Posts tagged Nest
Posts tagged Nest
What is the “Nest”?
It’s a 40 day “laying in” period immediately following birth where the new mother does nothing but love her baby and herself. She accepts food from others, she basks in the sacred space that naturally follows a birth, while others tend to her needs as well as the needs of her household. Traditionally and historically, this practice has been adhered to as part of the birth experience. But for some reason, we don’t practice it anymore in our culture and I’m beginning to wonder if there is a connection between this loss and the epidemic in postpartum depression.
We all agree that the postpartum time is HARD for EVERYONE. We all agree that the new mom needs endless amounts of support, emotionally and physically. And yet, this nesting period still fails to receive the type of attention we all agree it needs.
After giving birth 6 times, and working with birthing women for many years, I began to have a “hunch” about the importance of an optimal nesting time. I was also able to experience it first hand as I prepared for the birth of my 7th child a couple of years ago I write about the experience and how I created my nest in more detail here.
The short answer is that it changed who I am. While living it, I realized how huge it is, and started doing research about it and writing about it. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:
With the advances in technology - we now have never before known data on how an infant’s brain and emotional intelligence is formed from the beginning of its life. In a nutshell, during the prenatal time, the birth experience and the first few months of life, there is extreme “plasticity” of the brain. The neural connections are just beginning to happen and are firing at a phenomenal rate, a constant explosion of brain activity never matched again in life (these trillions of connections exceed those that you and I adults have, and will subside connecting at around 3 years old - after that, the existing connections are either strengthened or pruned away). These neural connections form the beginning of how this baby will think and feel about life, the world, and itself. During some of these times, there are also “windows” of opportunity that will never be open again after they close. For example, if a baby is born with congenital cataracts, successful surgery allowing the baby to see clearly can be done effectively only if performed before 3 months old. After this window closes, the chances of that person seeing clearly decrease significantly.
This makes me wonder what other things in the brain are so vulnerable and then so cemented at such early ages. The eye/vision thing is easily measurable. But what about things that are not so easy to measure such as the ability to love at a certain level, or the amount of trust that person will be capable of in its life. It is extremely possible that many of these foundational building blocks that are essential for a healthy fulfilling life, are formed during this sensitive time. It just makes sense. The first experiences a person has, shape that person. The epic question “Nature or Nurture” has now been answered fairly well in that these first experiences have a significant impact on shaping a person’s brain wiring. Scientifically speaking anyway (for more great information on “Primal Health”, visit Dr. Michel Odent’s website WombEcology where he explores the lifelong impact of early fetal life experience).
Historically, most other cultures have recognized the importance of the nest, where an honoring of a 40 day “laying in” time seems to have been the norm – the women within the tribes or villages would tend to and care for the new mother by feeding her good healing foods, massaging her daily, taking care of her household needs and sometimes, conducting public ceremonies that introduce motherbaby back into the group for the first time. In many cultures now, these practices still happen. Some countries have even instituted within their government systems, a fully supported postpartum care time both physically and financially. Within the systems that this policy is in place for, sometimes up to 3 years time, it’s not surprising that they have an economic superiority over the rest of the world, as well as an overall superiority within their infrastructure (quality education and social programs, lower mortality rates, etc.). Rainne Eisler writes about this topic in “The Real Wealth of Nations” - where she discusses the many benefits of instituting a “Caring Economics”.
The experiences a person has at the beginning of their life are critical in the development of that person, and on a mass scale, we need to realize that these experiences have a significant impact on a society. It’s important. To everyone.
What I found for myself as a mother during my nesting time, was such a huge loving space that seemed endless. I was able to really process the previous 9 months, I was able to assimilate the whole experience of labor and birth, of my changing body and my changing life. At the end of it, I really felt very prepared for my responsibility as Zara’s mother - and after such a long time of being in my nest, I felt ready to “get out” into life again. Even after going back to regular life, I kept my nest intact for as long as I could, loving that I had a safe, comfortable space for me and my baby anytime I wanted to go back to it. I felt for the first time after all of my other births, that I had fully completed the birth process. I never understood why I had felt so “empty” and vulnerable during the first few weeks postpartum all the other times I had given birth. It all makes sense to me now!
It also makes sense that a happy mother equals a happy baby - and what better way to have a happy mother than to give her a large block of time to do nothing but enjoy her baby and gently adapt into her new mother role. I saw the phrase “honoring confinement rituals” recently and love how this phrase conveys the spirit of this special time.
It’s a huge answer to the loss that so many women feel following a c-section or a birth that didn’t go according to the birth plan. Unlike the birth experience itself, a mother has total control over the creation of and the time spent in the nest. If these mothers had the nest to retreat into, it would be significant in helping them process their experience - not to mention giving them the recovery time they really need. Breastfeeding gets the very best start too and we all know how important that is.
By bringing back the Nest - we give the best to motherbaby.
Mother is honored, respected and revered in a very real practical way. Baby is respectfully welcomed and given the best possible start in its life within a safe loving nest that optimally, follows a safe, peaceful and empowering pregnancy and birth.
Just because this practice has been lost somewhere along the line (maybe when birth started moving into the hospitals?), that doesn’t mean that we can’t or shouldn’t still respect this time as much as we can. In fact, for all the same reasons so many of us birth workers have committed our life’s work to birth issues – the nest time deserves the same attention. It’s been the “missing link”, I believe, in our work as birth women and it’s time we start instituting it within our maternal care work. We’ve tended to separate prenatal care, birth and postpartum as different events. I’d like to offer that we begin to move towards a place of CONTINUITY of care where we treat the whole process as one event. Including a 40 day standard postpartum nest time. I can see many people blowing this off as impossible in our modern culture. But, sit with it for a while and see what your inner wise woman says – then start talking to HER about it! My guess is you’ll start seeing this in a new light. Soon, we can all begin to create a dialog about how we can creatively and realistically start instituting the Nest.
By honoring the Nest, we are giving our future a strong advantage in feeling secure and loved, which, compounded, may very well be the thing that will shift humanity into a true civilized state where all living things are treated equally and with respect, ushering in the evolution of our species that we have all been waiting for.
This is the place. The birthplace of Zara. She’s the baby with the big brown eyes. I’m the other one. I am the mother. The Mother of Zara. I am smiling like I am in this picture because just days prior to it being taken, I had given birth to my baby in this exact spot.
I had labored all night long being attended to by 1 midwife, 2 labor assistants and 22 howler monkeys. The monkeys were hanging out in the trees right above us, and they howled along with me in the darkness while I made my birth sounds. It was amazing to me that my sounds were very similar and as loud sometimes as theirs. As the morning sun got stronger - the hummingbirds started to come out and began to dance around my birth space, darting in and out of the rays of sunlight that were reflecting off of the river in front of me. A Blue Morpho butterfly floated past every now and then, as it circled the house, almost as a protector of the space, a sentry of sorts. The brighter the light became, the more I realized that I was really having a baby (I know it’s strange, but very common to get lost in the “space” of labor - you forget sometimes what is really happening). ‘At one point, I reached down and felt her head with my hand. It kind of startled me. “Oh wow” I thought - “there’s a skull there - a little baby skull”. She was still inside, the top of her head was just starting to push through all the way. There it was, right on the edge - pushing out quickly. Fascinating. Weird. Big. Burning. Not really painful at all (I think being completely submerged in warm water was a big contributor to this). Looking back on the moment her head was coming out of my body, I was strangely detached. Observant. Just busy doing a very important task - which required total and complete focus. I felt it from the inside not so much as pain but more as pressure and force - like someone pushing against a door from the other side. The next contraction came and then the release, the bursting through of her head that came with a rush of relief and shaking. I felt her head slippery and hard and looked down at it through the water, red with blood. Still. Waiting. The birth assistants (my dear friends Julie and Snow) would tell me later that they had no idea her head was out - “everything was so quiet” they said. I calmly looked out into the jungle - thankful that my midwife Christina kept reminding me to keep my eyes open. The light beams, the birds, the other kids sleeping - everything was so beautiful and quiet and still. The moment we’d all been waiting for, and it was just silent. Silent and sunny with the new morning sun. I have the moment permanently imprinted within me. My baby, her head outside, the rest of her body inside, and me, just looking out at the river - taking part in an extraordinary exchange of “being”. Completely conscious of another existence and dimension. The space that we become a part of when we are truly present at a birth, or a death. It’s a profound energy. Undeniable. I now have that timeless space to visit anytime I want. It will never be as poignant as it was then, but I am able to go back and feel it often and it gives me great comfort and strength when I’ve needed it.
It took a moment for me to realize and tell myself that “My baby’s head is outside of my body, and the rest of her is still inside, but can be outside too”. A hummingbird zoomed past me and pulled me back into the “work” I was doing - and I very clearly decided to just push her body out the rest of the way. Right then, on my own, before the next contraction. I stopped for a second to think “can I do that?” - and then I thought - this is MY BIRTH I can do whatever I want”! One strong push was all it took. My 8 year old daughter Nala would tell me later that Zara shot out behind me like a corkscrew. What I remember is after the rush of fluid, and body parts, and thick twisted cord brushing past my thigh, that I turned to the side lifting my leg over her (another thing easy to do in the water), and looked down at her little 9 pound body floating about a foot under water, arms out to her sides, umbilical cord fat, purple and pulsing, her big eyes looking up through the water urging me to lift her up. When I do, her first breath is taken from my breath as I kiss her.
Christina immediately came over behind me silently and began to sing a native lullaby, quietly. Softly. Butterflies still dancing. Hummingbirds still hungry and drinking from the pink flowers to the right of my shoulder in the picture. Monkeys were quiet but still there, watching over us. My 2 sons were up by then, sleepy-eyed, watching the whole thing from the side of the tub. Nala was perched over my shoulder, bursting with joy as she touched her sisters little cheek for the first time - “nothing softer” she whispered with tears in her eyes. Blissful. Love. Happy. Beautiful.
It was truly miraculous, powerful, life-changing. I stayed in that space for a while - very proud of myself - feeling invincible and god-like. I was giddy with crazy hormones and warm jungle breezes that flowed through and around me. After spending a while in the water, Christina and Snow took Zara and wrapped her in a blanket and put the placenta in a bowl. I stood up, naked, stretching my new lighter body - looking out over the river like I had so many times before. I looked down at the bloodied water and noted the feeling, etching the memory of it into my heart. The feeling of this place that had been the first landing spot for my baby - the place I had just spent the past 8 hours traveling through time and space, exploring cosmic folds and fluids of my body and of the universe, of fear and of love - landing in a sea of surrender and floating through it’s waves in acceptance and faith with great strength and determination. I DID IT. I looked around one last time, said a prayer of gratitude and stepped out onto the wet wood floor.
I was ready for my Nest. Ready for a soft, sleepy space to cuddle with my new baby and my other sweet kids who were floating around in little bliss bubbles too.
With the help of Christina and Julie, I slowly made my way into the Nest. My bed, about 15 feet away from the birth tub - was made up in silky red sheets, cotton blankets and lots of different sized pillows. It held me close as I sunk into it, my legs still shaking. Once I was snuggled under the blankets and comfortable, Snow brought Zara to me - baby,cord and placenta all still intact. I put her to my breast, placed the bowl that held the placenta next to us and breathed a big deep breath of thanks. It was done. We were in our Nest. We were safe. Everything that ever was or ever will be was perfect in that one moment.
Safe in the Nest, I was able to gently metabolize what had just happened to me. Process it. Digest it. Eventually what I realized I was doing was honoring Zara’s arrival. In the greatest possible way a new person could be honored, and welcomed - by being showered with love and happiness and bliss. I was also honoring myself for accomplishing such an amazing feat!
As the weeks went by, I found myself having an ongoing life changing experience. In much the same way that I was profoundly changed by my first homebirth 8 years prior, I felt just as changed by this experience - this nesting time. I came to understand that I had never truly experienced the whole process of childbirth before. Even though I had given birth to 6 other children before Zara - 2 of which were homebirths, I had never understood that this nesting time was such an important time within the whole birth experience. In my U.S. culture, honoring this nest time has not been the typical practice and even within the natural childbirth circles, this aspect of birth is not really given that much attention even though we all know that throughout history, this practice has been very commonly honored.
In telling you my story of how I discovered the power of the Nest, I should first explain that I was a “single” pregnant mother. I hate that terminology. But that was what my deal was - I was the only adult living in the house during the time (still am), which meant that I had only myself to rely on to prepare for the kind of birth that I wanted. And I’m a perfectionist. So, what happened is I kind of “over planned” for the time after the birth. I think I was also kind of scared about it. Scared of how it might be, all alone. So I decided to really take care of myself, to make the time as nice as it could possibly be and to do all the preparation to make that happen. In a way it felt really good. Liberating. Like I didn’t have to worry if something was going to be done the way I would want it done. I was in charge. I knew that the best person to prepare for everything was me. I did ask for help sometimes too.
In the past, when I had my other babies, and it came time for that “baby moon” to be over - which was never really defined by ANYONE - least of all me - I would resume my “duties” fairly quickly after giving birth - and well, I was never happy about it. I was actually very frustrated and angry about it, and often had a very difficult time “recovering” from the births. I thought something was wrong with me. I thought I had postpartum depression. Some of the times I thought I was really messed up. I never understood what was happening to me. There was nobody, least of all with any authority there saying: “You must spend 40 days in your nest. You must do this for you. You must do this for your baby. You must do this for the world. Whatever it takes, you must prepare for this time as if it’s the most important time in your baby’s life. You also will need the rest especially since you will be working so hard for many, many years following this birth. Rest. Rest while you can! Rest while you should. Love your baby. Eat good food. Sit in a jacuzzi and eat chocolate while you nurse your baby. Absorb every bit of this sacred space. Let it transform you. Let it love you. Let it do what it’s supposed to do. Surrender and give this to yourself, because by doing that, you honor every mother and every baby - you honor life itself”. I wish that I would have had someone saying that to me.
But somehow I had a hunch that there was something up about it, and I thought, “if I can, I’m going to” - so,THIS TIME… I decided I would take all the time I possibly could before going back to my normal life.
I set out to prepare my Nest.
I started by organizing my thoughts about what I would want and need. I drew in my journal, made notes. I prepared and stored in a small freezer, meals for 40 days. I had hired a woman to come to my home daily to clean, do laundry and prepare food. I made sure I had enough money to stay in my nest for 40 days. I built an addition to my bed, attaching it to the wall next to the bed. This, covered with a small mattress and lots of pillows and blankets, served as a space for my other kids to hang close with me and the baby without bumping our bed or encroaching on our “space”. I organized a set of shelves on the other side of the bed that held everything I would possibly need during the 40 days. I decorated my Nest by hanging a huge red Indian tapestry over my bed as a canopy, and dangled cut crystals and pretty jewelry from it. I had every possible “lighting” arranged from a small l.e.d headlamp flashlight for peaceful middle of the night diaper changes, to the red chinese lanterns above my bed and on the shelves as well as a small reading light on the shelf to my right. I asked Cam, my oldest son, to put together a playlist for me - it was a perfect mix of music: Dido, Counting Crows, Boy Dylan, Sade…among others who sang to me and my baby through a small set of speakers set up on the shelves next to me. I thought of every possible want or need that I may have for 40 days and I made sure it was all taken care of, one way or another, as beautifully as possible.
By the time I went into labor, I was confident that my Nest was in order. This allowed me to relax more easily into the labor. I couldn’t wait to get into my Nest afterwards. The thought of it was a constant focal point during my labor. Cool but warm. Soft and silky. Red. Safe. Waiting for me and my baby.
The love I felt for my little Zara during our nesting time, was so completely overwhelming. I frequently broke out in tears of happiness and earth shaking gratitude for no apparent reason. Pure joy radiated and grew inside me every day. I studied her body like I’d never done any baby before. Our rhythm was so connected that we automatically slept at the same times. My breastmilk was plentiful and strong and she grew fast. My emotions flowed easily and I totally allowed myself to feel them all. There was no pressure of having to do anything but feel, and love and feed my baby. I laid back in my BIRTH NEST THRONE and basked in the divine glow of the purest love I had ever known. ROYAL. MOTHER.
I think Zara liked it too. I also think that as it happened during one of the most critical times in her development, that she’s going to benefit from it throughout her life. I know that I already have. Every day I am aware that her birth and our Nest time has changed who I am. I’m humbled. I no longer presume ANYTHING. I question such simple things as truth and morality. She has shown me a new world. As she was born, I felt born also, into the next stage of my being. Whatever that is - I still don’t really know.
It’s now 23 months later - after this picture was taken, and every now and then I still stare at her and ask her - ”WHERE did you come from???” She usually looks up at me with her big innocent eyes and says something like “baah”.