by Liz Marek and Jen Berryman
Recently, I was curled up in bed, stroking my 2nd trimester belly and scrolling Facebook when I came across an image of a woman lounging similarly on her own bed. However, instead of a pregnant belly, she held her sleepy newborn, and had a huge platter of nourishing finger foods and a jug of water nearby.
The article was about how despite the recent trend of a ‘babymoon’ as a final romantic getaway for expectant parents before the baby arrives, a traditional babymoon is a time of recovering and bonding with a new baby in the months following the birth.
In many parts of the world, this time is recognized with a period of prolonged bed rest during which the family cares for the new mother, bring the family nourishing foods and cares for the home. Here in the West, we have lost this tradition of caring for families during the postpartum period (sometimes referred to as the fourth trimester). Instead of allowing time to bond, rest, and heal, we expect new mothers to carry on as before, and as quickly as possible.
As I read the article, I began to cry. Partly due to pregnancy hormones, and partly because a memory suddenly came crashing back to me: a memory from the time after my first baby was born that I had almost forgotten until I read the article.
Back in 2014, after years of infertility and in vitro fertilization (IVF), I became pregnant with our first daughter. At the beginning of our journey, I had started decorating cakes from home as a way to make a little extra money once we got pregnant. When we didn’t get pregnant right away, I focused all my extra time on my business: writing books, competing, traveling, teaching, building my client base. My business became my baby.
When I finally did get pregnant, so many people told me I would have to slow down once the baby arrived. I remember scoffing at the idea. I would not slow down! I wouldn’t let a baby stop me from working! I was proud of the fact that I was a hard worker.
Our daughter’s due date was August 1. I cleared the entire week of cake orders, but for some reason, didn’t even think to clear the following week. The fact that babies don’t care about due dates hadn’t even entered my mind! I also had two interns working with me, so I just figured things would work out.
Of course, our little girl did not come on her due date. On August 6th, I was packing my bag to head to the hospital to be induced when my water broke at 10 p.m. Avalon arrived at 11:30 a.m. on August 7. I cried joyful tears the moment they put her on my chest. She was warm, slippery and so heavy! She was finally real.
My husband and I spent two lovely days with her in the hospital, learning to feed her, change her, and bond with her. Then, I got a phone call from my intern. She had a cake emergency, and she needed me right away!
We left the hospital as soon as the doctors would allow it. I called my dear friend to ask her if she could sit with Avalon in the nursery when we got home so I could handle the cake emergency. A short time later, there I was: standing in my kitchen with a hospital bracelet on, still wearing the hospital’s mesh underwear and pad under my loose-fitting dress shirt. I was weak and tired. And I was frosting a cake.
A freaking cake!
While my newborn baby girl was having her first moments in our home, I was frosting a cake.
After learning about the tradition of observing the fourth trimester as a time to rest and heal, I started thinking about my life as a working parent. About my own mindset toward my work and the society we live that cares an awful lot about image, money, and the “hustle.” As an entrepreneur, you can post all day long about working long hours and working yourself to the bone, garnering cheers and words of encouragement from your followers. But if you talk about struggling mentally because you’re overworked: well that’s just not cool.
As I look forward to my fourth trimester, I have made a conscious decision to soak in these last weeks of pregnancy, while at the same time preparing for postpartum. This time around, I am going to take a real babymoon. I’m going to snuggle in bed with my husband, my daughter and my new son. I will let friends and family help care for me and the baby, and I won’t feel guilty. I won’t feel guilty about not posting on Instagram, or worry if people think I should be working. I’ll give myself time to rest and recover.
Maybe you aren’t an entrepreneur. Maybe you’re working a full-time job while trying to build your side-hustle. Or maybe you work a regular job and just need to pay the freaking bills. It’s hard to think about taking time to heal when there’s food to buy and a mortgage to pay. I get that. I understand that my circumstances are unique. Not everyone works at home with their husband or has strong emotional support. Not everyone has a parent or a grandparent nearby to help in tough times.
But, no matter your circumstance, I encourage you to try to create space to heal and take your moments where you can. Instead of posting on social media, go for a walk. Instead of making sure you answer all your emails, read a book. Eat dinner with your family. Take a nap. Cry with a friend on the phone. Do whatever you need to do in a free moment to heal. And don’t feel guilty about it! Give yourself permission to heal. No matter how long it takes.
Supporting the Fourth Trimester: Tip for Friends and Family
If you are not expecting, but have a friend or family member who is, there is so much you can do to nurture them during the fourth trimester. Though our culture has become removed from the tradition of caring for families, we can relearn this art. It starts with not asking what you can do, and just doing it. Even if all you have to offer is emotional support, it can make a huge difference in the health of a family.
Ways You Can Help
- Prepare nourishing foods that are easily reheated
- Throw in a load of laundry or load the dishwasher
- Hold the baby so the parents can take a shower or nap
- Take the older sibling to the park
- Call them on the phone and just listen