Why feminism needs to find motherhood; a word on the fourth trimester.
Disempowered. Disempowered after the most empowering and awesomely primal experience one can ever go through. For nine months a body nurtured a living thing, grew it from tiniest seed to human. Small, tiny, perfect human. Then birthed a child - no matter how - birthed a child from their own body. And then. And then?
The fourth trimester, a term first coined in the early 70s, is centered upon the idea that a babies gestation period is actually around 12 months. Its surmised they need this (at least) three month acclimatisation period in order to truly enter the world; ejected from the womb three months too early, in order to thrive babies need nourishment whenever desired, comfort whenever needed and to sleep when tired.They need to acclimatise to this big, scary world they have been thrust into. But truly, if mothers are to meet these needs, they need the same.
We seem lost in this idea, and its a deep-rooted and patriarchal one, that we can have it all. Three months seems to be this magic goal, a survival test to complete in order to find your way back to normality. Googling how long one can wait before picking up a washing basket after a c-section is almost laughable. But its done, I’m sure everyday. I have treated a cold far better than I did myself post-birth. How can we expect women to recover from the most transformative experience a body can go through - however the birth - while selling the idea of getting up and at it the second we get up from our hospital beds?
The fourth trimester is almost always linked with the idea of a baby needing to adjust to this strange new landscape, when, as birthing people, our world too has irrevocably changed. Physiologically your body is trying to produce milk, you are bleeding, your insides are moving back into place after being entirely rearranged, puzzle pieces jumbled, fitting themselves back together. And psychologically, coming to terms with being transformed from autonomous being to one with an entire life dependent on your very existence. A mother’s protection knows no bounds, but love is not always instant. It can take time to flourish and thrive. So much rests on this fragile and delicate trimester; a mother’s whole experience of this sacred time can rest on met or unmet breastfeeding goals, sleep deprivation you were unprepared for, the messy house that you tried to clean with baby who won’t be put down. A lack of respect for one’s own body, all this bleeding and leaking and hormonal changes are being portrayed as weakness, they are in the way of moving on and getting back to it. These important and affirming experiences are being pushed aside, in favour of those that are firmly based within a patriarchal world.
As birthing people, we are at one of the biggest junctures of life, simultaneously at our strongest and most powerful, while utterly vulnerable and exhausted. Trying to tie up our life before with that of the now, the new and the different. It seems that now traction being gained in gifting yourself knowledge in birth, thank goodness, but then it feels like there is just a confusing cacophony of advice or even silence, when it comes to those days, weeks and months with a new baby. And no one talks, no one lets you know quite how hard they are finding it. Mothers are left holding newborns in front of one another, knackered and bleeding, thinking that its time to put up and shut up. We lie about sleep, about feeding and about how hard it sometimes is, and we perpetuate the myths. We think our babies are ‘broken’, we’re doing something, everything, wrong. Layers upon layers of deception, because no one wants to be the one failing. At a time when women should be raising each other up, forming alliances and creating support, there is an out and out lack of it all.
New mothers are newborns. They need all the same things. Nourishment, comfort, sleep. They need to be mothered too, and they need to understand and discover this almost unrecognisable world. Respecting this fourth trimester period with the utmost reverie of which circumstances allow is important, however that looks to each individual mother. Taking this time back to be kind to ourselves and get to know our child is essential, but is being pushed aside by the need to do. I ask, if women are the carriers of wombs, the ones who give, grow and present the very essence of life, then why is feminism lagging so behind on the issues of motherhood? Every person, we were all born of woman, all grown inside wombs. In our drive to do, and create and move on, we seem to have lost what came before. Those, now revolutionary but so ancient, ideas of nourishing the mother. The fourth trimester doesn’t just apply to the baby, if its a trimester then it is a continuation of pregnancy. Not a full stop.
In times of bygone (and in other countries across the world even now) we stood together, formed circles around birthing mothers. From a young age women knew what their bodies would go through, what life was like with a small baby. They knew the power that lie within their bodies, those cogs that sat within them, waiting to be set into motion. They knew how to care for and look after a baby. They spoke that language of mothering, whether or not they had given birth themselves.
Nowadays, many people enter the world of motherhood only with the realisation that they have never held a baby, let alone cared for one. These divisions between pre- and post-motherhood are serving no one, but to shroud in mystery and secrecy that which is wholly natural. How can you know what is normal infant behaviour, when we are selling ourselves short on knowledge and experience? Disengaging ourselves from motherhood until it is thrust upon us merely feeds into this notion that we are not capable, we cannot do this. It means in desperate times, of three am night feeds and colicky afternoons, instead of turning to each other, we are turning to things made and sold to prey on these very moments. If we are to knock down confidence and trust in oneself, in this space which is supposedly instinctual and natural, then it can shake a mother to the very core of her own self-worth.
If we are to create a better world, fill it with people who are caring and compassionate, then they deserve the most caring and compassionate start we can give them. This begins with babies who are raised by women who are nurtured, supported and given the right kind of help. When a six week check-up by a severely over-stretched health service is merely a formality and glosses over new mothers, it speaks volumes of the time we sit in. One where we no longer value the process of mothering, and instead once the baby is in arms we move on. There is something to be said for disempowering and separating a group with so much commonality, the power of a group of women who can share in experiences and support is mighty. If we are to allow these divisions to exist, dismiss maybe one of the most powerful points in a mother’s life, then we are to continue diminishing the self-worth of mothers everywhere.
The revolution begins at home. It’s a quiet one. One steeped in love and adoration for those in the midst of it all. It starts as a home-cooked meal left on a doorstep, it exists within the quiet and comfortable silence of one keeping a new mother company, and it sits firmly in taking into account your recovery as a process of birth. Make a plan. Make a recovery plan along with a birth one. Get help, give orders. Take time to understand what will happen to you, post-birth. Inform and arm yourself. Speak up, confide those thoughts that are worrying, or scary, or unwelcome. Hold the space. And then defend those others, those in the blur and fog of that fourth trimester. Share with your children the process of their arrival. Resurrect those broken connections, take back what is lost, and find that which was ours. The support of other women in truth.