I remember the first time I stepped outside after giving birth to my daughter. We lived in a small one bedroom apartment in a large city at the time, but there was a lovely park across the street, and the sunrise could be seen from our balcony in the morning. I was suffering from postpartum depression, and post traumatic stress disorder. I had struggled through an overwhelming delivery on the heels of a bed rest pregnancy. I wasn't exactly set up for success you could say. In those first few months there wasn't much that could bring me out of my tears, and fear except for my baby, my husband, and mother nature.
I pulled a chair across the balcony, my baby in one arm, and sat down gingerly. I closed my eyes and felt the wind dry my tears to my face. I knew even then that those moments of simply sitting outside were saving me.
Woman sustain all kinds of postpartum experiences. Some are sweet, and easy, but most present at least one emotional, or physical hurdle to overcome, if not many!
The sacred window after birth can be an opportunity to heal chronic or lifelong conditions permanently, or on the other hand, if women are neglected during this golden window of time, they can develop long term emotional, mental, or physical problems. During this time a mother’s heart is open and her needs are high. It's a beautiful, and tender place that, if used well, can change the way she cares for herself in the future as well as the present.
We all know that we cannot provide water for others, when our well is dry, and this is most true for the new mother! As she nourishes her baby, who nourishes her?
Some woman feel that slowing down, caring for themselves, and asking for help postpartum seems extravagant, and even greedy, but receiving help from both people, and the natural world during this time is not a gift or an indulgence, it's the innate, and ancient order of things!
Think about the last time you were present in nature. Not just being outside as a location, but really tapping into the beauty, and solace of grass, forest, clouds, water. Did you feel a change in your demeanor? Maybe it felt like your breath came a little easier, or that your heart beat slowed just a bit. Most of us know that spending time in nature is good for us, but we don’t truly understand what is happening internally on our walk in the woods.
So why do we feel so different physically after spending time in nature? Science has proven that experiences in nature can lead to decreased blood pressure and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Some doctors are even prescribing time spent in nature as part of treatment plans for chronic issues like high blood pressure or attention-deficit disorder!
Just 30 min a day spent in direct contact with the outdoors reduces hypertension, allergies and respiratory disease, depression and anxiety, as well as mood disorders and stress. It also increases feelings of gratitude and selflessness, something that can be in short supply postpartum!
These are all studies that have been run on your average man or woman, not specifically a woman that has just given birth. If this is the positive reaction of an optimal human, imagine how much more this is needed for the new mother, a person who has just undergone a massive physical, emotional, and mental change in life! Nature causes us to see outside of ourselves during a time when it may seem that our emotion, or mental state is all there is. That is a vital experience for a woman postpartum.
As a postpartum doula, 15-30 minutes a day spent in nature is something I prescribe to all of my clients, but especially those exhibiting signs of postpartum depression/anxiety and/or, post traumatic stress disorder. Now this idea of nature therapy is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. Nothing strenuous! If it sounds overwhelming, or as if it won’t bring you peace at all, then don’t do it! A good example of the kind of exposure to nature that I’m speaking of is forest bathing. In Japan, there is a practice called Shinrin- yoku. In Japanese this means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses.
Dr. Qing Li is the author of Forest Bathing: How Trees Can Help You Find Health and Happiness, and he explains the concept beautifully when he says, “It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through our senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening our senses, it bridges the gap between us and the natural world... First, find a spot. Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind. You are going to be walking aimlessly and slowly. You don’t need any devices. Let your body be your guide. Listen to where it wants to take you. Follow your nose. And take your time. It doesn’t matter if you don’t get anywhere. You are not going anywhere. You are savoring the sounds, smells and sights of nature and letting the forest in. The key to unlocking the power of the forest is in the five senses. Let nature enter through your ears, eyes, nose, mouth, hands and feet. Listen to the birds singing and the breeze rustling in the leaves of the trees. Look at the different greens of the trees and the sunlight filtering through the branches. Smell the fragrance of the forest and breathe in the natural aromatherapy. Taste the freshness of the air as you take deep breaths. Place your hands on the trunk of a tree. Dip your fingers or toes in a stream. Lie on the ground. Drink in the flavor of the forest and release your sense of joy and calm.”
Now all of us are surrounded by different environments, and landscapes. You don’t have to have access to a grand, mature forest to bathe in nature this way. You can do this on a quiet morning in your own garden, or at a park where you might find a secret hideaway or path. Like I mentioned before, when I had my daughter almost three years ago now, all I had was the little park across the street, and that served me just fine! I know from experience that sometimes the idea of getting outside with your newborn, and/or other children can feel so daunting, so let me give you some ideas of how we can do this during this season. Don’t be afraid to involve your children in nature therapy with you! We could spend so much time simply talking about how this idea is just as transformational for your little ones as it is for you!
Eat your meals outside together.
Take gentle, easy walks.
Make an outdoor bed with cozy pillows and blankets and nap, read, or nurse there with your baby, or while your other kids play.
Bring the outside in! Flowers, a large branch or whatever is in season, hanging fragrant herbs, whatever makes you smile.
Sit out by your bird feeder with a journal and write down what you notice, and observe.
Find somewhere with easy access to water and put your feet in or spread a blanket so that you can comfortably spend some time listening to it, and watching it move.
Build your kids a mud kitchen and play with them in it! A mud kitchen is simply a spot you have dug up and wetted down to allow plenty of mud for playing in. Provide your kids with little dishes, and utensils you don’t care about getting dirty and get to work on mud pies and soups! There is something so therapeutic about squishing mud between your fingers, and your kids will love it.
If you have a garden, eat from it!
The next time it rains go stand in it. Let the feeling of it metaphorically wash away what you are anxious about.
If it’s snowing bundle up with your baby, and make a labyrinth of tracks in the yard.
Feed the winter birds, and feel nurtured by doing something for a creature other than yourself, and your baby.
Pick flowers, and study them up close, taking time to notice all of their complexity.
You can do one, or all of these things. A little bit goes a long way, and its more about your frame of mind while doing these things, than the actual doing. Remember to use all of your senses, and most importantly stop trying so hard to be or do whatever it is you feel pressured into.
When we as woman come to terms with both our strength, as well as our need to be cared for by nature, and loved ones during new motherhood, we allow surprisingly deep healing to occur, and we rescue ourselves from the prison of our own need to prove that we can do it all.
Release, and let nature nurture you.
Rachael Hollinger is a wife, and a stay at home mama to her daughter Beatrice, Chef, Writer, and Postpartum Doula with Village Birth Collective. She lives in Lancaster Pennsylvania. You can find her on Instagram at @fieldandhome_ .