‘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