When can I start exercising again? How long do you think I have to keep the baby in the house and away from people? How soon can we start having sex again? How young is too young if we wanted to go away? When can I start pumping breastmilk? How soon will the baby start sleeping through the night?
It will all happen in time.
We seem to have forgotten, in our culture of equality of oppourtunity and feminism’s quest to break the yoke of biology, that there are certain stark realities about the birthing body. The big one is that whether a person has given birth through a vagina or by surgery they have a body that must heal from certain physical traumas.
Surgical birth is obvious: someone has performed abdominal surgery on the body and that body will require at least 2 weeks to feel mostly pain free. It will need another 2-4 weeks to be physically able to take on normal daily tasks. Strenuous physical tasks such as hiking or exercise may need another few months of healing.
Vaginal births are less obvious in their impact on the body. Long labour is like working out all day long when you’ve never worked out before. Some women will easily need a week or two just to feel like their muscles are feeling back to normal. Inside that uterine muscle wall, however, is a great big open wound.
Have you seen a placenta? How big was it around? Like a smallish dinner plate, right? About the size of the ones they have at old diners. That’s about 8-10 inches or 20-25 cm. A placenta comes away from the uterus moments after birth leaving behind a raw ghost of itself in the inner wall of the uterus. That wound takes nearly 6 weeks to heal – and sometimes longer!
Imagine you had a burn that was 8-10 inches across? Or had scraped the skin on your thigh off in the shape of a placenta? What sort of reaction would that cause in your friends and families, your business associates and the medical staff caring for you? I’d bet you’d get lots of hands on attention and a serious prescription of rest to allow for healing.
It should be no different for the new mother.
It’s not like the old days where women were officially “confined” away from the world for the last weeks of pregnancy and the first weeks of new parenting. Though that does still happen in some cultures. Those women aren’t so much hidden from the world as honoured and nurtured by their communities. People in our culture deserve as much care, attention and time as they heal.
And that’s to say nothing of learning to be a parent! Breastfeeding? New sleeping habits? Taking care of a tiny person who is totally dependent on us for their very survival? That’s a lot of pressure and responsibility for a new parent.
Let us not forget that new parents are healing from birth. As their families and communities we must take care of them. Bring them food. Care for their homes. Let them rest. Nurture them the way they are learning to nurture their new child. Hire postpartum professionals who can help with all of this and the things the average person knows little about.
Slow down, take it easy. Everything will come in time.