A woman opens her body, her soul, her identity & psyche in order to travel through birth. In many ways all that she was is shattered. She is coming into being alongside her new born babe. The pieces fly around then settle into a pattern so erratic it feels her life is still airborne. The first forty days is the time of integration.
There is truly a fourth trimester with its own catalogue of hormonal reactions & physical changes. What took 9 months to form is suddenly gone, but our systems take much longer to shift. This is postpartum. Most of us don't plan for this time. We hear the word "postpartum" in hushed tones, an unmentionable fear that implies suicide and depression instead of the normal progression from pregnancy to new mother that the word actually means. The most we hear about postpartum prior to experiencing it is leaky boobs & sleepless nights. We don't hear about the cavern of our bellies without baby inside, empty & loose. We don't hear about the 6 to 8 weeks of possible bleeding, the fierce hunger or lingering food aversions, the night sweats or chills, the emotional instability, the fear of our first poop.
Postpartum is the time for mother and baby to discover each other. They uncover what it means to be separate. Mother and baby begin to know their own desires and needs, simultaneously learning about each other's. This is the work to be done in the first 40 days. This work is exhausting and emotional and fulfilling on our most primal level. Much to family and friends annoyance this work is more important than passing around the baby to a room full of visitors or trying on new baby outfits or cleaning house for a visitors to "drop by".
Forty days, in my mind, is the minimum amount of space for mother-baby to heal and transition. Giving a mother and baby this space respects her to feel, flow, and find her new self. A newborn mother has the right to her own experience. She is not a bearer of gifts. The baby is not a bauble to fawn over. They are two human beings transforming. Forty days is a modest sanctuary for one of life's greatest transitions.