My husband and I have been members of our local church for almost eight years. Now, if you know anything about our church, you know there are two things we have plenty of: weddings and babies! Its just the "norm." Sometimes we are "teased" about this by others who are affiliated with our church, but it is true. If you came for a visit, the baby abundance is one thing that would not go unnoticed!
With this, there is also an understood "rule" embedded in the culture of our church for new mothers: The 6-week Rule. Everyone knows that it is "taboo" for a mother who has just had a baby to return to church before she is 6-weeks postpartum. It is said that if you do come back before that time "the mothers" will have much to say in disapproval of your decision. Some new moms have been known to "sneak out" and come a service or return to church early. But, trust me, when one does, there is "talk" over it.
I found out just how serious people are about the rule after having my first daughter. Hubby attempted to take me out to a concert when I was about five weeks postpartum and before we could even get in the door, we were spotted by a friend's mom who believes very strongly inthe 6 week rule. She saw us, stopped us at the door, and turned us right around. When my husband even looked like he was about to protest, her eyes got big and she looked at him and said, "Do you want your wife to have a setback?...uh uh...no...goodbye!" Yes, we knew we were grown, but we felt like two kids caught red-handed by their mama. We knew we weren't going to win that battle, so we hung our heads in shame and got back in the car.
We younger mothers also occasionally give the new mom who "violates" the 6-week rule a hard time, but its all in good fun. Most of us find the whole thing rather amusing, because we don't understand it anyway. We think, "Hey, I've been to the doctor, the grocery store, the mall, the hairdresser and everywhere else! So, why can't I come back to church?!" Most moms have usually had to, after a week or two, return to cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, and taking care of older children, as if they haven't just given birth. Needless to say, the idea that you can't come back to church for church culture's sake, seems a bit odd.
Since having Noah, I have done some digging online and found that "the mothers" at my church did not just come up with this 6-week rule for kicks after all! In her book, Natural Health After Birth, Aviva Jill Romm explains that lying in is a term used to refer to the... "time after birth, which is reserved for the mother to rest and recuperate..." In other countries such as, Europe, Central an South America, and Africa, lying in is the part of cultural tradition(p.39). Usually, the new mother's own mom comes to stay for 4 to 6 weeks in order to help the her daughter with breastfeeding, cleaning, cooking, and with older children, so she can recuperate and bond with her new baby.
Up until the 1920's, when hospital birth became more popular, lying in was also a rich tradition in American culture. "Childbirth was a woman's event and the women invited the help of friends and neighbors, and the entire community would pitch in, not only to help with the birth, but to help with the postpartum care." Again, a suitable lying in time was between 6 and 8 weeks, after which the woman would invite..."all of the women who had helped during the birth and the lying-in period, and they would have really a women's festival, and there's been nothing like it ever since"(Romm, 39).
I was enlightened after reading this, realizing that it is also part of our local church culture that when a mother is home for that 6-week period, members of the church usually call or come over her house to help. However, I think that alot of what it was originally meant to be has been lost in recent generations, just as it has for American culture in general. Many young women now have mothers who have busy work schedules and/or who didn't breastfeed themselves. New moms are often expected to just "bounce back" and return to work at 6 or 8 weeks postpartum.
Noah will be 4 weeks old tomorrow, and I haven't been anywhere except the to the doctor (and to Target, of course;) Nevertheless, having a better understanding of why I'm lying in has caused me to really appreciate this time and to actually try to take it easy as much as possible. I am enjoying being able to bond with my new baby, without the stress of having to return to the normal hustle and bustle. It seems to me that being nurtured by other women during this time would also help most women cope with Baby Blues and Postpartum Depression. I know it was especially helpful for me during the first two weeks postpartum when mood wings are very common. In essence, although there may be some practical challenges to creating a traditional lying in experience for our generation, I think that "the mothers" are right to push for the preservation of it as much as possible.