Heng Ou has written a book, The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother, that has been instrumental in putting me on a path where I can best serve women. Her insight and background in Chinese medicine, have changed the way I want to support women. I have spent my doula career focused mostly on pregnancy and preparing women for birth. Birth is an important time in a woman's life, and I thoroughly believe it can make or break a mother for the rest of her life. But birth is at most a 3 day experience (hopefully a lot less). According to her book, women should take a minimum of 40 days to take a break from the world, heal, bond with their new baby, and ease into the new normal of being postpartum. She, and I, shun the idea that women should bounce back to what they were pre-pregnancy. Motherhood brings so much to a woman. So much more capacity to love and serve and be. Life will never be the same. Every gateway we pass through, puberty, motherhood, menopause, changes us, and always for the better. My new focus will be more on the experience as a whole, and not just as a birth or postpartum experience separately.
In Heng Ou’s book she describes what it was like, having her aunt, a traditional Chinese herbalist, come and care for her after the birth of her first son. How she always had warm food, and couldn't take a bath because it would cool her chi. She admits that our (American) society, does little, if anything to support new moms, and offers suggestions on how to rally support for yourself, if you are pregnant, or how to best support, if you love someone who just had a baby.
I think my favorite part is just the idea that we need to start planning for our postpartum period specifically. When I had my last son, I assumed, erroneously, that my family and friends would step in and help out. By the time I realized I needed help, I was so far into a depression that I literally didn't think myself worthy of help, and had no idea who or how to ask. I don't want any other woman to feel like I did, which is why I am such an advocate of this. Heng Ou talks about planning a time where your friends can come support and celebrate you! The women you choose, not necessarily your mother and mother in law, like in ancient China, share words of wisdom and peace with you, and they share the work as you start to fill your freezer with nourishing bone broths and other soups that will sustain you in the first few weeks (delicious recipes included).
While most women won't be able to stay in bed, with baby for the whole 40 days, Heng Ou suggests five insights that will help strengthen and protect you and your newborn baby. Retreat, warmth, support, rest, and ritual are essential to the well-being of mothers. How you incorporate them into your postpartum time is for each individual. Every woman is different. As are her needs, and those of the family.
If you are pregnant, or support women who are, I highly recommend reading The First Forty Days. My copy is full of highlights and annotations. You can find it here.
Check out this printable for how you can implement her 5 insights into your postpartum period.