Finding Solid Ground in Mothering

By Annie Gilligan, CPD, M.A.T.

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I have always loved the strong feeling of my feet hitting the ground and carrying me forward into the beauty of nature. When I became a brand new mom, I wondered if I would ever feel as confident in mothering as I do when I am hiking in the summer. I knew that I wanted to be a mother, but when I became one, it felt like I fell off the edge of a cliff into a watery abyss.

I wanted to understand why this transition was so hard for me and for many women in our modern culture. As I explored birth, I felt very drawn to becoming a birth and postpartum doula, and I have worked with many families over the last decade.

What I have come to accept and appreciate about postpartum is that it is a very liminal space. It helps to know this. Of all our years as women, pregnancy, birth, and postpartum are time periods that require some of our most intense shifting and fluidity. Postpartum in particular lasts briefly, and for many it feels more like swimming in a vortex than like hiking to a favorite viewpoint.

When we know the nature of this time, we can more easily accept that we are okay as we move through this space. We can also more easily understand what we need. We need a way to stay afloat and swim ashore. Our broader American culture doesn’t yet understand how to best support the fluid nature of postpartum. It’s not yet common to hand a woman a life vest, in the form of regular physical and emotional care, while she moves through the waves of this time. But this is what all women deserve and need. It is up to us as women to be brave enough to ask for this imperative support.

In many cultures around the world, there is an understanding that postpartum women have certain basic needs: being provided with nourishing food, resting throughout the day, bonding with our babies, and receiving care from compassionate women. These are recognized as essential, non-negotiable needs for the first 40 days after a mother gives birth.

In our modern culture, if we are not handed a life vest, we need to ask for one. As we step into the shifting waters of postpartum, we need people around us every day who are caring for us, feeding us, and letting us rest. This is how we come back home to trusting ourselves in mothering. This is how we learn which rhythms and routines will carry us forward as a family. This is how we reclaim the strength of our own feet hitting solid ground.

Annie Gilligan is a postpartum doula with Bridgetown Baby. She focuses on helping women recognize their own strength through the birth year. She collaborates with the Threshold Choir and local massage therapists to offer a nourishing postpartum women’s circle called “Closing the Birthing Year.”

Until That Moment In The Kitchen: More on Mother's Day

Mothering is a collection of stories. In honor of Mother’s Day, we celebrate our collective journey— and acknowledge that within that collective journey, our individual experiences of mothering can differ widely. Some stories of mothering are threaded through with sadness, making Mother’s Day a complex sort of celebration. Bridgetown Baby client Saranna’s full story will be featured later this year in our Client Stories, but, in this snippet, she shares a moment of healing in the aftermath of loss, part of the arc of her growing family’s story.

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After we lost our son Spencer at 20 weeks gestation, I felt I was stuck for a long time at a certain point in my grief—grief support groups didn’t feel welcoming; the things people said, however well-meaning, made me feel more alone, as if there weren’t room for the grief I was experiencing. And when our daughter Neha was born a year and half later, the way people spoke of her (“now you have your baby,” as if that could fill the hole left by Spencer’s death) made me feel fiercely protective of her; I didn’t want her to bear the burden of feeling like a replacement for the older brother none of us ever got to know. So I took that burden on, too—and felt even more alone.

But perspective and healing came in an unexpected moment in the kitchen one afternoon. Neha ran up to me, bursting with news.

“Guess what, Mommy? Mocha (our dog who had passed about three months earlier) and big brother Spencer are driving around in a big red car in heaven together.”

“Oh, wow, Neha—that’s neat. Can you tell me more?”

“No, it was just in my dream.”

“Oh, I see. Do you miss them?”

“Yeah.”

I asked her if she had more she wanted to share with me; she said no, and went running out of the kitchen as fast as she’d come in. 

And I thought, ‘wow, just…wow. Here I am just cutting vegetables for dinner and, in a conversation that must have seemed so simple to her, she allowed me to experience my grief in a different way.’

In that moment, I suddenly felt that I didn’t have to hold all of the weight and responsibility of remembering this person, and honoring this person, and missing this person…Neha has integrated it seamlessly and lovingly into her story; the weight can be shared. It was as if my heart said, “I don’t have to bear this burden alone. And everyone’s going to be okay.”

~as told to Bridgetown Baby doula Brita Johnson