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.”

New Family Stories (aka The Lovely, Messy Truth)

For expecting parents, the days after your baby is born stretch ahead like a blank expanse. You probably have some idea or hopes for what it will be like, and perhaps some war stories shared by friends who have kids. But overall, it's a bit of a mystery. And then, suddenly, you're on the other side with a new human and it's nothing like you expected. The good parts are unimaginably blissful, and the hard times are beyond what you ever thought you could endure. Nothing can really prepare you for the intensity of the postpartum period, and that can feel scary and lonesome.

But know this: you are not alone.

Isolation is one of the toughest parts of parenting in America. When you're alone with questions, and a new baby whose life has been entrusted to you, it's daunting. Our mission as postpartum doulas is to build a bridge of support for new families, to help you find your own strength and capacity, but even doulas have to go home sometime. We want you to know that you are never truly alone in this parenting endeavor. You are surrounded by love and community, even in the dark, wee hours. To that end, we have launched a new project for this year, with a focus on sharing stories from the postpartum zone: good things, hard things, mundane moments. And, because we are passionate about our work, our stories talk about how postpartum doulas can support families in many different ways. Every family deserves postpartum support.

We are so excited to share the first installment in our New Family Stories this February. They are compiled and written by the talented and brilliant Kari Hastings. Please let us know what you think, what you want to hear about, if you'd like to share your own story. We would be so honored.