The sequel–or some would say prequel–to The First Forty Days is born! Four years after that book arrived, establishing an important niche in postpartum care for mothers and selling, frankly, like hotcakes, its sibling has arrived. Awakening Fertility: The Essential Art of Preparing for Pregnancy brings the same spirit of loving guidance—stemming from ancestral traditions merged with modern considerations—to this pre-mothering phase. May it find the same heartfelt audience that F40D has done! Available now at Abrams Books.
Scores of midwives; dozens of doulas and hundreds of mamas-to-be: We were definitely amongst our people when Heng and I traveled to Salt Lake City last weekend to appear at the Empowering Fearless Birth convention. This grass-roots conference has proliferated in size since its founding a few years ago—appropriately enough, it mirrors the highly prolific birth rate of Utah, which we didn’t know about until we arrived (seriously: “I have five kids” was said more times there in one day than we’ve ever heard in California!). And its founders have created a dynamic forum for women to grow confidence and clarity from all kinds of education about pregnancy choices, birthing options, natal care, and natural childrearing. The wealth of expertise on display was impressive.
Equally impressive was the commitment and consciousness of the midwives who’d labored intensely—pun intended—to bring this non-profit convention to life. What a great gang of empowered and often, bracingly unconventional women! Heng and I had the pleasure of presenting our talk, “The Small Gestures of The First Forty Days” to the Utah Midwives’ Convention on Friday night, which was happening in tandem with the public event the next day. We then presented to mothers and families twice on Saturday, and were happy to be the Keynote speakers at the event.
Our message about “circling up” as communities around new mothers and re-learning the lost art of caring for the mother after birth was enthusiastically received. Women shared their stories, their concerns, and their insights about what is failing our families today … and what works. We learned as much as we shared, and we loved feeding this hunger for authentic conversation about such an important time in women’s, children’s, and families’ lives. We’re ready to get on the road, mic in hand—let’s hope it’s the start to many more speaking dates!
… And with one final push, she arrived! I’m so excited to announce the release of my latest book collaboration from ABRAMS publishers. This precious book came to life in such an organic way, it must surely have been star-crossed. It was conceived by my friend Heng Ou, founder of the postpartum nourishment service MotherBees. Inspired by her own diverse postpartum experiences, which included receiving the traditional Chinese protocol of zuo yuezi from her renowned Chinese herbalist relatives after one birth and swinging close to postpartum depression after another, Heng wanted to create a book that fused recipes and advice for other women to help then navigate postpartum.
Anyone who knows Heng knows that she is a fascinating blend of earthy calm and liquid magic—she played a mysterious and benevolent part in my own pregnancy, sending me prayers for conception, then guiding me towards midwives for my pregnancy care. When she told me, “I want to do a book!” I confess, I tried to talk her out of it because the challenges of selling books in a celebrity and social-media obsessed marketplace are considerable. But her vision refused to fade and when a casual mention to my literary agent, Marc Gerald, elicited this extremely unlikely response: “Zuo Yuezi? I love zuo yuezi! I’ve been looking for the people who could translate it for the masses!”, I knew this book was destined to exist.
You can read more about the incredible circle of women friends who came together to create it on our dedicated blog. The special-ness of this project radiates from the pages; I hope that every person who holds it in their hands feels the love with which it was made. You can also find us on Instagram at #thefirstfortydays
One of the implicit goals of The First Forty Days was for every reader to feel held by the presences of many other women and connect into history’s continuum of maternal care. We reached out to a number of very special women for words of wisdom, including Siddhi Ellinghoven, Santa Barbara’s preeminent pre-natal yoga teacher, and a master spiritual teacher renowned for her grounded and accessible style. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation that didn’t make it into the book. Connect with Siddhi on Facebook at Siddhi’s Yoga.
On preparing for postpartum …
I want all my pre-natal students to have the backbone to handle the inevitable challenges after the baby comes. It’s important to realize that on the day of the birth, three beings are born! The father (or second parent) is born, the mother is born, and the child is born, and they haven’t met each other yet, so none of them know each other! The father and mother will suddenly discover if their values are in alignment or not. What are their thoughts on raising a baby? What are their expectations? It’s so important to talk deeply while you’re pregnant and ask, “Who are we?” because once the baby comes, you will be completely consumed.
On meditating during pregnancy …
Implement a meditation practice while you are pregnant, and it will be your stronghold when baby comes. Done regularly, it will recharge you and will carry you through any hardship—it will be the one consistency in your life! The practice can be short: 3 minutes or ideally 11 minutes, and it can be whatever centers you, be it a silent meditation or chanting. Chanting mantras like Ra Ma Da Sa from the kundalini tradition is perfect because singing raises oxytocin in the body, which helps to overcome the negative programs that run in our subconscious, and combats anxiety. If a mother sings and chants through pregnancy, and does it when baby arrives in her hands, the soul hears it and remembers, “I heard that in utero.” It is a beautiful bridge of connecting.
On partners in the delivery room ….
Just because it’s the norm today to have the partner in the room does not make it 100% right for everyone. [French obstetrician] Michel Odent says that every person in the birthing room adds an hour to labor and studies support that, showing that if a woman’s partner looks fearful, her own adrenals fire up and her contractions slow down. If your partner says, “I’m not sure about me coming in,” don’t make them! Position them partner outside, protecting the space for you—which is an important job as well.
On being in the experience of birth….
I’m not a doctor or gynecologist, but what I’ve learned is that if we leave the laboring woman in her own psychic space, she can get into her zone. Talking to her, asking her questions all the time, takes her out of the experience. We want her in her experience, in her totality, not being disrupted at all. If she needs something, she will call out for it. The point is that she is the designer or creator of birth of this new soul and she does not have to be managed by anyone. Yes, we are utterly grateful for intervention when we need it, but let’s get back to the roots of understanding that women have it all inside ourselves—we can do this.
On navigating the transition as a family …
It is so common for the mother’s partner to begin to feel left out after the baby comes. He (or she) watched the mother-to-be growing for over nine months and might have unconsciously been thinking, “Okay, when this is over, I will have her back.” Not realizing, he won’t have her back in the same way, because she has turned into a different being—a mother. The big point is to truly learn the gift of listening to each other. It’s very easy as a new mother to become defensive, but the gift for this new yoga generation, is that the mother who has been doing some kind of awareness practice develops a different consciousness. She has more awareness and can be open to how this stage of life is part of mom and dad growing up for each other. She can be open to understanding that parenting is learning to live for each other. Not with each other, or next to each other, but for each other. And that is how motherhood can be, if you let it, a doorway into what for most of us is the unknown space of unconditional love and surrender.
One of the insights that most affected me while writing our book The First Forty Days was how the enormous and extraordinary act of giving birth to a baby—no matter how that birth looks or where it happens—creates a state of extreme ‘openness’ in the mom that needs to be carefully managed in the days and weeks that follow.
Many traditions around the world say that cold and wind can get in to the body in this vulnerable state, causing headaches, joint and back pain, menstrual pain, trouble conceiving, and challenging menopause, as well as anxiety and depression. So they have protocols in place around eating, resting, and receiving help after giving birth—simple rules that hold you in warmth and safety as your body begins to come back from this most expanded and open state. These became the backbone of our book.
They worked for me: by following most of the tenets of The First Forty Days, my postpartum recovery went well and I felt calm and (mostly) at ease. But I was humbled to discover how this vulnerable state can persist for months after the initial postpartum period has passed. Combining mothering by day with working late into the night at my desk, and dealing with other life pressures as well, I often felt chilled, exhausted, or aggravated.
In those moments, I’d return to the principles in the book, even though I was way past my first forty. I’d make some warming tea, take a hot shower, or ask my husband for extra hugs. I would crack out the chicken liver and replenish my body’s nutritional reserves. I’d rub warm sesame oil on my body before a bath at night—an ayurvedic tip to calm aggravated nerves. Frankly, I never, ever got enough sleep in these months, but these small, relatively quick gestures did help restore some balance.
Pouring love, breast milk, and attention into the rapidly growing baby in my arms was a massive energetic expenditure and burning the candle at both ends took a much bigger toll than before. I learned that while the “opening” of giving birth is an extraordinary gift—it cracked me open into a new kind of woman, with a heart that had broken apart then reformed itself bigger—it also required new respect and self-awareness. It asked me to be my own best keeper and to be more vigilant of my body, energy, and reserves than I’d ever been before.
Now that my daughter is two-and-a-half, I realize I will always be open, pouring love into my child for years to come. These tools of self-care and preservation are what I still return to, whenever I feel tired or cold.