Bear With Me

Funny how a topic like postpartum depression can be such a lightening rod for discussion.  But I think that’s a good thing – and half the reason I write about even the not-so-pretty things that go on in my life: because I think discussion is good.  I think awareness is good.  It’s useful to me to write because it helps me sort things out and feel less alone, and I like to think it’s useful to someone else out there who might be struggling the same struggles.

I really didn’t expect anyone to have any instant answers for me, but I appreciate everyone’s input.  And it’s silly to think that anyone is going to be able to accurately diagnose me over the internet.  I’m keeping my eyes open to whatever it is I’m going through, rest assured.

A friend of mine posted this on my Facebook wall:

Postpartum Confinement

Although the length of the postpartum period varies cross-culturally, the notion of a 40-day postpartum is common in many non-Western cultures (Lauderdale, 1999;Nahas et al., 1999). In almost all non-Western societies, 40 days after birth is seen as necessary for recuperation. Among most non-Western cultures, family members (especially female relatives) provide strong social support, help new mothers at home during that period. The new mother’s activities are strictly limited, and her needs are taken care of by (typically) female relatives and midwives (Holroyd et al., 1997;Nahas & Amashen, 1999).

For example, in Guatemala, a traditional midwife visits the mother every day or two, for up to 2 weeks after birth, to check the baby’s cord, to massage the mother, and to wash the families’ clothes and linens, so that the new mother may rest (Lang & Elkin, 1997).

Chinese women believe rest is essential after birth. During the customary 30-day postpartum confinement, female relatives or live-in helpers perform household activities for the new mother (Holroyd et al., 1997). The new mother must be confined to her home during a 30-day postpartum period and must perform a variety of avoidance rituals (Holroyd, Katie, Chun, & Ha, 1997).

In India, postpartum confinement typically lasts up to 40 days. This seclusion is to protect the new mother and her infant not only from evil spirits, but also from exposure to illness, because both are considered to be in a vulnerable state after birth (American Public Health Association, 2001).

In the Middle East, resting 40 days after having a baby is customary in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Palestine (Nahas & Amashen, 1999;Nahas et al., 1999). During this 40-day period, someone comes to the house or stays with the new mother to take care of the baby, the house, and the other children, so that “all new mothers have to do is rest” (Nahas & Amashen, 1999, p. 42).

Very interesting.  Kinda makes me want to move to a different country.  I would be very interested to know how the rate of PPD in those countries/cultures compares to the rate of PPD in western culture.  It seems that other countries maybe have more reverence for the profound changes a woman goes through after giving birth, and a deeper respect for what she and her new baby need.  Here in the U.S., it seems that overall, we expect women to get over it and bounce back very quickly – and we’re more interested in treating PPD than taking measures to prevent it.  Even being in the throes of postpartum-ness myself, I’m still a product of western culture: I want to feel like my old self NOW, and accepting help is very, very difficult for me; I hate being needy.

I’m riding a lot of ups and downs right now.  I’m actually not sleep-deprived; I get a decent amount of sleep at night because Scarlett sleeps next to me, so I barely have to wake up to nurse her.  The tiredness is more from being physically and emotionally drained every day trying to meet the needs of seven kids, take care of the house, etc., and then the resulting guilt for knowing I’m short-changing everyone.  I might spend a good part of the day feeling okay, feeling like maybe I’m getting a handle on things, and then it can all unravel very quickly when, say, the baby wants to be held, and while I’m holding her, Finn pitches a fit, so I ease the baby down in the bassinet to go to Finn, only to have the baby start crying as soon as I put her down – and that cycle might go on for a solid hour or more.  Or, I might dissolve into tears when Michael takes the kids out and I get the baby down to sleep and suddenly I’m left with peace and quiet that I don’t know what to do with.  Or my 15-year old might leave for a four-day camping trip and I might find that I’m really going to miss him.

I’ve been thinking about things that would help me feel better overall, in no particular order:

  • If my kids would be just a smidge (okay, A LOT) more cooperative and well-behaved.
  • Walking.  I really need to start walking again – I think the fresh air and exercise and endorphins would do me a world of good.  I’m going to shoot for starting next week, just short walks and working my way back up to the 2 – 3 mile walks I was doing before I got pregnant.
  • More time with Michael.  I miss us time.

Boy, a baby sure can throw a monkey wrench into things, huh?

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12 Comments on “Bear With Me”

  1. Linda
    July 12, 2012 at 3:29 am #

    Lisa- I hope you are feeling better very soon! And moving to a different country does look pretty appealing, doesn’t it?

  2. Sheree
    July 12, 2012 at 5:22 am #

    PPD sucks. So sorry you’re feeling it right now. I am terrified…seriously terrified of PPD after these girls are born but I know I’ll get through it. Wish I lived closer so I could relieve you for a bit.


  3. TailorMade
    July 12, 2012 at 5:36 am #

    I had post partum blues more with each child and it was awful to deal with it. I felt I had to put on a happy face around friends and family. I felt jealous when I watched a documentary of a tribe in Africa where the village women took care of the new mothers for 40 days. Why isn’t that accepted here? Why does our society pressure us into being super mom? I don’t like it when people call me that because I don’t want to feel like I have to live up to those expectations.
    But then I remember that as time passed, the PPD eventually gave way but there were always more challenges around the corner. Like my mom jokingly says, she’ll finally get some rest when she’s dead! I think she’s right.

  4. Alyson
    July 12, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    It is true how different the post partum period is in other countries. I have no doubt there would be less PPD if we had a 30 day PP like that.
    After I had Reegan, the parents from the Montessori school I taught at did a food chain for us where for over 2 weeks we had a fresh nourishing dinner brought to us without the expectation of dinner. They would also take Nolan and J for playdates and one Mom who was an accupuncturist came over and did different treatments on me. What a difference it all made! Probably not surprising that several of these families practiced a Hindu religion and had been to India several times where they saw the difference in how a mother is taken care of.

  5. Alyson
    July 12, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    That should read expectation of a visit,not dinner. Whoops

  6. Michele Renee
    July 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm #

    Hi there,
    It has been almost 12 years since I had my last baby, but I wanted to tell you I felt the same way that you described in your last post. I too mourned the end of the midwife relationship. I always cried for weeks after my 3 births. My last was a hb and I told my mw to not even come over at the 48 hour visit as all I did was cry. If I had to do it again I would probably hire (you can find a new one for free or low cost) a post-partum doula through an organization called CAPPA. I am not affiliated with them in any way–I just remember startinbg to hear about doula’s and post partum doulas back when my teens and pre-teen was born. It is just someone to come over and do whatever you need them to do. Anyway, my hormones and feelings were a mess and I didnt do anything medically about it and it was all ok as you prob know with your other kids. Maybe some things don’t need fixing. Hang in there.
    Best wishes to you and your family.

  7. Karen Carpenter
    July 12, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    Walking worked best for me. That and prayer are the only way I ward off prozac. Thinking of you and willing to help next week. Your girls paid me such a pleasurable visit. They are such bright and curious and courteous little things. Finally, I’m glad Daniel has a friend like Kevin-another creative, intelligent and caring young man to do life with.

  8. iseultwong
    July 12, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Typed with my phone and too much errors in earlier comments :$

    Hi lisa, congratulations on the birth of your lovely baby girl. I enjoyed your article immensely. I’m a Chinese mom from Malaysia and what you’ve written is true. After the birth of my baby I employed a confinement lady (sometimes this role is taken up by mothers or mother in law but where I come from there are many Chinese older ladies who does this on a full time basis). So yes, I employed a confinement lady who came to look after me for 30 days. she took care of my baby and me for the entire duration. I was ordered to rest and eat healthy confinement food and the icky part was the no-washing-of -hair bit. The Chinese believe that the first thirty days after giving birth is the weakest period for women. They are also susceptible to ‘wind’. To dispel that from the body and to ensure the balance of yin and yang if the body we’re not allowed to take cold showers or to wash our hair as it causes our pores to absorb more wind. Additionally confinement food consists a lot of ginger, Chinese rice wine, pork and lots of red dates water to continually keep the body warm. I know that sounds like a lot of work and I wasn’t very committed to the idea initially. However my mum was a strict believer in confinement care and advised me to follow as much as I could bear. It is said it is beneficial for our health in the long run. So I did. I even incorporated the malay confinement culture by having a traditional malay confinement masseuse to do full body massage twice a week. The Malays believe the massage helps remove wind from the body too. I guess you can say we Asians are petrified of having too much ‘wind ‘ in our bodies. The funniest thing was when the massage is being done the amount of odorless burp and involuntary farts that came out if me was not something I’d expected! I was assured that this was normally the case for post natal massages. However though I had a lot of help and was very well taken care of I did have a case of mild ppd in the first two weeks and it escalated when my baby was four months old. It’s still very real and fresh in my mind till today. I hope you get well soon and I just wanted to share my story here 🙂

    • Lisa
      July 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

      Thank you for the kind words, and for sharing your experience, iseultwong.

  9. Janet
    July 13, 2012 at 1:27 am #

    You have hit the proverbial nail on the head with this post. I definitely could have done not only with some help adjusting to being a new mum, but also just having someone around during the day to talk too. I went from being at work 8-5, 5 days a week to sitting at home all day with a screaming baby waiting for my husband to get home, it was a complete 180 for me and I was totally outside my comfort zone. I do believe that we in the Western society put far too much expectation on the new mother to just suck it up and carry on as normal. After giving birth to my second child at home, weighing in at a hefty 10lbs 12oz and after 3rd degree tears, I was at the supermarket the next day shuffling around buying food! Stupid and arrogant on my part, I don’t know what I was trying to prove? Anyway, just wanted you to know that the above post is definitely something I agree with and can relate to personally.

  10. Kelley
    July 15, 2012 at 2:19 am #

    This is one of my big issues! It depresses me that in the US we celebrate pregnancy and feel pregnant women should get specially looked after but the second that baby comes out…bam, now you’re an annoyance with a baby (they’re so loud! how inconsiderate for her to bring one here! oh god now she’s getting her tits out to feed the thing!).
    In Laos, they practice Mother Roasting–2-3 weeks of mom and baby not getting off a warmed bed while hubby and others take care of everything. There’s some parts of it I don’t agree with but at least the culture expects that mama’s need a break! Here in Bali it’s 42 days before you can go out of the family compound.

    I feel ridiculously privileged to enjoy long confinements of my own design and style with both my children now. I had a lot of guilt at first about having our nanny here with us for #2 but I’m slowly getting over it. That’s an American upbringing for you-thinking you should feel guilty for having extra childcare and home help after having a baby!

    Here’s to it taking just a little longer than 2 weeks and baby blues soon being in your rear view.

  11. Rebekka K. Steg
    July 22, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    I’m sorry you’re feeling bad, and I hope you’ll be better soon. Two weeks definitely sound like a very short time to recover from birth (but obviously I have never been pregnant, so I’m not one to talk :P) I definitely think the 30-40 days mentioned in other parts of the world sounds much more reasonable.

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