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Shelby Shankland shares the story of her daughter’s hospital birth that initially left her feeling empowered, because she had overcome such a difficult experience. But as she processed it, she became more and more angry about the way her care was handled. When she became pregnant again, she knew she wanted a different experience and shares the story of her son Jack’s waterbirth at The Farm birth center in Summertown, TN. She ended up going 3 weeks past her due date and faced some scary moments after her son was born, but she trusted fully in her midwives at The Farm and felt empowered after her birth. Read more about giving birth at the farm.

the farm birth center midwives

Shelby Bio

Shelby Shankland lives in East Tennessee with her husband, 8 yr old daughter, and 3 yr old son. Prior to moving to Tennessee, she lived in San Francisco for almost 20 years, having moved there to attend the Conservatory of Music, and stayed on working in various office jobs until switching careers to postpartum doula work and lactation counseling after the birth of her daughter. Shelby is now a Certified LifeWorks Life Coach, a Reiki II Certified Reiki Practitioner, project manager for a learning and development company, and professional flutist. She enjoys all of her various means of bringing home the bacon, but in particular enjoys coaching and empowering women.
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Ina May Gaskin Resources

Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth

A film about The Farm Midwives and Ina May Gaskin

Shelby shares this article as a postpartum resource:

After-the-Birth Mother Care
Mothering, Spring 1995, by Nancy Griffin
IT’S BEEN A WEEK SINCE THE BABY WAS BORN, AND you haven’t slept a wink. Your milk just came in, and your nipples are getting sore. The laundry’s piling up, your mother-in-law just called to see why you haven’t sent thank-you notes to her friends, and you haven’t spoken a complete sentence to your husband since you went into labor. Help! Is this the way life is supposed to be? What about the new mommy?

Many women, having enthusiastically prepared for their new arrivals, are surprised by the world awaiting them on the other side of childbirth. The pediatrician is everything they had hoped for; the infant safety and CPR classes prove a definite boon; and the new furniture and baby gear are ready for action. The moms themselves, however, are not. They are overwhelmed and unable to find the time or space to tend to their own well-being–perhaps the greatest gift a mother can give her children. Well cared for ourselves, we become physically and psychologically equipped to care for our young, and to portray strong role models that will inspire them to take good care of themselves in the years ahead.
Based on what we know of our evolutionary past, women did not always journey into new motherhood feeling alone, uncertain, and distressed. Indigenous cultures had joyful postbirth rituals and well-established support systems in place to care for new moms. By reclaiming these mothercare customs from our not-so-distant past, and combining them with late-20th-century research findings plus a dash of modern common sense, we can find it not only possible but a lot of fun to take care of ourselves after giving birth.


According to current research, it takes about four to six weeks following an uncomplicated vaginal birth, and six to eight weeks following a complicated vaginal birth or cesarean, for a mother’s body to complete the initial stage of recovery from childbirth. Throughout this period of time, the uterus contracts, involuting to its prepregnancy size. Breastfeeding, which stimulates uterine contractions, assists in this process. Lochia, discharged vaginally, indicates that healing is occurring at the site of the placenta. Episiotomy or cesarean incisions are also mending at this time.

Orthopedic changes are taking place as well. Pregnancy hormone levels are dropping off and, with lactation, prolactin levels are rising–contributing to a gradual decrease in joint laxity. Over a 9-to 12-month period, both the pelvic ring and the abdominals realign and regain their strength. All the while, postural changes are taking place in response to the redistribution of weight.

To optimize your approach to the postpartum year, be sure to avoid any exercise that places your joints at risk for injury, stresses your abdominals or lower back, or places excessive caloric demands on your body. Safe forms of exercise include recovery exercise classes that emphasize non- or low-impact aerobic activity for cardiovascular training, swimming, walking on flat surfaces, stationary or mobile bike riding, and upper body muscle conditioning with resistance bands rather than weights. Options that can adversely affect your recovery include jogging, stair-climbing, step or bench aerobics, use of a StairMaster or inclined treadmill, highimpact aerobics, heavy cross-training, cardio-funk, and weight training. For as long as you continue lactating, your joints will remain somewhat lax–probably until the return of regular periods–so avoid any form of exercise that may stress your joints.
In tribal wisdom, the postpartum year was a time for mothering the mother. Massage was a popular healing technique used to help the new mother relax and to restore normal circulation, thereby facilitating optimal musculoskeletal recovery. Anthropological research reveals that for the first three months after giving birth, some of our foremothers were treated to a daily full-body massage.

Breastfeeding consultants were plenteous. Newly lactating mothers could call on any number of experienced women to help them adjust to breastfeeding in the first few weeks. No doubt, problems such as sore nipples, if they existed at all, were quickly alleviated by repositioning the baby on the breast, in keeping with tips from the village women.
The importance of excellent nutrition for the breastfeeding mother was widely recognized. In some tribes, the new father honored the mother’s passage by immediately hunting up an outstanding meal for her. He further demonstrated his manly virtues, it has been said, by not impregnating his wife until after the new baby had weaned, thereby averting postbirth pressure for too-soon sex.

Personal grooming was an integral component of the new mom’s day. The tribal women would escort her to the local pond, stream, or river and pamper her with herbal baths, shampoos, and facials. While she bathed, another woman would hold her newborn or teenagers would come babysit. Refreshed and renewed, she could feel like herself again, and the teens could rejoice in their hands-on training for parenthood.

The traditional postpartum care practices used to augment physical healing are simple enough to adapt to everyday use in today’s world. Take these evolutionary tips to heart in your time of recovery.


Self-esteem can falter in the postpartum months. Women accustomed to valuing themselves as the CEO of a big company, a movie star, or “simply” a superwoman adept at juggling home, family, husband, and career frequently think little of themselves as new mothers. The natural functions of pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood–once mysterious and highly regarded–are no longer sacrosanct. Weight gain is often viewed negatively, as is taking time off from work to begin a family. The pressures to have a perfect body, maintain a fabulously successful career, contribute substantially or fully to the family economy, and be a perfect parent often leave new mothers feeling overwhelmed and guilty.

In our rush to climb the contemporary ladder of accomplishment, we are apt to place our needs as mothers last on the agenda. To counteract this tendency and nourish your self-esteem, remember that in tribal times, giving birth and being a mother were among women’s greatest accomplishments. A woman’s ability to bear new life was honored as sacred, and the functions pertaining to new motherhood were considered deeply important.

In traditional cultures, life moved at a slower pace. People ate and slept when they needed to. Daytime naps were customary among adults; tropical tribes even set aside time for a midday siesta. Babies slept with their mothers, and as a result, mother-infant sleep cycles became synchronized. The new mom felt rested even if she had nursed several times during the night.
If you, like many contemporary mothers, feel chronically exhausted and overwhelmed, try napping with your baby during the day. At night, plan on intermittent feedings. Current research shows that babies do their growing while asleep, and hence need to feed during the night. Because mother’s milk is so quickly and easily digested, breastfed babies often need to feed several times a night. Be grateful for immature sleep cycles–they are a call to life for infants who, to survive, must nurse at least every two hours during the first six to eight weeks of life! Trying to “get” an infant to sleep through the night is an unrealistic modern-day endeavor rooted in the need to get to work on time in the morning.

Humankind has been around for quite a while–only a brief moment of which is associated with the postpartum expectations we are familiar with. Perhaps our foremothers knew a thing or two. Joining the best rituals of the past with the knowledge of the present may very well spark a happy, healthy future for ourselves and our little ones.

Goldsmith, Judith. Childbirgh Wisdom. Brookline, MA: East West Health Books, 1990.
Liedloff, Jean. The Continuum Concept. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1977.
Sears, William, MD. Nighttime Parenting. Franklin Park, IL: La Leche League International, 1990.
Thevenin, Tine. The Family Bed. Wayne, NJ: Avery Publishing, 1987.
For more information on traditional approaches to postpartum care, see the following articles in past issues of Mothering: “Mother Roasting,” no. 43; “Traditional Childbirth,” no. 51; and “Postpartum Practices throughout the World,” no. 66.

General Guidelines
* DON’T try to tackle the postpartum months alone–seek help from relatives, friends, and competent, experienced professionals.
* ATTEND La Leche League meetings if you are breastfeeding.
* CONTACT a qualified lactation consultant at the first siggn of a breastfeeding problem.
* CREATE or seek out a playgroup, a baby gym, recovery exercise classes, and new parent groups, and begin participating as soon as you feel ready.

Following an Uncomplicated Vaginal Birth
The First 2 Weeks Postpartum
Enjoy your baby
Limit visitors
Do Kegel exercises daily
Begin gentle walking on noninclined surfaces
Get a massage
Rest and eat well
No errands, shopping, cooking, or cleaning

2–4 Weeks Postpartum
Begin regular walking on inclined surfaces to increase circulation, beginning with 5 minutes a day and working up to 20 minutes
Nap and rest daily
Eat well
Get a massage
Get out of the house and do something fun
No more than one errand a day

4–6 Weeks Postpartum
Begin a recovery exercise program 3 times a week, with the approval of your care provider
Join activities that bring you into contact with other mothers
Nap and rest daily
Eat well

Following a Complicated Vaginal Birth or a Cesarean

The First 4 Weeks Postpartum
Enjoy your baby
Limit visitors
Do Kegel exercises daily
Limit yourself to household walking
Get complete bed rest, including naps
Eat well

4–6 Weeks Postpartum
Begin gentle walking and work up to regular walking
Rest and nap daily
Get a massage (only if you had a vaginal birth)
Get out of the house and do something fun
No errands, shopping, cooking, or cleaning

6–8 Weeks Postpartum
Begin a recovery exercise program 3 times a week, with the approval of your care provider
Get a massage
Join activities that bring you into contact with other mothers
Contact the International Cesarean Awareness Network [see For More Information] and attend meetings
No more than one errand a day

For More Information: International Cesarean Awareness Network, National Office PO Box 276, Clarks Summit, PA 18411; 717-585-ICAN

Maybe you should take a nap too.
Let the spoon run away with itself,
Let the trash get carried away.
The bed can flourish rumpled and ripe
(Like an unmade bed).
The dust can swirl into tumbleweeds
rolling out of bounds.
Maybe you could lie down like a dog
Chasing its tail into a circle until,
Round enough, you churn your own self
Into a yellow dream where your baby
Takes care of herself for just an hour
And the answering machine returns your calls.
The cat washes its paws and slumbers;
The refrigerator hums the groceries
Off the shelves and into the pot,
Coaxes the stove into sauteing mushrooms,
Who are frankly happy to be browned and warmed
And bathing in butter,
And the weather drops its mood
And bakes the clothes on the line
While the bills sneak out the pet door.
They know you’re napping;
They know you need your sleep.

COPYRIGHT 1995 Mothering Magazine
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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