I started my acupuncture practice three years ago, which was right around the time many of my friends chose to start families. Between my friends and my patients, I noticed so many young women who were completely unprepared for the postpartum period.
They regaled me with tales of learning by doing, frantically searching YouTube or WebMD for clues about how to interact with their rebelling bodies and their new babies. They suffered depression, fatigue, insomnia…but for the most part they assumed this was an inevitable part of the journey of motherhood.
These women were so strong–women are so strong–and they survived the postpartum period in one piece. But it seemed to me that all of them were changed in some significant way that wasn’t entirely positive. Their pulses were thin and weak, their skin was pale, their eyes looked deeply tired but determined to push forward. Their energy never quite came back; their bodies assumed a stubborn new shape; their memories were never as sharp.
Becoming a mother does change you, physically and emotionally, and that journey is challenging, beautiful, and necessary. But as I started to read about traditional postpartum practices, I realized many of the malaises affecting my friends and patients were avoidable.
In traditional cultures, there would be whole teams (generally of women) who knew exactly what a new mom would need and how to provide it for her. There were special diets, herbal teas, warming practices like vaginal steams and moxibustion. There were belly wraps and targeted massages. Most importantly, there were women who could normalize the experience, help care for the new baby, and guide the new mother towards recovery.
What a luxury! How could I provide that for the people I cared about?
I had heard of the Chinese “Golden Month” or “Sitting a Moon” practice of 4-6 weeks of staying home, resting, and drinking herbal broths. This was reputed to rebuild the mother’s energy and blood, while strengthening her organs and circulation. The long term health claims were impressive: better energy and mood, stronger physique, more graceful aging, and avoidance of mysterious diseases like arthritis and Parkinson’s. I brushed it aside as folk medicine at first, then I realized there is deep wisdom in the traditions passed down among families and generations. My curiosity was piqued.