I ran into a friend today, one whom I hadn’t seen in several months. The last time I saw her, she had a sick toddler—a brand new two-year-old— and a newborn baby who didn’t sleep. The baby had been hospitalized with croup, and shortly after arriving home from the hospital with him, her older child began vomiting everywhere. Were it not absolutely tragic, it would seem sort of like a cosmic joke.
This is one super-cool lady. She remained as calm as possible throughout the crises; even her sense of humor survived the sleep deprivation and other parental tortures. She’s self-aware, wise, and intuitive. When I saw her today, she had just come from an appointment with an Eastern medicine/energetic chiropractor. Cool, right? Empowering? How amazingly holistic for a person whose body and psyche has been through the freaking wringer. Way to practice self care, mama.
Here are a few things she told me that she took away from her visit with this wise (male) bodyworker.
- That she needed to give her husband more space.
- That his (the chiropractor’s) own wife slept for just five hours a night after their baby was born, and yet she was perfectly rested!
- That his own new family experience went quite smoothly because . . . wait for it . . . his wife gave him space!!!
- That it was pretty much her own fault that her muscles were so tight; after all, she was unnecessarily carrying the weight of the world!
- That things would really be much better if she could give her husband the space he needed to recover from all this trauma.
- That she had somehow chosen for things to be so difficult, that she had neglected the opportunity to rest and care for herself.
Have you sensed a theme yet? Involving how essential it was that she consider her husband’s needs during this very, very difficult stage of life? As I stood listening to her story, it’s possible that my jaw may have actually hit the floor and my brains exploded through my ears. I wanted to drop-kick this man. I felt like throwing up a little. I got the icky chills.
But mostly I felt enraged on her behalf, and on behalf of every woman who has ever been fed this ridiculous garbage by a doctor, nurse, healthcare professional, therapist, or bodyworker. How many more clueless practitioners need to spew this bullshit before we start sending a clear message that this kind of “help” is absolutely not OK?
How dare anyone in the health or wellness field tell a new mother that her exhaustion, sore muscles, or transitional struggles are her fault? Mama, it is not your fault.
When in the midst of survival mode with two-under-two, particularly involving health crises and exhaustion, there is absolutely no earthly reason to encourage a mother to give her husband more space. My own husband would be appalled by such a suggestion. Yes, each parent should be encouraged to take care of themselves and take breaks when possible, but neither partner gets a pass of such magnitude. I’m all for balance and mutual respect in a marriage, but during that insane first post-baby year, all bets are off.
Blame, shame, and sexism have no business being part of any woman’s physical or emotional postpartum care. It is arrogant, ignorant, and inexcusable.
I would love to write this man a note. I’d keep it short and sweet.
Sadly, I doubt very much that it is only men who perpetuate these archaic forms of postpartum “advice” to women. I personally have been dismissed or spoken to in a condescending way by several women in the medical field during my pregnancy and postpartum care. It’s unacceptable, and what’s more, it’s simply not effective. No woman ever went home from an appointment where she was shamed or humiliated and effected any type of positive change in her life. (I wrote this letter to a very unkind female doctor last year who bullied me at my appointment when I was very sick. Unacceptable.)
Pregnant and postpartum women need compassion and support, not judgment and superiority. They do not need to be reminded by their male “energy worker” that they should be giving their husband more space or more sex. They do not need to be made to feel foolish or inadequate by being compared to other women who have done “just fine!” with their transition. When is this type of maternal care going to be regarded as shameful in and of itself? When will doctors’ offices become flooded with letters of complaint written by women who refuse to accept and internalize this type of insidious “advice”? When will new mothers stop feeling like lesser beings because of their inability to cope flawlessly with their new roles, bodies, or life circumstances?
I would love to see a turning of the tide in which misogynistic, disrespectful bodyworkers, medical professionals, and even mental health specialists hang their own heads in shame because of their egregious treatment of mothers. This type of care is unhelpful at best, and unethical at worst. We need to start holding our wellness practitioners to higher standards: shame does not work.