Everyone talks about that moment when you first see your baby, about a huge rush of love and harps sounding from the heavens. When I was pregnant for the first time, among the many “you’ll sees” or “you just waits” were predictions about the monumental love I would feel for my son the moment he was born. I just wouldn’t understand until I experienced it, they would say. Well, after 37 weeks of pregnancy, 12 hours of labor and 15 minutes of pushing, there he was. This pink, gooey, blonde-haired baby boy was earth-side and he was mine. They placed him on my chest, and I waited for the choir of angels to start singing…but they never did. I was exhausted, in pain, and about to deliver my placenta. I tried to will myself to feel the rush of love that I was supposed to, but everything else going on seemed to trump love at that moment.
Once the doctor was finished stitching me up and the delivery room had calmed down, my doula asked me how I was feeling. Was I exhilarated? Was I amazed? Was I in love? My memory is a little foggy, but I believe my response to her was that I didn't feel much and that I was tired. Everything was still sinking in. The surprise induction, the difficult labor, and my son being brought to the NICU…I was so scared and overwhelmed, I don’t think I had space for falling in love. So a few hours after giving birth, I still waited for that magical moment of love between my new baby and me.
I felt a bit like a terrible mother (yep, mommy guilt already rearing its ugly head). Why didn’t I fall in love with my baby? I certainly cared for him and wanted what was best, but I still didn’t feel that amazing rush that so many moms described to me while I was pregnant. What was wrong with me? Maybe it was the Pitocin I had during labor? Maybe it was that I was unprepared for the earlier than expected delivery? Maybe it was all of it or maybe it was none of it? Perhaps some moms just need time to take on their new role as a mother? After talking about it, I found out that what I experienced was completely normal! It was such a relief to find out that not all moms experience love at first sight, and that I wasn't a terrible person for not bonding right away. I wish I known that I wasn’t alone in this because it would have saved me a tremendous amount of self-doubt in my first weeks as a new mom!
After some time I did finally get my "OMG I love him so much" moment, and it was amazing. My love has grown with my son every day since. I so enjoyed the journey of getting to know my little man and falling in love. I am not trying to convince anyone that love at first sight is impossible, because that’s not true. You might fall in love with your baby the moment your eyes connect. But you might not and that’s okay, too. We should celebrate the uniqueness of every mother-child relationship because each mama and baby have their own journey to love. Some journeys simply take longer than others.
Many moms who have spent the first six months or more of their child's life exclusively breastfeeding can report how exhausted they become, how when they're not feeling well, it actually makes them feel worse when their child drains their breasts--as if the life-force is literally being sucked out of them. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this is somewhat true, and because of it, moms may feel extra fatigued, lose the hair on the head, and even experience dramatically reduced body weight.
In Traditional Chinese Medicine, hair is an extension of the supply of blood in the body (Pitchford 388). One of the extraordinary vessels identified in acupuncture theory is the Chong, or Penetrating Vessel. This is the vessel that holds the uterus and passes over the breasts. Its nickname is “the Sea of Blood” and its job is to store and regulate the blood of the whole body (Ni 116). It is obvious how important this vessel is during pregnancy as the mother rounds out and her blood volume increases to support a growing baby. The Sea of Blood is then drained as the mother loses a significant amount of blood during childbirth. After birth, her body also uses the Sea of Blood to produce an endless flow of breast milk to sustain the new life she has just birthed. Both activities lessen not just the amount of blood available postpartum, but also the mother's energy (or qi) which assists in creating the body's blood supply. Worry, stress and depression can also impair the mother's ability to generate healthy qi and nurture her blood (Dharmananda par. 3). During the postpartum period, when a mother is susceptible to depression and worry, has been expending her energy caring for a newborn, not getting the adequate sleep to replenish her own energy, and is endlessly supplying the gift of nourishment to another little being, she begins to feel tired, a little weaker, and her hair's luster dulls and large quantities fall out in the shower.
The TCM view is complementary to the Western medical understanding that due to hormonal changes during pregnancy, hair does not shed as frequently. Then, as the hormones return to their pre-pregnancy levels after birth, the hair returns to its regular growth and shedding pattern (Pierard-Franchimont and Pierard par. 11). For some women, a reduction in the blood's iron stores (iron-deficiency anemia) can also complicate the postpartum period and add to the expected hormonal hair loss. Anytime a woman experiences blood loss, there is a slight risk that she can become deficient in iron, which can also lead to fatigue and loss of stamina with daily activities (Beers et al 1033).
Even though the body is making the very wise decision to redirect its stores of blood to the breast milk, rather than the hair, this can still be incredibly upsetting for some mothers. Chinese Medicine has several ways to remedy this situation outside of your doctor's suggestion of taking iron supplements.
Beers, Mark H. et al. The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy. Whitehouse Station, NJ: Merck Research Laboratories, 2006. Print.
Dharmananda, Subhuti. “Treatment of Alopecia with Chinese Herbs” Institute for Traditional Medicine Online. N.p., June 1999. Web. 25 July 2012.
Ni, Yitian, O. M. D. Navigating the Channels of Traditional Chinese Medicine. San Diego, CA: Complementary Medicine Press, 1996. Print.
Pierard-Franchimont, Claudine; Pierard, Gerald. “Alterations in Hair Follicle Dynamics in Women.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. 24 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 Apr. 2014.
Pitchford, Paul. Healing with Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2002. Print.
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