After Griffin was born, we stayed at my mom’s house for two weeks. At the time, it was a matter of necessity. We had been living with my parents for several months upon moving back to Paducah and had not yet moved in to our new home.
My mom is a public school librarian and she was off for the summer. So, I basically had around-the-clock care even after Nicholas went back to work. My mom brought me water while I breastfed, did the laundry, cooked our meals, and held the baby while we slept.
It was glorious.
Two years later, as I prepared for the arrival of baby #2, I assumed I would give birth in my own home and maybe my mom would stay with us. My mom is notoriously protective of her space; so, imagine my surprise when she said it would be easier if I had the baby at her house again and moved back in for a couple weeks with our toddler in tow.
Again, it was fantastic. My mother isn’t the grandmother signing up for babysitting at the drop of a hat but, let me tell you, when you actually NEED her, she’s a rock star. Her and my stepfather’s help was a godsend as we adjusted to caring for two children, especially since my journey as a mother of two got off to a rocky start.
So, there was no hesitation once Felix was born. All FIVE of us moved right back in. Felix even had the good sense to arrive during a snow storm and my mom was off from school for over a week. We snuggled in with our precious new arrival, as amazing friends and family brought us food. My stepfather entertained Griffin and Amos, while my mom took care of me and the baby.
I just kept thinking. This is a postpartum paradise.
It is also a pretty exceptional experience.
The World Health Organization describes the six weeks after giving birth as the most critical and yet the most neglected phase in the lives of mothers and babies. Here in America we shove a newborn in the arms of some one who has just experienced a physical trauma, pat her on the back, and leave her to her own devices.
It's not like that everywhere. In Southern India there's a practice known as jholabhari, in which the woman moves in with her mother before giving birth and returns home to her family several months after the child is born. In Mexico, the postpartum rest period, or the cuarentena, goes for 40 days. The same is true of China and other Asian countries.
It wasn’t always like this here. My great-grandmother stayed in bed for several weeks after the birth of my uncle (her FOURTH child!) while female relatives cared for her other children and home. My great-grandmother did the same for my grandmother and great-aunts and my grandmother insists this care is the reason she and her sisters never had any reproductive problems.
However, her advice to “never lift anything heavier than your baby for six weeks” is pretty much impossible if you are left on your own to care for an infant.
When I tell people I move in with my mom after giving birth, people generally have two distinct reactions.
- You’re so lucky!
- I could never do that!
Yes, I am incredibly, insanely, beyond belief blessed with this arrangement. Every time I've given birth I've been enveloped by my family and my community allowing me to heal, to bond, to adjust to one of the most transformative times in a woman's life. It truly has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. My heart breaks for any new momma who don’t have family close by or family at all to come help her during this important and intense time.
What I hear from people who say they could “NEVER” live with their mothers is either they think the interactions between them and their mothers would be too stressful or they have an intense need for independence. It’s as if they have something to prove.
Imagine that! American mothers feeling they have something to prove!
If only I could make all these new mommas understand, the most important thing you can prove as a new momma is that you are willing to ask for help and accept it when it is offered.
Maybe your mom does stress you out. But guess what? At 2 AM when your boobs hurt, you can’t stand up straight, and the baby won’t stop crying, you’d accept help from that bitch in middle school who called you fat to your face if she could get the baby to sleep. How much worse could your mother or mother-in-law or grandmother be?
It’s not as if I don’t understand the emotions behind choosing to go it on your own. EVEN in my postpartum paradise, I’ve struggled with asking for and accepting help. With all three boys, I’ve had trouble with passing them off to my mother while I got much needed rest, especially that first night. With Amos in particular, I pushed myself so hard to still do everything for Griffin AND take care of a newborn I teetered right on the edge of postpartum depression.
Luckily, I had wise and wonderful friends and family who put the smack down on my hormonal butt and sent me to bed.
We all want to believe that as mothers no one can meet our children’s needs the way we can and, in a certain way, that is true. However, the awe-inspiring nature of motherhood is not only found in the relationship with our children but also in joining the women who have come before us on this amazing journey.
Not only joining them, but accepting their love and support and help as we take those first precious but difficult steps.
What was your postpartum experience?