Baby showers are a long-standing tradition of pregnancy: laughter, maybe some games, and of course, gifts -- impossibly tiny onesies, cute little pants, and ever-practical diapers.. Typically, there are multiple generations of women, from grandmothers to mothers to sisters to daughters. They are there to shower love on the honoree, give her sage advice, and celebrate motherhood, pregnancy, and babies.
In a post for Women’s Health Today, Dr. Kathleen Kendall Tacket, Health Psychologist, author, and IBCLC, looks at studies of countries and cultures outside of the US and their postpartum customs. She describes ritual baths, hair washing, massage, laying-in traditions, and ceremonial meals as some of the mother-centered rituals that celebrate not the birth of a baby, but a woman’s passage into motherhood. She cites examples from Nepal, Peru, Guatemala, and Punjabi and Mayan cultures.
While it wouldn’t be right to appropriate traditions from other cultures, Kendall Tacket argues that lacking our own traditions of postpartum ceremony and support can lead to stress and isolation for new mothers, which can then lead to postpartum emotional complications like depression or anxiety. We also don't have the same social infrastructures in place in the US as in these other cultures, yet there are ways for us to honor a woman who has become a mother.
Plan a gathering after the baby is born
In the first weeks postpartum, she may need her circle of women to come together for her again. Two or three of her closest friends, people whom she doesn't feel she needs to dress up for or clean her home for, can bring breakfast. Welcome her to motherhood.
Stern note: Remember that this is not people coming to see the baby. The new mom is not to entertain anyone. I feel like this should go without saying, but I continue to be stunned by my clients' stories of an endless parade of oblivious visitors who come to the hospital while the mom is juggling her new baby while tending to her own tender body, and the parade continues as the mother struggles to keep her home presentable for guests who need to eat and drink..
Start a tradition.
Is there something meaningful your mother told you when you became a mother? Share it with her. Did she give you a gift that comforted you or gave you strength when you were experiencing big changes? Give it back to her with the same intention. Read her a poem about strength and learning; frame it so she can put it on her dresser and look at it every day. Ask each of her friends to write an inspirational or affirming quote on a square of paper; read them to her, and place them folded in a bowl or a jar. She can read them when she wants to feel the presence of her friends. Do your friends knit, sew, or quilt? Perhaps together you can make a shawl for her. Drape it over her shoulders and tell her she can use it to keep her warm while she’s feeding her baby in the middle of the night. Maybe someone can do the same for the next woman in your circle when she becomes a mom. That's how traditions are born, and traditions make us feel timeless connection to something outside of our own individual experiences.
The cultural traditions Kendall Tacket describes not only focus on the mother and celebrate her; they are also a practical way for women to gather and help her rest. Since we can't scuttle her away for any period of time nor move in with her temporarily, how can we care for her physically?
Focus on her.
Call her regularly and check on how she’s recovering from childbirth or how she is feeling emotionally. Ask her if there’s anything she needs from the store or if she’s had a nap or a shower. Plenty of people will ask about the baby, but she may need something.
This post isn’t so much for the pregnant or new mom but more so for her friends and family, to be read ideally before the baby is born. If the mom has already given birth, though, it’s not too late to consider how to care for her.