All birth images by Monet Nicole.
When you give birth to a beautiful new life, you also give birth to a new identity, your identity as a mother. And while most of the focus and fuss is of course aimed at your gorgeous new baby, we should also be celebrating your transformative journey of becoming a mother.
There is a term ‘Matrescence’ coined by medical anthropologists. It gives title to the wonderful transition, growth, and change you experience physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally when becoming a mother. Not dissimilar to how we use ‘adolescents’ and ‘menopause’ to the other great changes in a woman’s life.
There is no question that some very obvious physical changes begin the moment a woman becomes pregnant. But there are unseen changes brought on by the rapid production of pregnancy hormone beginning at conception and continue as the pregnancy progresses. Apart from the obvious physical changes, including the development of that gorgeous belly to accommodate your growing babe; your body is doing so many amazing and unseen things to prepare for labour and birth. Then after birth, your body, miraculously goes about to heal and adapt to feed your child; most of which we don’t even notice. It’s truly incredible that so much is happening unawares to us.
‘Mum brain’ is also definitely real! Pregnancy causes our brain to go through a stage of ‘plasticity’, allowing it to re-wire and change based on these incredible adjustments to new Mum-life. The brain shuffles things around in order to operate better for motherhood. It pops the things no longer in our immediate focus aside, to some mental space to look after your new baby. And we get it, sometimes these things make you feel like you are losing the plot a little, but we try to view this as an evolution of sorts.
New mums also find themselves on the front row of the emotional roller coaster –all those delicious hormones of pregnancy and the postpartum period bring all the feels. Experiencing heightened emotions are also a result of those amazing brain changes that occur. New babies bring a time of increased sensitivity and vulnerability. In a way, we are just as fragile and vulnerable as our newborn baby. So feeling out of sorts is perfectly normal. But don’t dismiss this heightened sense of emotion. Examine it, appreciate what you can and if it feels too much be sure to reach out and voice your worries. Some people may dismiss these feelings as baby blues, but only you know you, and if you are feeling really beside yourself there is help and we highly recommend seeking and accepting it.
In so many traditional cultures, a mother is deeply honoured with nourishing and healing practices for the first 40 days after birth. This time, often referred to as the ‘fourth trimester’. It is treated as an important time of rest and rejuvenation for the new mother as she gets to know her new baby. With family members taking on the responsibility of providing nourishment chores and caring for other siblings so that you can rest, rejuvenate, learn to feed and love this incredible new baby. Unsurprisingly the cultures that adopt these rituals have some of the lowest rates of postnatal depression and anxiety in the world.
So how do we bring change to the way we view the birth of the new mother? We can start by equipping our young women with real knowledge about pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. We rarely focus on what pregnancy involves until we have a little under 9 months to undertake deep learning in the process. Most if any learning we do, is often focused on the birth and little about how to manage your own transition.
How can we best help our fellow new mama friends and family transition?
Check in with how this mama is feeling. Really feeling. Ask about her first, the baby second. If you are a new mum ask yourself how you’re really feeling in the blur of your transition. Assess this daily and honestly.
Think about gifting something nurturing for this mum, rather than the baby. Ask how you can help – maybe its supporting emotionally or physically such as cooking a meal and leaving it at her doorstep, helping with jobs like to doing the groceries or the laundry. Or asking if you can come around and take care of baby whilst she catches up on some sleep.
If you are the new mum consider buying yourself something as a new mum, INSTEAD of the baby! Something indulgent. Something that showers you in self-love and acceptance of this incredible journey you are going on. You deserve it. Organise a massage. Invite someone around to have a cuppa or go for a walk outside with you and baby. Take a bath. Light a candle.
If you’re pregnant, do some planning BEFORE you have your baby to put in place things that will help you. Ask for HELP in advance. Pointed advice, and not for people to take care of the baby, but of you. If you have a new mum friend of family member in your life, offer her genuine nourishment and your love, she will need it.
Lastly; show yourself some grace in your new journey. Allow yourself to, feel fully, slow down, honour your needs, not have the answers, do things differently and love yourself when it’s hard.