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.