Postpartum struggles are real. I recently read a news article that saddened me immensely. In the midst of despair from juggling work and caring for her new baby, a young mother took both her life and that of her child.
Having gone through my own struggles within the first year of my son’s arrival, I’ve drawn inspiration from the first five Yamas of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, to send a message to all new mothers.
Ahiṃsā: Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings
"I wish that you would be kind to your new body."
I remember returning to my hot hatha practice 7-weeks postpartum. Initially, it felt great doing a regular class after stopping my practice during pregnancy. As much as I love yoga, returning to the mat so soon after giving birth wasn’t one of my wisest decisions.
The ‘rectus abdominis’ muscles stretch a lot during pregnancy, as they are being pushed outward by the uterus. Once the baby is delivered, the muscles do not immediately go back to their original shape.
Some women suffer from ‘diastasis recti’ (ab separation). I am one of those women, although I had no idea at the time. I pushed myself to do every backbend and crunch, when I should have given myself more time for the muscles to heal, especially before doing any core exercises. I was so anxious to gain back the strength I had prior to pregnancy, that I ended up doing more harm than good to my body.
Physical recovery takes time. For the initial few months after giving birth; rest, pamper yourself, spend more time with your newborn in order to work out the daily rhythm that suits both you and your baby. Then come back to the mat.
Satya: truthfulness, non-falsehood
"I wish that you would stay truthful to your motherhood experience."
We all want to be the perfect mother. When asked, how often do we tend to downplay our motherhood woes?
"How are you and your baby doing?"
Although some may ask the question in passing, it is completely okay to express when you are feeling overwhelmed. It is okay to state that you might like a few hours off for yourself without having to worry about round the clock care for your baby. It is okay to cry.
Admitting your struggles with motherhood is not a sign of weakness; it means that you are strong and a self aware enough person to seek resources to help you through a difficult period. If you open up regarding your personal struggles, you may find people around you will also open up with their own difficulties as well.
"I wish that you would not steal power from other new mothers."
One may have heard the debates surrounding these issues: natural birth vs. caesarean birth, breastfeeding vs. pumping vs. formula feeding, stay at home mums vs. working moms. Women can be so hard on one another.
I, myself, am a full-time working mother, who delivered via caesarean section and had to resort to pumping and supplementing using formula, as my baby was not able to latch directly.
I’ve noticed a toxic trend among many online women’s support, mainly strong advocates claiming that anything other than breastfeeding is of inferior quality. Or that milk that is pumped will lose its nutrients when reheate. I’ve even read claims that formula is evil.
New mothers already have enough things on their plate, the last thing they need is for other mothers to suggest that they have not done right by their babies.
Brahmacārya: chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint
"I wish that you will not waste energy on things that do not serve your purpose."
So you have attended antenatal classes, breastfeeding workshops and have a birth plan ready to welcome your newborn into this world. Then picture this imaginary situation; due to certain circumstances during the delivery, you’ve had to deviate from your initial birth plan. You are able to breastfeed sufficiently while still in the hospital surrounded by lactation consultants, but when you are finally back at home, you start to become engorged. Your baby cries continuously. Family and friends begin to feed you different information. The information you’ve read from the books do not seem to gel with what is in your hands at that point. Your house is in a constant state of mess while you try to deal with all these new experiences that seem to be happening all at once.
Don't beat yourself about the changes in your birth plan. I have seen friends who initially wanted to have an all-natural birth, but ended up undergoing a caesarean section - they felt terrible about themselves! What matters is that your baby has been safely delivered into the world, so don't fuss what method was used, as long as the baby is happy and healthy.
Latching is not the only way to get milk to your baby. Whilst working out latching techniques, find ways to relieve the engorgements. Be open to other options like pumping and formula.
Some people may try to tell you that your baby is crying because she is hungry. You ask yourself, how can that be as you’ve only just fed her. Others may tell you to let your baby cry it out or that you are spoiling your baby by holding and rocking them all the time. Trust your gut, do what works for you and your baby.
The first few months postpartum are very challenging. If you’ve got a messy house, engage the professionals to do the job for you. You want to reserve some energy in order to show yourself some love. Arrange date nights with your partner and only then when you feel full and happy, will you be ready to continue taking care of your newborn.
Aparigraha: non-avarice, non-possessiveness
"I wish that you would learn to let go of the old and embrace the new."
Continuing on from my point earlier about being kind to one's new body, one should also learn to let go of attachment to your old body. Stretch marks and loose skin are part and parcel of postpartum bodies; the degree of severity depends on the genetic makeup of each person.
I used to feel incredibly depressed about how my tummy had looked after the birth of my son. Prior to pregnancy, it was toned and flat. After the delivery, my lower tummy was covered with light and dark coloured stretch marks, wrinkles around my navel and a pouch that hung over my C-section scar. I compared myself to a close friend who had a baby around the same time, but she had none of the aesthetic problems that I was suffering from. I kept telling my husband that one day I would save enough money to get a tummy tuck to make myself happy again. It was as though a tummy tuck would magically fix all the stress that I was experiencing postpartum.
In the end, I never proceeded with a tummy tuck. Instead, I kept an on/off practice between the time that I was 7 weeks postpartum until my son was close to 2 years old, and a more consistent practice thereafter.
My core gradually strengthened, and with that, I learnt to embrace my new tummy. I realised that what matters more is the internal strength, by activating the transverse abdominals.
Most people are completely focused on their own practice on the mat. They don’t attend class to stare at my tummy, so why should I upset myself with how it looks?
Lastly, it would be hard not to notice the shift in household dynamics when it’s just you and your partner, to when your new baby arrives. Priorities shift, additional responsibilities arise and 24 hours just doesn’t seem enough to split your time between your partner and your baby. Engage your partner's help, do it together and work out what's the best arrangement for your household. Remember that you don't have to face motherhood alone.
By Merlyn Ng