A Golden Month
Acupuncturist, Chinese medicine practitioner and author of Golden Month, Jenny Allison speaks with us about the inspiration behind her work and book on post-partum care and why we need to see change in western culture.
Can you tell us about what you do and your area of expertise?
I’m an acupuncturist and Chinese Medicine practitioner. For the last 30 years most of my clinical work has been with women around the childbearing years. While I was having and bringing up my own children, I developed a special interest in our health needs as mothers and the interest has stayed with me. So I’ve been working since then to help women conceive and have healthy pregnancies and babies, gentle births, and good postpartum experiences. The postpartum is a fascinating time: it is so rich with possibilities for healing and it can contain so much joy and celebration for the mother. In the last few years this has been my real focus. I wrote the book ‘Golden Month’ in 2016, and after that I have done some podcast interviews here and in the UK and Australia, and I have also lectured, publicly and in Chinese Medical colleges, on good care for mothers in the postpartum.
You are the author of the wonderful resource Golden Month, can you tell us about this narrative?
Thank you. It has certainly been, and still is, a wonderful project of discovery, talking with mothers and grandmothers of different cultures, and hearing the profound wisdom of their practices of caring for new mothers. They are so proud and passionate about their traditions, I sometimes get goosebumps remembering our conversations! I chose the title ‘Golden Month’ for the book because it is one of the names used in Chinese Medicine for the postpartum. In Chinese Medicine this particular moment is seen as the most important of the three ‘golden opportunities’ that a woman has in her life to resolve old illnesses and trauma and improve her long-term health, in addition to making a good recovery. So with this title I wanted to highlight how positive the experience can be for the mother and really for all concerned, the baby, her partner, the whole family.
What did you set out to achieve through publishing Golden Month?
I really wanted to contribute to changing our culture around the postpartum, the ‘superwoman’ idea that is so prevalent, and to help women tune in to their real needs after childbirth, and then ask for help to have those needs met. I realised that I had too much to say and never enough time with my patients to say it, so the written word was a good medium to get my message across. I also wanted to make available to women here in the West the stories of mothers from around the world, these amazing interviews with women from Africa, Asia, South America, Eastern Europe, The Middle East. Hearing their voices through their stories makes one realise how similar good care is everywhere, and it makes good care start to feel like an entitlement, rather than a luxury to yearn for. This is how it needs to be.
Why did you feel as though this was an important message to share with the world?
I felt it was important because our current social environment doesn’t really serve the needs of the new mother. We have this culture of ‘superwoman’ getting up and back to her normal life after giving birth, preferably at the same time fitting into her pre-pregnancy jeans. And this is combined with the idea that some feminist thought has misconstrued, and corporate culture has jumped upon, about productivity in the workplace. This is not the time to go out into the world and be ‘productive’. It is about respecting our needs at this moment for healing, being quiet, getting to know your new baby without time constraints, all of those things that you can’t do easily at other times in your life. It is a huge transformation becoming a mother (and then becoming a mother again with subsequent children), and it requires unhurried space and good support to make the change.
In Western society there is little post natal care and support for the mother, can you explain how important this is and why we need to see change?
Yes, it has been eroded in the West, with a very negative effect on women’s health. As I said, the culture now is about the new mother getting her life back to ‘normal’ as soon as possible. And older women are not able to care as much for their daughters as they would have in the past, for a variety of reasons. The authority of older women is undermined in this process and their traditions then become less important. A year or two ago a Melbourne study compared levels of ‘distress’ between couples who had family support after childbirth and those who didn’t have any support. Those who received support reported almost no distress, while a high percentage of those without support reported distress. You can also see the erosion of traditions in immigrant groups who have come to the West.
At the same time there are fortunately some immigrant groups who really value and hold on to their practice, in spite of the dominant Western culture not really considering its importance. And I have also recently seen an interest in young women wanting to do their postpartum well, some very positive changes happening in their views. But we need to help women to feel entitled to ask for help in their Golden Month, and we need to keep working hard to regain good care in Western culture, and to value, respect and learn from those cultures who have kept their traditions and whose mothers do better as a result.
Tell us about the ‘fourth trimester’ and what it should entail.
Speaking for the emerging mother, this is a continuation of the process begun in the postpartum. After six weeks a lot of the healing has been done; the uterus has healed, the joints are more stable, the circulation has normalised and the breastfeeding hormonal balance well established. If the mother has been well looked after, is rested and eating well, her energy will be returning too. But it is important to keep on listening to one’s physical and emotional needs. If the birth has been difficult or the mother has had a C-section, the recovery will be longer. Obviously it is not a one-size-fits-all situation. A woman from Gabon told me that in her country if there are difficulties in the birth a mother may be given full support and care for up to six months or more. So in this sense the fourth trimester is helping the mother to complete her recovery and ensure a good milk supply through continued rest and relaxation.
For the baby, the bonding process that takes place in this first three months with mum is absolutely crucial for his ability to form loving relationships in the future, and good bonding sets many physiological processes in place which will determine his future health and resilience. He is also emerging gradually into the world in these weeks. So anything that continues to allow relaxation and rest together for mother and baby is hugely beneficial.
What does a better world mean to you?
Ha, a big question! In terms of my work I would say, “a world in which we look after our mothers well”. After childbirth we don’t just look after ourselves, we are also looked after, and those who look after us ‘model’ what good mothering looks like to us as emerging mothers. If we look after our mothers well, then they will look after the next generation well, and so on and so on….. We have to realise the crucial role that mothers play in the health of their children and the family; I think it is a sign of a healthy society when mothers are able to take time and care for themselves well, and are also well cared for by everyone around them.
I am so excited to share this fortnights beautiful journal with Charlotte from The Living Doula. Many of us have heard the term 'doula' but I've found many Mama's are still a little unsure of the immeasurable support they can offer us, from fertility, pregnancy, birth and into our post natal period, on this often challenging journey. Here, Charlotte shares her take on this important role and offers some very important lessons we should all be taking stock of, mother or not.
We are honoured to welcome Nature Baby to our journal this month. As kind as they are clever, Jacob and Georgia Faull, founders of world renowned baby-wear brand Nature Baby are in a league of their own, paving the way for ethical and organic business. A wee ways back I sat down with the dynamic duo for my book Wild Kinship; Conversations with Conscious Entrepreneurs and am excited to be sharing 5 questions for 5 minutes about this incredible brand and the work that they do.