When I was a brand new mom, I wondered if I would ever feel as confident in mothering as I do when I am hiking in the summer. I have always loved the strong feeling of my feet hitting the ground and carrying me forward into the beauty of nature. I knew that I wanted to be a mother, but when I became one, it felt like I fell off the edge of a cliff into a watery abyss.
I wanted to understand why this transition was so hard for me and for many women in our modern culture. As I explored birth, I felt very drawn to becoming a birth and postpartum doula, and I have worked with many families over the last decade.
What I have come to accept and appreciate about postpartum is that it is a very liminal space. It helps to know this. Of all our years as women, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum are time periods that require some of our most intense shifting and fluidity. Postpartum in particular lasts briefly, and for many it feels more like swimming in a vortex than like hiking to a favorite viewpoint.
When we know the nature of this time, we can more easily accept that we are okay as we move through this space. We can also more easily understand what we need. We need a way to stay afloat and swim ashore. Our broader American culture doesn’t yet understand how to best support the fluid nature of postpartum. It’s not yet common to hand a woman a life vest, in the form of regular physical and emotional care, while she moves through the waves of this time. But this is what all women deserve and need. It is up to us as women to be brave enough to ask for this imperative support.
In many cultures around the world, there is an understanding that postpartum women have certain basic needs: being provided with nourishing food, resting throughout the day, bonding with our babies, and receiving care from compassionate women. These are recognized as essential, non-negotiable needs for the first 40 days after a mother gives birth.
In our modern culture, if we are not handed a life vest, we need to ask for one. As we step into the shifting waters of postpartum, we need people around us every day who are caring for us, feeding us, and letting us rest. This is how we come back home to trusting ourselves in mothering. This is how we learn which rhythms and routines will carry us forward as a family. This is how we reclaim the strength of our own feet hitting solid ground.
Annie Gilligan is a postpartum doula with Bridgetown Baby who focuses on helping women recognize their own strength through the birth year. She collaborates with the Threshold choir and local massage therapists to offer a nourishing postpartum women’s circle called “Closing the Birth Year.”