the physical trauma of it, their bodies thoroughly depleted, we beckon them most immediately to rejoin the rest of us.”
She then describes the postpartum care given in many other cultures, including extensive “lie-ins”, special rituals, and a month or more of special care. (Not all of it sounded appealing, or even particularly healthy, to me, but it’s about the culture of care, not the specifics of what they do.)
“With these rituals comes an acknowledgment, familial and federal, that the woman needs relief more at this time than at any other—especially if she has a career to return to—and that it takes weeks, sometimes months, to properly heal from childbirth. An acknowledgement that overexertion after labor could lead to depression, infection, increased uterine bleeding, or prolapse. An acknowledgment that the postpartum stretch shouldn’t feel, as it did for so many of the American women who took part in my informal survey, like one long sleepless night.”
She then goes on to give some really great descriptions of the expectations placed on new mothers and how hard they make life for the mother.
“American mothers internalize the prevailing attitude—‘I should be able to handle this myself; women have babies every day’—and if they’re not up and functioning, they feel like there’s something wrong with them.”
“The problem is that no one recognizes the new mother as a recuperating person, and she does not see herself as one. For the mourning or the injured, we will activate a meal tree. For the woman who is torturously fatigued, who has lost one 10th of her body’s blood supply, who can scarcely pee for the stitches running up her perineum, we will not.”
“In the States, a woman is looked after, by herself and by others, only so long as her body is a receptacle for the baby. Attention then transfers to the needs of the infant. To ask for respite is to betray not only weakness and helplessness, but selfishness. You should be prepared for the emotional and physical demands of your new motherly role and you should like them, too.”
And I’ll just end with this quote from a mother. Because, yes.
“‘It took me a good eight to nine weeks to be normal—I mean, physically able to not wear disposable underwear. But you’re supposed to be Facebook-ready two days after labor.'”
** I actually feel really lucky compared to some of the women quoted in the article: I had two home visits from my midwives within the first ten days postparum, and I’ve had great support from my parents, mother-in-law and friends. But I still feel the heavy weight of these expectations. **