Birth Book Review -The First 40 Days by Heng Ou
Nothing ever prepares you, not fully, at least not the first time. But with warmth, love and old school cooking you might just stand a fighting chance!
Blame women's rights, blame abysmal maternity leave policies in the US, blame the crazy consumer industries urging mothers to ‘bounce right back into those pre pregnancy jeans!’, blame who you like, the truth is that the modern mother is no longer revered as she once was. The intensely beautiful, uncomfortable, hormonally charged rollercoaster ride that marks the transition from expectant woman to mother is no longer viewed by society as such a critically important period for rest, recovery and re-discovery of self. In her book ‘The First 40 Days’ Heng Ou takes us back to a bygone era when the role of the mother in society was revered and cherished, new mothers were confined to bed with their babies and ‘mothered’ by friends and relatives with nourishing foods, comforting rituals and most importantly the time and the space they needed to recover from birth and bond with their newborn. Sadly the modern mother reading this book is probably thinking ‘Yeah right, in my dreams! 40 days of hanging out in my PJ’S! My household / career / business would fall apart! Who has the time to spend a month or more taking things easy?!’ Ou takes the stance that in truth none of us can afford not press pause for a few weeks, weather we believe we deserve it or not, for the sake of our future health and happiness 40 days is something we all owe ourselves.
Heng Ou, together with her co her collaborators Amely Green and Marisa Belger, draw from their own postpartum experiences to produce a book that inspires and empowers women to seek the care and nurturing they deserve after bringing a baby into the world. Between them they collectively mothered six children, during the writing and editing process. As Ou puts it motherhood can sometimes feel very ‘divisive’ with all the options, opinions, different experts and different philosophies whirling around, birth planning can often get parents so befuddled they end up wildly stressing themselves out over what should be a joyous process. ‘The First 40 Days’ is a wonderful remedy to all that, from the moment you open the pages you are basked in warmth, love, inclusivity and themes that will speak to everyone's’ heart. It’s one of those books that just screams “Go grab a blanket, make some hot chocolate, curl up and enjoy!” Come to think of it the ‘Ceremonial Hot Chocolate’ recipe on page 216 is actually a wonderful place to start.
At the heart of this book is the food, the nourishment that a new mother needs to keep her going through sleepless night and challenging days of feeding a newborn. As the author points out, so many postpartum pitfalls can be avoided through good nourishment - being undernourished, dehydrated and exhausted is a volatile combination which can lead down the garden path to a myriad of health problems. With her Asian heritage and modern American upbringing, Ou finds the perfect fusion of traditional and modern flavours in mouthwatering recipes like ‘Postpartum Egg-Drop Soup with Liver and Greens’ and ‘Pink Cranberry Porridge’. Both are just as delectable as they sound - I can testify!
Almost all the recipes in this book come served in a bowl and can be eaten one handed with a spoon. All are incredibly simple to make, easy on the digestive system and contain nutrient dense ingredients. Such is their simplicity and pure lip smacking satisfaction upon consuming that my husband and I are yet to graduate onto any more complicated fare …. our baby is 9 months old! With a few tweaks here and there for variety these recipes really will see you through some of the toughest parenting grinds…the growth spurts, the teathing, the horrors of the 4 month sleep regression…all these things are somehow overcome with a few mouthfuls of something warm, comforting and nourishing.
Scattered throughout the text are some very useful nuggets of good common sense postpartum care ‘The Art of Sitting Still’ for example - may come naturally to some but there are others amongst us who will benefit from these gentle reminders. For those of us who struggle with it there is encouragement and advice on how to ask for help and how to deal with the influx of family and visitors that will soon be arriving at your door. The ‘Postpartum Pantry’ list and ‘Essential Kitchenware’ are wonderful practical resources for postpartum planning and can easily be passed on to loved ones who want to help with shopping or give an alternative but truly useful baby shower gift.
If you think the idea of a postpartum plan sounds like the biggest oxymoron you ever heard, this book is for you. If you have a friend, loved one or family member expecting and you wish to support them in the most loving and truly helpful ways possible, then this book is for you. If you are the kind of mother - like I was - who knows she is going to have a really hard time sitting still and asking for help, this book is definitely for you. To summarise, this book is an absolute gem, generations of wisdom and practical knowledge with a modern twist that all expectant women would be wise to read and to heed.