Eight weeks after I had my first child I moved to Mongolia with my Mongolian husband. I was superwoman. In the short two months since my baby’s birth I had packed all our belongings, worked out passports and visas and plane tickets. I hosted a goodbye party and did a little speaking tour to raise money for mission projects in my new homeland. It was full-speed ahead for me! I mean, hey, I had her naturally, at home. I was relatively healthy. So, what could hold me back?! I was woman and you would hear me roar.
Then I got to Mongolia and people were appalled–offended even. Was I out and about so soon with my baby? Why was my head not covered? Why did I not have cotton in my ears? Why was I drinking cold beverages?! And for the love of God why did my baby not have a hat on?!?!?!
I was in a different world. A place where they had this thing called Lying-in, where postpartum women and their babies were given special consideration, special food, special care. Their bodies were treated gently and with compassion. They got special foods and warm drinks. And most importantly they had to stay inside and nurse their babies! How archaic.
Come to find out, many cultures have a 40-day (give or take) rule for post-partum women. Koreans have a (kind of) stinky soup to drink. Chinese women can’t go out for 30 days and are discouraged from showering. Latin American women bind their bellies. Ugandan women shave their heads. Indonesian and Malaysian women are not allowed to cook or clean for the first 40 days. In almost all cultures throughout the world the post-partum woman is treated gently, with respect and honor. She’s allowed to rest, nurse her baby and little else. She is usually cared for by other women in her family or community.
In Mongolia, the Lying-In time includes, among other things, drinking warm drinks and avoiding cold ones; keeping your head covered–especially your ears so you don’t “get wind”; a woman is not to get cold, at all. Warm clothes, layers. During the 40 days, anyone who comes to see mother and/or baby must bring a gift–it’s required to prevent breast infections. (No, I’m not making that up.)
“Confinement“–this just means if you don’t have to go out, don’t! Stay home with your baby and be as comfortable as possible. In the bed, on the couch, doesn’t matter. Just let the outside world keep spinning, while you and your baby have some special time together.
Warm foods. This hails from an Eastern understanding of the hot-cold balance in all things. But, for the average person who doesn’t have a nice Asian auntie caring for them, remember this: soups, broths, teas = good. Ice cream, smoothies, raw veggies = not so good.
Warm clothing. Again with the keeping warm thing. Postpartum is a time for cuddly blankets and layers and slippers. Easier to do in the winter, for sure. Just try to stay warm.
Nurse your baby. This is your one job. Your only job.
To the American mind this might all sound a little crazy or maybe just crazy old fashioned. The American independent spirit runs deep. It’s how we overcome obstacles and accomplish the American dream! But, in our enthusiasm we may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
Awareness of Postpartum Care
Because pregnancy is a natural and healthy function and just because we can do it our way, empowered and free, does not mean that it is also not a sacred space and time in the life of a mother and child. That period has an intrinsic value and holiness, that should be acknowledged and respected. Our bodies and souls do need to recover from the business of birthing a baby. It is possible to make the passage into Motherhood a gentle one, in order that we be more gentle mothers.
Thankfully, the awareness of the need for postpartum care is on the rise–thanks to postpartum doulas and support groups and moms who are willing to share their experiences. Jacqueline Kelleher, doula, gives the following benchmarks for good postpartum support: (Jacqueline Kelleher, “What Women Need During the Postpartum Period: A Top Ten List” (lecture presented at the DONA International Conference, San Francisco, July 25, 2003) )
1. The mother needs physical support so she can rest.
2. The mother (and father) needs support and encouragement to establish successful breastfeeding.
3. The couple needs support for avoiding and minimizing PPMDs.
4. The couple needs information and education on how to integrate this baby into the family.
5. The couple needs information and education on infant characteristics and infant care skills.
6. The couple (especially the mother) needs someone to listen to her and to honor her birth story.
7. The couple needs a peer group—people who are not only parents, but also parents of young babies.
8. The couple needs patience.
9. The mother needs support while healing physically from birth.
10. The mother and father both need physical touch.
So what do you think? Did you observe a lying-in time after the birth of your baby? In what ways could your community have supported you better? Share in the comments!
BIO: Daja is the happy mom of eight children with one on the way. All her babies have been born at home with a midwife. She still likes to roar, but now takes at least 40 days postpartum before roaring in public. She is the co-founder of The Provision Room, with her bestie, Kristina, about abundant home-centered living! Together Daja and Kristina write, speak and proclaim that a joyful life can be found in hearth and home! This includes traditional foods, natural remedies, gentle parenting, liturgical living, and just enough quirkiness to keep you guessing!
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