Why Sophie's book matters
Last Summer, Sophie Messager had a message for all of us, explained in a 9 chapter-book called Why Postnatal Recovery Matters (Pinter & Martin).
"A doula is like a Sherpa. If you were going to climb Everest, you would take your partner, but you would also hire someone to help you navigate the mountain."
The author, Sophie Messager, is a birth and postpartum doula based in Cambridge, United Kingdom. This is how she describes the profession: "A doula is like a Sherpa. If you were going to climb Everest, you would take your partner, but you would also hire someone to help you navigate the mountain."
She starts her book by recalling ancient wisdom and traditional postpartum practices from all over the world. As a doula, I knew more about Chinese, Indonesian or Mexican traditions rather than European ones. It was refreshing, here, to learn a little bit more about old English postpartum rituals and recipes (such as the recipe of the Groaning cake). This gives me hope to rediscover and restore some old French or Celtic postnatal traditions, as long as they provide comfort and support the new parents.
Sophie presents these four keys to a successful recovery:
Rest: Extreme tiredness can be avoided if you have the right support.
Food and drinks: Comforting and nourishing foods and drinks are necessary to repair damaged tissues and promote milk production.
Social support: Loneliness is met by 80% of new mothers. First months can be monotonous and isolating. Adult interaction is essential.
Body work: After a wonderful job, the rather amazing postpartum body needs nurturing (closing the bones, wrapping the hips, massaging...). This has been forgotten in Western countries. What else? Pelvic floor re-education is offered to all new mothers in France. Why isn't that a priority in other countries? Why does society focus on your mom bod, your stretch marks, your saggy breasts and expect you to bounce back in the twinkle of an eye?
So you read this list and you wonder, how is it possible? What are people going to think of me if I don't manage on my own? Isn't that a luxury? This is well explained and it is when the village intervenes.
There are all these limitative thoughts that prevent us from asking for support. There are also polite habits pushed on us. In some cases, there is no free support available: no family, no friends around. It is then suggested to hire professional help such as postpartum doulas, lactation consultants, cleaners, housekeepers etc.
On the other hand... This is ultra complicated for first time parents to set up boundaries, to limit visits in the hospital, to refuse to host well-meaning guests who bring (sometimes useless) token-gifts and want to pass the baby from hand to hand, expect to get served, offered refreshments and leave the dishes undone. The book gives tips on how to set up boundaries and ask for much needed help (laundry, dishes, cooking, walking the dog) in a diplomatic way.
We tend to forget about postpartum. It is often relegated as the prologue of birth, instead of being invested and recognised as the epilogue of a strong bond between a mother (a parent) and a child, a united family. This vulnerable time can affect (negatively or positively) the family for months, years, decades or even generations.
Sophie mentions how it is complicated to explain to a future mother/parent what they will need before they can even experience it.
There are heartfelt testimonials of women who went through postpartum (the good, but also the bad and the ugly) which will help future parents better visualise, feel and prepare what is coming.
These postpartum stories are filled with gratefulness, regrets, envy, hopes and wishes for an empowering postnatal experience, a better care for new mothers, new parents, in our countries, a real desire for a re-focus on the person who just gave birth.
New babies don't care about clothes and stuffed toys: what they need most are parents who feel strong enough to support them
As an ex-biologist and researcher, Sophie always shares studies, statistics and references to back up her findings.
One conclusion is shattering to me: According to a survey, new parents spend a lot of money on a new baby, splashing out an average of 1600£ on equipment alone and 10000£ on the first year (about 1783€ on equipment and 11143€ in total, on the first year). So much pressure from marketers that parents feel the urge to give in. 90% of parents admitted having overspent on baby equipment, with an average of 5567£ (6203€) wasted . Babies certainly don't need that much; a place to sleep, some clothes and nappies and a sling could be enough. Second-hands items are also great, for your budget and for the planet.
As Sophie writes it: "New babies don't care about clothes and stuffed toys: what they need most are parents who feel strong enough to support them."
I appreciate very much that Sophie adds a chapter dedicated to special circumstances and suggests adaptations or integrations to a postpartum plan. Solo-mums, NICU babies, complications at birth, still births, miscarriages or other pregnancy losses. She shares her own very personal and touching experience with miscarriages and invites the grieving hearts to a postpartum treatment. Why would you be treated differently? Your body and your soul went through the same journey as if your baby was alive. Keep warm, eat well, rest, wrap your pelvis and surround yourself with lovely people. You don't deserve any less.
Sophie's dear wish is to shift the mindset of many people who wrongly think that the sooner the new mother "bounces back", the better. They value independence as the ultimate asset, instead of appreciating interdependence or what collective effort brings to the game. She hopes, just as I do, that the more mothers experience a supported postpartum, the more it will become the norm.
Just like Michel Odent shares the view that a respected birth can change the society, Sophie Messager shares the view that a nurtured postpartum can also transform the world. That is powerful, and it is a power we all have.
I recommend this useful little guide for future parents (and their parents). It contains a precious bibliography, some nutritious and delicious recipes, contacts of different British associations, and lots of tips. 150 pages of wisdom that fits in your pocket and only costs about 10€. A good investment.