A rest amidst the winter to early spring transition, a snatched breath, a half way milestone of the school year and an opportunity to seek out every extreme of season possible, from snow covered mountains, sun drenched beaches or rain soaked staycations, where dogs and children alike are dragged sullenly around National Trust Gardens or run hyperactively between soggy sarnies and warped wooden playgrounds.
This month can feel like an unnecessary palette cleansing sorbet, neither a main course or dessert! Wetting our appetites for full spring revival, standing on the cusp cautiously tying up the last loose ends of winter. However, in the world of postnatal recuperation, I have noticed how these ‘fill in’ months are just as important to a woman’s wellbeing, as any of the other ones.
The festival of Imbolc celebrates the returning of the light and the increasing energy of the sun during the first few days of February. There can be a continuing quiet time for reflection, be-ing inward and taking notice of what is happening around us. Falling forty days after Christmas and the birth-day of Jesus, there is a reflection of the first forty day postpartum, especially since Christians consider this a time of ritual purification for the new mother Mary. In Celtic tradition, Brigit, the maiden, the keeper of fire has become her virgin self again and as Glenni Kindred writes in ‘Sacred Earth Celebrations’, ‘the fertile power of the young female represents the power of the unconscious and the spark of intuition from within’.
Change and growth are afoot and this can sometimes feel unsettling. The familiarity of winter is giving way, a new energy is growing. On my regular morning walks, skeleton fallen leaves recently blanketing wooded pathways, disintegrate back into the earth, bulbs pushing through to bask under brighter skies, snowdrops peppering common ground and daffodils emitting their unmistakable perfume, while new pollen intensifies its strength and starts to tickle. Alice Tatham observes a similar change in her article in the Simple Things Magazine this month, 'In spring the gateway is framed with bursts of white blackthorn blossom and green shoots and buds. As the days get longer and the light gets brighter, the wildflowers lining the path are a welcome sight.' We are mulching, nurturing the seeds we planted, letting them germinate, preparing inwardly for the more active western lifestyle of do-ing that is so inbred in us. I have definitely noticed a gradual moving away from deep hibernation for my clients, conscious of how this coincides with the postnatal healing and reclaiming of energy.
While I write, from a beautiful half term break in the Florida keys, it is deep spring; sunny, warm with a cool breeze in the evenings, a stark difference to temperatures at home, yet, my body and mind are still not fully awake. I have tricked myself into an abrupt and early departure from hibernation and this feels so apt considering the state of body and mind for a new mother as she sees her baby for the first time, holds them close and realises that this tangible life is now totally physically and emotionally dependable on her.
Like a rush of water as winter ice melts from the mountains, thundering downstream, twisting through rapids and furiously escalating before falling over the edge of an immense waterfall, it can feel like a breathless surge of responsibility. What is often considered the most natural transition, can feel the most overwhelming and challenging, add to that lack of sleep and complete exhaustion, it feels as if life has literally changed over night.
Joely Hulin’s spiritual almanac promotes the theme of self love this month, in contrast with the widely known festival of Saint Valentine and loving others. However, self love is not a-light-a-candle-and-take-a-long-bath care, or an arrogant conceitedness, it is not rooted in expensive spa days or narcissistic self importance. When a new mother feels vulnerable, overwhelmed and a victim to the uncontrollable surge of hormones rushing through her body, just like that river, at a time when she craves stability, safety and love the most, self love can merely be a form of self respect; laying boundaries for herself. It is an ongoing inside practice, growing with our own experiences and understanding of adversity and as bystanders, postnatal doulas can recognise when a new mother is putting her basic needs to the bottom of the priority list.
Any pre baby dreams of pottering around the house with freshly washed hair, fresh faced and made up, eating a self made poke bowl while baby sleeps soundly in her bassinet are more often than not, wishful thinking! When the chips are down and a new mother is caked in spit up, wearing two week old pjs with a boob hanging out, while chipping hungrily at her older child’s concrete weetabix, left over from last nights tea, it is an acute case of survival and self preservation. This is where real postnatal support can contribute massively to loving oneself, an affirmation to a new mother that she and her babies deserve to thrive, not just survive.
When I attended a love themed sensory workshop with Ati Balding (@Surreyhillswellness) at the start of the month, I was reminded of this. A circle of women, different ages and stages of their lives, coming together, giving themselves a time to focus on themselves and planting seeds of self love, making nests for little Russian dolls, representing themselves, from dried rose petals and leaves from seasonal branches. An exercise in self worth and self nurturing.
The awareness for women’s circles is re-emerging in communities recently. Throughout history women would retreat together at the time of menstruation, to a specific space created in order for them to rest, support one another and go inwards. There was a prolific awareness of the connection between nature and the feminine cycle. It was said that women were at their most powerful during the time of menstruation and just as the seasons can represent the female cycle, as we approach spring, nature signifies the approach to pre ovulation; a time of resurfacing and renewal after the winter of menstruation. We are preparing to re engage with the world, to laugh, play and ‘embrace the magical child within’ (Stella Tomlinson, Cycles of Belonging)
I went with a great friend who is a hypnotherapy teacher as well as client, with two children under four. Considering our differing stages of motherhood, it felt significant sharing this time, honouring where we both are in our journey’s, saluting the women we are, having fun, playing and be-ing led by Ati in soothing self massage, meditation and loving movement.
Our energies are frequently drained by self judgment and criticism, so February is the perfect time to reflect and transform that negative inner voice into one of kindness and compassion. Using the seasons to lean into times of struggle and challenge, noticing the relationship between the natural world and how it is also changing, is hugely comforting. Drawing on all levels of support when things feel tough is a strength, not a weakness. Rebecca Beattie talks about this in her book ‘Wheel of The Year’, explaining how ‘when we sense the expanse of the universe as a loving force instead, we can start to let go of some of our fear of failure, giving ourselves a more nurturing base from which to build’. It truly takes a village, and I realise that seeking and asking for help might actually be the most purest act of self love.
And when Turkey suffered two major earthquakes measuring 7.8 and 7.5 on the richter scale, causing no end of devastation and loss of life, human beings pulled together to offer relief and aid to those in need. One story that stood out was of a new born baby girl pulled alive from the wreckage of her home, ten hours after the earthquake hit, with her umbilical cord still attached to the mother, who, along with the father, four siblings and aunt, had all perished. This baby may never know her mother in person, but the life she gave her and continued to give her, up until moments before she was found, is absolute selfless love. Her life is a miracle. It can feel emotional, grasping the profound power of this basic maternal need to be attached to our children, to life, even when there is only one heartbeat. A primal force of nature that vibrates around us consistently, whether we are aware of it or not.
This periodic energy and attachment has been mirrored through my clients too. A new family enjoying the last few days of a months paternity leave, hibernating together; consistent skin on skin, baby wearing on both parents, slow paced breast feeding, long winding cuddles, co sleeping, tag teaming, low lighting, seasonal bouquets heralding the new arrival, long warming baths and limited visitors, all contributing to the most idyllic start to their fourth trimester. It has been a joy to witness, while being able to hold this mindful transition with calming breastfeeding meditations, nutritious smoothies, batch cooking nurturing soups and stews using fibrous sweet potatoes, carrots and pulses and iron rich organic meats. Managing fresh laundry and baby wearing to enable both parents to top up on sleep after unsettled nights. I have offered reassurance, understanding and invited other post natal professionals into the mix, to cover holiday time, share their expertise with breastfeeding and osteopathy, among others, where my learning has also deepened.
In this last week, there has been a shift. Smiles and gurgles, more engagement, more activity, movement, reviewing babies latch, a spell of mastitis, trying other feeding positions, introducing a bottle and expressing so family can feed and take over. Adapting to natural milestones. Mum is more physically independent, they and baby are gaining confidence, taking their own steps forward. Nature is again reflecting back to us. The flowers are not yet ready to bloom but there is readieness. These opposing forces are reminiscent of this time of Imbolc, ‘a time at which such opposing - or complementary, depending on your perspective - elements sit side by side: fire and water; light and dark; life and death.’ - (Wheel of the Year by Rebecca Beattie) Growth is a slow process but there is so much love in the learning. It is wonderful to watch these slow, magical steps in each mothers unique journey.
Just as winter draws to a close, one clients hours have come to a natural end, which comes with a familiar mix of emotions and later this week, as March arrives with lighter skies, there will be one less morning of work as another client reduces her hours, while another approaches her due date. I am aware of a slight resistance of my own in succumbing to the slow nature of this ‘in between’ and admit that balances have felt off in my own routine. I am currently sitting in my purple chair on the chemo ward in hospital, awaiting the next course of monthly treatment and I am offering my own self, love; being mindful of how caring for others should be in balance with caring for our own families and self. The cycles that occur in nature, in our work, in a babies physical and mental development and in a new mothers physical and emotional wellbeing continuously change, morphing so subtly and profoundly, it is an immense privilege to witness and watch as these seeds, planted with so much love, thrive right in front of our eyes.
February Recipes I have been cooking;
Lamb Curry (The Happy Kitchen by Rachel Kelly)
West African peanut stew (Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen)
Salmon and Broccoli traybake (The Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer)
Cheesy Muffins (Soup Broth Bread by Rachel Allen)
Dhal (my own recipe!)
Peanut millionaire shortbread (The Fodmap Friendly Kitchen by Emma Hatcher)
Berry smoothies with spinach and chia seeds
February Playlists I have been listening to;
Spring Light playlist from Simplethingsmag (Spotify)
Comfort Sounds playlist (Spotify)
Stranger Things Soundtrack
Evermore by Taylor Swift
Wheel of The Year by Rebecca Beattie
Sacred Earth Celebrations by Glenni Kindred
We Begin At The End by Chris Whitaker (on audible)
Enchanted Journeys by Sarah Robinson
‘Each season is completely different,’ said Big Panda, ‘yet each has its wonders.’
‘Just like us’, grinned Tiny Dragon'
- 'Big Panda and Tiny Dragon' By James Norbury
As January 2023 drew to a close, the tiny creative sparks in my head, subdued and not so much burning, but recently dimly simmering, and feeling almost non existent, unexpectedly burst into flames.
I had a strong desire to blog again. I love writing and with a new year and my recent fascination with seasonal living, I felt inspired to bring a focus to my monthly musings of being a postnatal doula, to explore how seasonal influences can effect the fourth trimester, and the healing and adjustment process for all new mothers within the first year of babies life, as well as those of us working as birth workers and as doulas.
For us, Christmas came and went in the blink of an eye, just like always, and, as the Twixmas confusion blurred our sense of time and reality, the recycling bins groaned as loudly as our over stretched stomachs and New Years offered another chance at redemption, December fizzled out like a deflating balloon, and we escaped to Devon to re group, get a change of scene and try to hold onto some semblance of sanity!
It was never going to be a thirty degree sun drenched break, but the wild winds and sheet rain brought a welcome freshness to the end of another year. On the 31st December the beach was a drab and soggy vista, but one I could walk the length of in half an hour while the dog played joyously in the waves. On January 1st, the new years swim was put on hold for fear of being swept out to France and the beach was split in two by a steep bank of sand either side of a torrent of water from the causeway, slashing a deep and violent vertical scar across the bay, from the crossing bridge to the sea. I only wish I had a time lapse of natures temper tantrum that night!
I posted a new years greeting on my social media, perhaps more because I thought I should, rather than actually wanting to, as the psychological pull of social media played tug of war with Mother Natures persistent whispering in my ear, encouraging me to switch off and simply listen to her natural rhythms, reminding me that just because the year changed, didn’t mean I actually had to.
And, as Instagram churned out the usual January reassurances, I returned to my own grounding; reading paper books, turning real pages, journalling with notebooks and pen and though inspiration felt thin and muted, there was contentment and acceptance that this was enough. There didn’t need to be a rush of colour and activity because well, nature was still fast asleep. So why weren’t we?
In this month, and as we move from deep winter solstice towards the festival of Imbolc, my post natal work has started its own renewed cycle, guiding and easing a new mother into this miraculous transition, reflecting that of the archetypal maiden to mother, inviting a preparation for the start of the inhale as it forms like a small wave at the base of the stomach, and for pre ovulation in the cycle of menstruation. Stella Tomlinson, author of my biggest obsession, ‘Cycles of Belonging’, writes,
‘This is your time to resurface, renewed and refreshed after your inner winter of menstruation. Its as if a fire has been rekindled within you. Your life force re emerges like the fiery sun regaining its strength and warmth in spring, bringing life back to your inner landscape.’
As doulas we can facilitate this renewal and strength, that a new mother can embrace as she recovers from childbirth and enters the fourth trimester. The stage of pregnancy, where her body has worked so hard on a deep cellular level, to make a baby and then birth a new life, slides like mercury from do-ing to be-ing, her body and mind morphing into a time of adjustment, healing and bonding. Not yet Spring, but signs hinting at warmer temperatures, lengthening days and brighter skies; crocus heads peeking out from the undergrowth, daffodils, hesitantly splashing the permitter of roadside flowerbeds with bright bursts of yellow like a cheery mexican wave, and early frosts melting as soon as the early morning sun stains the grass with her luke warm rays.
As I returned to existing clients and started with a new one, in the early January, I reminded them of this. The huge sense of pressure cast upon us, like a spell, at this time of year, is a veil, distorting the natural state of the seasons. It is an obvious bi product of our society and the wellness marketing bombardment we are saturated with towards the end of December and well into the first month of a year. While this evil rival to all things natural and cyclical, waves her wand and hypnotises us to the lure of perfection and improvement, I have noticed how new mothers are on the one hand empowering themselves to proactively find themselves the right support to make their postnatal experience more positive and nurturing, while on the other, resisting the natural vulnerabilities that come with the postpartum recovery process, unnecessarily causing them to feel drained, guilty and totally incompetent, but as Katherine May observes in her stunning book Wintering, 'Over and again, we find that winter offers us liminal spaces to inhabit. Yet, still we refuse them. The work of the cold season is to learn to welcome them.'
It is the yin and yang of motherhood, the light and dark, the feminine and masculine of be-ing and do-ing and January, once again, felt like a melting pot of all of it.
In The Spiritual Almanac (my constant bedside reading) Joey Hulin’s theme for this month is Rest.
She says, ‘Rest simply isn’t valued in our busy, accumulative culture, and so we plough on in earnest despite feeling exhausted’.
This couldn’t resonate more for the month of January. Working with new mothers, I recognise the fatigue and conflict that the idea of rest creates, like a low grey mist descending over their eyes, but I have been actively encouraging clients to surrender, suggesting they connect with nature from the safety of the sofa and melt into these milky days with a willingness and resignation, as and where possible. Just looking out the window each day can help tune in with the senses, which in turn can ground and calm the nervous system, lowering the hormonal surges of cortisol and adrenalin that can often come hand in hand with these early days. As Sophie Fletcher prescribes in her book Mindful Mamma, 'A simple grounding technique to use is connecting to the world around you through your senses. When your mind is focused on one real and present thing, it brings you back to the moment and helps you to re-centre yourself'.
It has been my intention to advocate for the gentle healing that can come instinctively with a January postpartum. The month lends itself to an inherent slow, nurturing and cosy nesting, while a family beds into life with baby. It is beautifully mirrored in nature at this time of year; the frozen ground and foggy mornings reflecting the rough, fuzzy, discombobulated sleep deprived thought patterns, heavy fatigued bodies crying out for a warm drink to melt the aching muscles, lubricating raw, tacky scarring inside and out. A primal urge to snuggle under soft duvets as baby sucks and swallows, channeling every ounce of energy into providing nourishment to this tiny life. Dressing gowns like blankets of feathers draped around the shoulders of a mother as she cradles baby, bonding, connecting, stimulating oxytocin to flow like liquid gold from one to the other, thawing any resistance or fear, a reminder of the power of the mother and child bond while they nest, here, in this bubble.
Cherishing these restful sophorose days with soft postnatal massage for those clients who request it, using woody, earthy oils and aromatherapy like frankincense, cedar and sandlewood, to soothe, ground, settle and comfort, using the senses of smell and touch, as well as listening, playing a background of low chakra based music, creating a quieter, less word cluttered mental space, letting the mind breathe, as well as the lungs and diaphragm. The noises of motherhood in the early days sometimes feeling overwhelmingly loud; a newborn cries in the early hours, piercing what was a familiar ambience, like nails on a chalkboard, heightening the vulnerable and sensitive new mother load, in the darkest, deepest hours of the night. It is a return to simple basic human needs for love, warmth and nourishment, for mother and baby.
Nutrition and food, the perfect medicine for weary and touched out bodies. Many sessions have involved cooking warming and earthy meals while mum rests between feeds, while baby wearing, keeping baby upright, easing any wind and discomfort and helping regulate baby’s heart and respiratory rate. Root vegetables, leeks and spices, homemade broths and soups full of goodness to warm the blood, raise iron levels, promote healing in the body and functioning organs, hydrating and rejuvenating body and mind and leaving wholesome nutritious food for a meal, ready to warm in an oven, with the minimal of effort and fuss.
Snacks have included non refined, oat’y flapjacks with dried apricots, cranberries and delicate almonds, pumpkin muffins full of fibre and roughage to help the digestive system function regularly. My chocolate balls always a constant favourite and well deserved decadent midnight feast, while baby feeds in the wee hours. Always there, stoking the fire and letting it smoulder, gently, embers glowing, just like a mothers heart.
It has been a busy month with a three day first time baby, my HomeStart family and a client and her three month old, who I started with last year, as well as launching the Motherspace Farnham group at a gorgeous new venue hosting mothers with babies ranging from new born to early crawling. With these differing dynamics and stages, I am reminded of the corresponding state of flux, the constant changes in development and needs, not just for baby, but in the mothering journey too; the new born haze, the two to six week changes to the twelve week changes and onto the demands of a one year old with downs syndrome. It is incredibly humbling to walk with these families, through all these moments, experiences and challenges, and as January has ebb’d and flowed, surreptitiously, I see these ups and downs and I commend their efforts, reminding them whenever I can, that they are enough.
Through it all, I have been continuously swaying (not just with clients babies!) between be’ing and do’ing, and because of the constant to and fro, I have been trying to ‘do’ mindfully. I watch my teenage daughter navigate a new landscape, supporting her as she enters a world of menarche and womanhood, new friendships, high energy and sport, constant stimulation and here, I recognise a new chapter starting in my own mother-hood. Her emotional needs are heightened, her need for grounding and boredom, like an ignored thirst, and my role to supply litres of metaphorical hydration and respite, waiting here, on the sidelines, cheering her on while finding ways to subtly console and empathise. I am earning a new language and my own self doubt has needed a talking down on a daily basis. My motherhood journey now traversing steep uphill terrain and rocky mountain paths but I am lacing up my heavy duty walking boots and loading my backpack!
As we transition again into a new month, there are the continuous ribbons of narrative that nature weaves across the monthly fault lines and new beginnings. There may be different colours, lengths and textures but they all tell a never ending story. What will the next month tell us? x
January Recipes I have been cooking;
Roasted vegetable quiche
Butternut squash and sweet potato stew
Chicken, broad bean and rice bake
Sweet potato and coconut soup
Dried Apricot and ginger flapjacks
Pumpkin oat bran muffins
Peanut butter and banana smoothies
January Playlists I have been listening to;
Living Waters by Alexa Sunshine Rose
Rest by SimpleThingsMag (Spotify)
Nature Sounds for Sleep: Kids (Spotify)
January Reading (or listening on audible!)
Wintering by Katherine May
Cycles of Belonging by Stella Tomlinson
The Spiritual Almanac by Joely Hulin
Mindful Mamma by Sophie Fletcher