In my first post last month (The Lost Art of Lying-In), I explored a bit how traditional cultures around the world respect and honor the postpartum season, known as Lying-In. While it it can be inspiring to hear those stories and it can also feel wildly out of reach. I get that. Totally.
We are a nation of immigrants, are we not? We (or our ancestors) left behind so many of our traditions and customs in order to be pioneers. Those women on the prairie didn’t have the luxury of lying-in after having a baby. They had to find food and fend off wolves.
Women who came here with futures of devastatingly hard labor (e.g. via the slave trade) sometimes had to give birth right on the fields and keep working afterwards. There may have been no one to bind their bellies or prepare them special broths and teas. So here we are in the 21st century without much of a postpartum culture to speak of. It’s up to us, moms-in-the-trenches, who see the need, who understand the beauty, to start building a culture respectful of the postpartum woman.
Guiding Principles of Lying In
There are four facets of postpartum lying-in:
- Seclusion of mother and infant
- Intense care and support of mother
- Restricted activities of mother
- Suspension of mother’s social roles
Canadian midwife, Bridget Lynch, has a simple model–a “peaceful zone”–for new moms. It goes like this:
5 days: mother in bed with baby
10 days: not going outside with baby
14 days: no cooking, cleaning or older childcare
40 days: life on the new mother’s terms
Sounds divine, no? How can we help to build this into our reality?
Creating a Postpartum Culture
Here are some ideas when a friend, family member, neighbor (or even just an acquaintance) is having a baby. You don’t have to do them all, but perhaps they will inspire ideas for what you can do. Use them to mobilize your sphere of influence (neighborhood, church, school, etc.) to reach out to new moms.
- Bring her a meal. Bring one for now and one for her freezer.
- Bring her pampering gifts such as a gift certificate for a massage or manicure, lotions, movies, special books or journals, chocolate. Remember it’s not all about the baby. It’s about the new mommy, too.
- Honor the whole family. In bringing gifts to mother and baby, don’t forget daddy and the other children!
- Pick up some groceries for the family or stop by the farmer’s market for her getting her lots of fresh organic stuff, because walking around farmer’s market is not something she’ll be able to do for a while.
- Volunteer to look after the older children. Take them to story time at the library, to the park or a movie. Let mommy, daddy and baby have some quiet time to sleep or just have a complete thought in peace-and-quiet! This will also make the older children feel very special.
- If your friend is an active Sunday School teacher or community volunteer, volunteer to cover her duties for a season. She’ll be much more likely to give herself time to rest if she knows that things are not being neglected.
- Do some of her chores, especially the heavy ones–like pulling the weeds in the garden, washing the car, or vacuuming the house. A friend of mine once picked up all my laundry, took it to the laundromat, and came home with everything clean and folded. It was bliss.
- Send her a card several weeks after birth just to let her know that she is special and is doing a good job.
- Start a ministry/outreach in your church, school, or neighborhood that reaches out to and supports post-partum parents. This can include coordinating people to do things like bring meals and do chores. It also could mean scheduling a monthly support group where new parents can talk to one another, ask questions and just know that they are not alone in the interesting and sometimes challenging adjustments.
- Listen to the new mom (and/or dad) talk. They may just need a listening hear, a shoulder to cry on or a prayer. Don’t be afraid to say, “Can I pray for you?” and just show them some extra love.
What are your ideas for creating a more positive, restful postpartum culture?
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