Dear Mama, It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Written by: Shilpa Londhe, PhD & Jessica Holzer, PhD, Founders of Maternal Spotlight
Posted: June 07, 2020
Our collaborative series with Be Her Village is designed to empower women, caregivers, families, and communities through evidence-based writing and direct connections to services and providers in your local area.

We also have a sense of humor. Producing humans is hard, but there’s humor in the chaos. Maternal health issues are serious. And we take them seriously. But we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously in the process. Get to know us.

Lots of pomp and circumstance greet you when you cross the finish line of a marathon. You are congratulated, high-fived, cheered, and handed food, flowers, and a medal. After all, you have accomplished something worth celebrating; pushing your body to ridiculous limits. It is a remarkable feat.

After one of us completed a similar achievement, “I was bleeding profusely, shivering to the point where my teeth felt like they were shattering, unable to walk after losing feeling in my legs, and in total shock. Then I was handed a slimy, squalling five pound baby.”

Motherhood is widely recognized to be a beautiful experience. Indeed, it is likely the most fulfilling aspect of our and many parents’ lives. But a lesser known reality is that having a baby inflicts as much if not more injury to a body as running a marathon. The trauma of childbirth can result in stress fractures, pelvic muscle tears, and severe muscle strain, demonstrated by researchers at the University of Michigan. Birth experiences themselves can be traumatic: women may undergo medical interventions they never planned for or even consented to such as emergency C-sections or episiotomies. And physical injuries are only half the battle; the mental distress of labor, delivery, and early parenting can be substantial. 

These medical events and injuries during pregnancy and childbirth can ultimately have long-term negative effects on a person’s overall health. But the space dedicated to maternal health is surprisingly narrow among businesses, media, and researchers, as most focus on baby centric themes - i.e., baby clothes, baby names, baby health outcomes. Though more attention is beginning to be paid to the experience of moms, such as attention to the “fourth trimester” immediately after delivery, it remains peripheral to mainstream conversations and largely focused around the unacceptably high rate of maternal deaths - two-thirds of which could have been prevented.

Fundamentally, the approach to maternal recovery requires more attention. Going into a pregnancy, birth parents are encouraged to spend time creating healthy spaces, diets, routines, and crafting aspirational birth plans. But largely missing from the education being provided to those giving birth is how to plan for period following the birth-- -- when you are bleeding, fatigued, confused, and the hardest part of your day is strategizing how to take a shower, to say nothing of keeping a small person alive and happy around the clock.

Before we started Maternal Spotlight, we had been researching these types of topics and presenting our findings professionally for a few years. But in that process, we found something was missing: You. We realized that we wanted to connect this information and insight to people who actually need it -- anyone who is interested in becoming pregnant, anyone who is a mother, anyone who has experienced pain or loss in motherhood, and anyone who is a supporter of mothers. This blog series and this partnership are meant to acknowledge you and support you.

Join us as we discuss evidence from experts in the field such as midwives, doulas, obstetricians, wellness coaches, mental health providers, and mothers. Here we will report data and stories from changemakers who are expanding the maternal health narrative to be increasingly mama-focused. Our goal is to give you the evidence you need to empower your conversations from pregnancy to parenthood and taking care of yourself.
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Tags: motherhood , empowering mothers , postpartum recovery , maternal health