Spending forty days at home after birth is a practice honoured by many cultures around the world, from South America, to India (in the tradition of Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science) and Europe (Greece). In countries like Australia and the US there seems to be almost the opposite approach—get out and back to normal as soon as you can!
In late pregnancy, instead of fussing over designing the perfect nursery, I spent my time preparing for birth and the gritty, hazy days of post-partum recovery. I knew I needed to make things as easy as possible for myself during this time, so I cooked nourishing meals and stuffed my freezer full; I made a mix of activated nuts and seeds to munch on during late night breastfeeding; my husband hooked us up with Hello Fresh so he could prepare fresh evening meals interspersed with the freezer stash (this way I never had to cook!); I made arrangements with family and friends to help out at certain times during the week with my three year old; and I connected with a friend who is a postpartum doula to prepare my placenta for encapsulation, which is effective at stabilizing hormones post birth and warding off post-partum depression.
In my mind, prioritizing caring for myself post-birth was by default the BEST way to care for my newborn and, my whole family! The idealic nursery can wait, in fact, who am I kidding, the baby will co-sleep with us until he’s ready to share a room with his big brother!
But back to the forty days at home, I actually didn’t stay in the house the entire time. It’s been a brutally cold winter by Australian standards and so the moment the sun came out or the temperature rose to double digits, I fantasized about going out for a walk, and we often did. Mothering 3 year old Bodhi alongside my precious newborn Yagan, meant that the odd neighbourhood walk became a blessing; fresh air for me and bub and a chance for B to burn up some energy! But all in all, Yagan and I mostly stayed indoors in our nest getting to know one another with absolutely no pressure to rush out at DO anything (except when I had to go to the doctor for a mastitis infection- ugh!)
It was a richly layered experience of highs and lows and I feel compelled to share some of the things I learned from it, because I think they can apply to all facets of life and are in no way limited to a woman’s post-birth ‘confinement.’
#1 Lessons from impatience, craving and wanting.
It is indeed a paradox that I simultaneously adored the slowness of my 40days at home getting to know my baby, while also being impatient to get out again! There are many minutes in a day and when I wasn’t pouring my affections over my perfect newborn and falling more deeply in love I was finding myself lost and longing, for… something.
I was surprised to see myself became a creature of craving, of wanting. Wanting a café date; my body to myself; a piece of chocolate; a new position on the couch; a conversation with an adult… the list went on. I ached for the simplest punctuations to my otherwise repetitive days, and these urges were strong! I thought… if only I could get out and about, then I would feel better, different, back to ‘normal’.
But the idea that getting out would satisfy my wanting Self was absolutely false. It would only be a momentary distraction from the craving, which continued to morph and pin itself to almost anything, because it was in fact a tactic of escapism, as I floundered to free myself from the mind-numbing repetition of the newborn daze. Once I realised what was going on, the solution was clear, I had to let go of wanting and just allow myself to unfold into the present, which of course, is easier said than done!
#2 Silence is powerful healing tool.
Parenting a newborn with a three year old boy (aka “The Loud One”) in the house often meant breastfeeding sessions were accompanied by a raucous cacophony of drumming, singing, shouting and generally frenetic play. As soon as The Loud One was sleeping, or out of the house I would drink up the silence. Now that I had a handled on lesson #1 I knew this was my time to breathe in every sweet quiet moment. No music, no reading, no phone just sitting in sweet, simple silence.
I used this time to practice meditation and pranayama (controlled breathing exercises) for centreing and grounding.
I came to enjoy the silence, so much as it became the antidote to my wanting, craving Self. I learned that even if The Loud One was being loud, I could still look for the silence beneath the sound; breathing and expanding into an inner stillness, which would help me find an anchor in realness, dissolving my wanting fantasies.
#3 It really does take a village, not just to raise a child, but to nurture a newborn mother.
This was the most powerful truth that rang out in my heart and soul during my forty days at home. We are social, tribal creatures and I felt a profound sense of tragedy at how we have compartmentalised ourselves so much that it becomes a big effort to find community and we often have to go out and about to experience it.
When I would tell people I was spending forty days at home, I often sensed their surprise- why would I want to isolate myself like that?! And yes, it seems perhaps at a glance that I was putting myself in lock down, and there were a few long, lonely days but for a vast majority of my time I had the company of people near to my heart. Dear friends and family came in waves to support me and my boys through our transition and for this I am incredibly grateful!
My mother-in-law lives upstairs and would pop in every couple of days for the first few weeks, with food, or offers to pick up groceries, or to read with Bodhi or hold Yagan. My birth doula came with her son; my friend who is a postpartum doula came to honour my transition with a healing ceremony, body binding and herbal bath (more on this later). Old friends and new friends came with food, gifts and an enthusiasm to help with domestic duties.
But there was one particular day that stands out in my memory: It was a sunny afternoon a couple of weeks after Yagan’s birth; 3 women friends and their children came to visit at the same time, which wasn’t planned but it was just so lovely! Washing up was being done, laundry was being folded, corn-bread was being heated up and served with lashings of butter. The house was filled with laughter and stories of parenthood—the joys and the challenges. We ruminated on the giant gap in postpartum care and the unrealistic expectations that women and society place on mothers to get back into the world; to work and to their fitness regimes as if it’s a competition. Meanwhile our children ran about in the yard, climbing trees, making tea parties and playing music. It was completely chaotic, the house was a mess of toys and food… and I loved every minute! This is the village experience; this is urban tribal life and I only wish every day could be like this.
After everyone left and it was just me and my two boys again, I reflected on what a huge effort it had been for these women and children to visit us; to make us food, get organised and into their cars, to travel and spend the day with me, navigating nap times and their own duties of parenting young children. I am so grateful for their efforts, because the love they showed me lifted me up in heart and soul.
I am so grateful to all the people who enabled me to spend forty days at home. I love that the experience forced me to face my impatient, craving, wanting Self and I am glad to have rediscovered the healing power of silence. But most of all I feel blessed that I was able to truly honour myself as I transitioned to the next phase of motherhood, and honour the journey back from pregnancy and birth as a sacred time for reflection, recovery and bonding with my sweet newborn. It’s been a rich experience and I have come out the other side feeling well rested, vibrant and ready for the world!