After leaving from a day spent learning about postpartum traditions with the inspiring Layla B (having been taught herself by the traditional midwives in Morocco her country of origin), I was left pondering how we in Britain care for our new mothers.
The day was spent in a Bedouin tent hidden behind the hustle and bustle of central London. A tranquil and picturesque space that was the perfect setting on a Friday afternoon. As soon as I entered the tent, I was engulfed with the aromas of North Africa, the mixture of mint and lemongrass filled the air.
The basis of the learning for the day was the six steps of postpartum healing which is used by the traditional midwives (Qablas) to assist the Nafsa (new mother) into their transition to motherhood. These midwives are slowly going into extinction due to the increase of modern day hospital births and c section births in Morocco, but we are lucky to still have some out there working tirelessly for little to no profit, since it is seen as a gift from God to have this role.
The six steps of postpartum healing are: welcome, honour, nourish, nurture, close and celebrate. It is said that ‘the grave of a Nafsa remains open for 40 days’ meaning that the Nafsa is vulnerable to illnesses and needs to be cared for accordingly to avoid this. What follows after the birth is a period of nurture, celebrations, washing and annointing of the Nafsa, and a traditional closing of the bones (which is also used traditionally in other countries as a way to heal both body and mind after a transition in life). The Qabla and female members of her family and friends care for the mother around the clock until the seventh day where there is a big celebration with food, music, dancing and Henna painting, and the baby is introduced, often with their newly shaved head.
Whilst listening to such beautiful traditions that made such sense to me, a mother of four and a birth worker that has been lucky enough to work with women during this time in their lives, it made me reflect on my own journey. My first three babies were born in a hospital. With my first, I was bathed, dressed and in a cab home with baby on my lap (this was okay 17 years ago). I was met with guests, housework, and basic normal life. My mother, who lived a distance away, arrived on day nine to find a very emotionally unbalanced young mother who already believed that she had failed at motherhood; what else would I have thought? I had no guidance or knowledge of mothering a baby at that point.
I remember one friend, the only one that had had a baby, came to visit me and automatically I held my new bundle out to her, waiting to hear the coos, but she just said ‘go and sit down and rest,’ and with that she walked straight into my kitchen, prepared a beautiful meal and cleaned my kitchen and pans until they were gleaming. What she knew because of her own experience was that I was exhausted (I am sure it only took one look to gather that!) and that I was sick of eating junk that I could just about grab one handed whilst baby was in the other on my boob.
My boobs and baby thanked her for that beautiful milk-inducing dish and I was left in tears of gratitude. Fast forward 16 years and with all the knowledge of birth I had gained along the way I still fell short after the birth of baby number four. The image above is me six hours after birth, washed, dressed and on my third round of visitors, an hour or so before I was on my laptop making out invoices for work that I was to be paid for. As a single parent (long story for another blog) I had the weight of making sure I could feed my brood and that overrode the importance of stopping and allowing the oxytocin that was running through me to take presence for me and baby. As a result, my breast feeding journey was affected and I am left with feelings of regret and guilt.
So why do we not value this sacred bonding and recuperating time in this society? Is it because we see it as a luxury to be cared for? Or is it because we see it as a weakness to not jump up straight back into our size 10 skinny jeans, back to work and trojaning on to the school run the next day? Don’t get me wrong, for some this isn’t an option, and our budget and network of support may not enable a month of rest and self care.
This got me wondering, was this sacred forty days ever historically valued in this society. After doing some researched I discovered the tradition of ‘churching’ which only came to an end in 1970’s. This was a christian tradition were by the mother was given a ceremony in the church and blessed for the survival of childbirth after forty days. Rumour has it that this ceremony took place because they were seen as unclean but it would seem that there was more to it and actually this time was spent being nurtured and cared for by her family and loved ones.
You only have to look at most countries across the world to see this forty day rule within their culture China, India, South America the list goes on. This sacred time for mother and baby will be something that I will be explring and gaining more knowledge on and will be promoting the benefits of in my birth work. The statistics are proof enough of the rise of PND in our western world something which seems to be very rare in the societies where the the mother is nurtured and guided into their most poignant time in their life MOTHERHOOD. Its time we honour the mother -Nafsa and make this much needed tradition a mandatory part of our culture.
I will be looking at the different cultures and how they honour the new mother and sharing these cultures with you all as a monthly blog.