Jessie Jarvie is mum to three and our founder. In the early days, running The Baby Bag while parenting her two boys was pretty hectic. But when she was moving house, dealing with a start-up and expecting baby number *three*… well, she was bone-tired, and she knew she needed to do things a bit differently.
Jess’ husband’s late grandmother was Chinese. In China, new mothers are expected to ‘sit the month’ after they have a baby. Instead of trying to get back to normal life as quickly as possible, a mum stays home with her elders to care for her and the baby so she can fully recover.
At first, it seemed unrealistic for Jess – but the idea slowly grew on her and after sitting the month with Maggie Mei (now 2), she’s on a mission to help other women reclaim the postnatal recovery period they so desperately need. Here she shares her experiences.
Confinement is the new cool
In stark contrast to our atypical Western lifestyle, sitting the month is a Chinese custom surrounding rest, which involves a new mum being confined to her home for the first month after childbirth. The idea is that she recovers, usually in the full-time company of her mother or mother-in-law who looks after the baby. (I know, I know, this is a big ask for some. Although none of our grandies lived-in with us, they were certainly a key part of the whole operation!).
The tradition is sometimes ridiculed because of the ‘rules’ people have often heard about. How to take a month’s rest can be interpreted pretty widely, like one shouldn’t wash hair, take showers, brush teeth, or leave the house. These all stem from the belief that childbirth causes significant amounts of fluid and blood loss. According to traditional Chinese medicine, blood carries chi, your ‘life force’, which fuels all the functions of the body. When you lose blood, you lose chi, and this causes your body to go into a state of yin or cold. When yin and yang are out of balance, the belief is that your body will suffer physically.
“I think western culture has it wrong when it comes to postnatal care. Part of this is our healthcare system and part of it is based on social expectations – that we have of ourselves and others.”
Our healthcare system funds treatment for workplace injuries, but not for a new mother who has suffered birth trauma, postnatal depression, postnatal anxiety, a prolapse or incontinence. We currently have a petition circulating to improve postnatal rehabilitation care for Kiwi women, and you can find more on my friend @thevaginaphysio’s Instagram page. This work is very important for the physical health of mothers.
There’s also work being done to broaden this petition beyond physical trauma – because we can’t acknowledge the physical impact of childbirth without acknowledging the need for emotional support too. One out of five women experience a maternal mental health condition, suicide is the leading cause of maternal mortality and most of these mothers don’t even meet the criteria for any funding or support. We’re not getting what we need.
Werk werk werk
We’re also expecting many mums to go back to work too soon. Some don’t have a choice thanks to the rising cost of living. Others often feel like they need to stay on the good side of their employers. For a long time, we’ve advocated for the right to return when we want to, and we’ve made good progress. But there is no such thing as a ‘right’ time. As a passionate advocate for mums in the workplace, I sometimes find it hard to articulate this really strange dichotomy between ‘equality’ and ‘quality’ for women. Sure, as mothers we have a basic right to be there (and we’re arguably even more valuable as mothers, possessing new and different skill sets) but equally, if our postnatal rest and recovery isn’t quality, the opportunities for us to return are meaningless. Commitment to proper postnatal care is the foundation for mothers to thrive, whether they’re stay-at-home or working.
I read something recently by @nutritionbyginarose about the size of the placenta – the only known organ that is formed and expelled. It’s as big as a standard side plate. That’s the size of the wound left on your uterus after you’ve given birth to the placenta! What would happen if you or your partner had an external wound of that size? Deep rest and repair, right? What is positively correlated with lower physical impact trauma, lower postnatal depression and anxiety rates? Deep rest and repair. It’s not rocket science, but it is hard for many of us to flick that switch.
You’ve got to plan for it because it’s hard
Don’t get me wrong – with three kids and a business, you can bet I’m not what some would call a ‘natural rester’. Sitting the month wasn’t easy for me. I found a few key things that helped me get through.
Rally the troops
The modern-day ‘village’ is smaller than it once was, so you have to be bold and get everyone on board before the baby arrives. Sitting the month takes planning and commitment from you and your support network too. Whether it’s your mum, your neighbour or a girlfriend, you’re going to need a lot of help. Work out the bits you need help with and explain your commitment to this custom to those people, and why you’re giving it a go.
You do need connection - embrace your phone, embrace visitors. Let go of any shame you hold about the state of your house or your hair. Trust me, no one will notice the floors when they have brand new rosebud lips to look at instead.
Sign up to My Weekly Baby Bag
Okay, so I’m a bit biased here, but My Weekly Baby Bag is a game changer! Having the things you need delivered each week gives you more headspace to focus on stuff like bonding and healing. And maybe even washing your hair?
An all-important pause
Having those thirty days inside gave me time to bond with Maggie, and also gave Maggie time to bond with me - which in turn made me reflect on the kind of mum that I want to be for her. I did a lot of thinking about my parenting. As @rebeccajkeil once said, it’s up to me, and me only, to give my children a happy mum. It doesn’t matter what external influences exist - there will always be stress at work or within your extended family. That’s life... it’s amazing and it’s awful.
With a new baby, there’s sleep deprivation and exhaustion, squabbling over night feeds, housework left undone and too many visitors. But these early days are, in some ways, the easy days - if you allow them to be. I guess that’s what deep rest and repair enable you to do. To ‘give in’ a little bit. To focus on loving your baby, and loving yourself.
In other parts of the world, this peaceful time is standard – but we’ve lost it in modern western culture. Let’s fix this, if not for us as mothers, then for our girls.
Are you prepared?
Imagery by Anna Kidman.