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