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In today's podcast Tahnee speaks with Jenny Allison. Jenny is a seasoned acupuncturist with a special interest in women's health postpartum. With 25 years of experience under her belt, Jenny is a wealth of information and a true master of her craft.
"A woman is never more beautiful than after the birth of her first child"
The ladies explore:
- Honoring the transition into motherhood.
- The East vs West approach to postpartum care.
- The link between food and postpartum depression.
- The four common themes integral to postpartum care across traditional cultures.
- The importance of understanding the physiological processes that take place in the body postpartum.
- Nutrition care postpartum; how to use food to nourish the blood and strengthen the Qi.
- The essential role good quality complex carbohydrates play in women's health postpartum.
- The concept of "the golden opportunity", a healing window available to women in the various seasons of their reproductive cycle.
Who is Jenny Allison?
Jenny Allison is an acupuncturist and graduate of ACA, Sydney (1984). Jenny has trained with teachers in Nanjing, Hangzhou, London and Sydney. Jenny's passion for the last 25 years has been women’s health, with a special interest in women's health postpartum. An the author of ‘Golden Month, Caring for the World’s Mothers after Childbirth’ (Beatnik Pub. 2016), Jenny has interviewed many mothers, grandmothers and midwives as part of the research for her book.
Jenny has found that Chinese medicine offers a unique perspective in interpreting traditional postpartum practices worldwide. These practices have served women well for many generations, whereas the modern Western lack of good postpartum care, along with social pressures around appearance and workplace productivity, is not serving women or their health. Jenny is committed to preserving the worldwide heritage of women’s postpartum wisdom, and to improving the care of mothers everywhere. Jenny has two grown-up children, is grandmother of twin girls and practices acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in Auckland, New Zealand.
Check Out The Transcript Below:
Tahnee: Hi everybody, welcome to the SuperFeast podcast. We're here today for the women's series with Jenny Allison, author of the Golden Month. Jenny is an acupuncturist and graduate of the ACA in Sydney and she has trained with teachers in China, London, and Sydney. Her passion for the last 25 years has been women's health, and she has a special interest in postpartum, which is what we're going to have a chat about today.
Tahnee: You can get her book from all good online retailers and bookstores or have a look at Beatnik Publishing. I'll put a link in the show notes for you guys to find it. One of my favorite things about the book were all the interviews that she conducts with mothers and grandmas and midwives as part of her research for the book.
Tahnee: It's through this lens of Chinese medicine that Jenny really offers her unique perspective in interpreting all of these traditional practices for the modern woman. Yeah, it's just this idea of how do we bring some of this postpartum care into the West. I know that we have a lot to talk about, and not a lot of time, so we might get going, Jenny, but I just wanted to welcome you first to the podcast, so thank you for being with us today.
Jenny Allison: Oh, thank you. Thank you, Tahnee. Yeah, I'm really pleased to be on your podcast.
Tahnee: Very excited. I know you have your own grownup kids and little twin grandbabies, that's very cool. Are you able to tell us a little bit about how you came to be interested in postpartum care? Was that through your own pregnancies and birth or some other way?
Jenny Allison: Yes, actually, straight after I graduated I had my first child, and we'd been given the bare lines of the postpartum's in Chinese medicine theory, and I thought well, just sounds amazing. I'll put it into practice.
Jenny Allison: I was living in Australia, and I called my mum in Sydney, "Can you come?" And she didn't have any background in Chinese medicine and she said, "Of course I'll come," so she was waiting in the wings for the baby to come, and I kind of explained the basic principles to her and she gave me most wonderful postpartum. We didn't do massages. This was a long time ago, and my mum was a bit old school, but she gave me what I think is probably the most important thing, which a nest of support that I could empower myself, and so I never felt as though she was dictating to me or trying to control the way I was doing things. I just felt that she was there for me, and I think that was really crucial.
Jenny Allison: I've been very inspired by that, and I started to talk to my patients about what they did in their postpartum, and most people said, "Oh, I wish..." It's just a time of complete exhaustion, and although people initially recognise the wonder of birth, but it comes down to the practicalities and what you need 24/7 basically, there isn't the framework for the new mothers' needs to be fulfilled.
Jenny Allison: So from there, sorry this is getting a bit long, I started to just research all around the world, and the most exciting thing I discovered that with these commonalities with almost every traditional country in the world with the Chinese medicine approach. That was just a tremendous validation of the inherent wisdom of these practices.
Tahnee: And so are you able to share the commonalities, because that was something that I picked up in your book, that you've really identified four kind of themes or similar practices across cultures that postpartum care was kind of focusing on.
Jenny Allison: Yeah, I mean there could be five if you stretched it, but I think the basic ones, first of all rest. I'll just list them first for you. So rest is absolutely crucial, and then very important and quite neglected in the West is the idea of warmth, keeping the mother warm, and warming her in certain areas of her body and giving her a massage.
Jenny Allison: Then of course, and this is a very big one, and that is diet, because in Chinese medicine diet is medicine. That's always the first intervention, if you like, if you want to restore your health, is diet, so that's tremendously important in the postpartum. Then the final one, which is the most important of all, because nothing else can happen without it is support, and just being cared for, traditionally it would be older women, one's partner, and just community around you. Support is crucial for everything else happening.
Jenny Allison: Those are the four basic-
Tahnee: What would the fifth one be? I'm really curious if you could throw that extra one in there.
Jenny Allison: No, it's just some people divide support into honouring the mother as well in quite a formal way. I think in anthropology, that's something that's quite well documented, that the mother is given an honor that everyone else in the community recognise, whether it's giving of gifts to her rather than to baby, or whether it's just acknowledging her on a daily basis like, "Hello new mother," or calling her, I know in North Africa if a mother has twins, she's called Blessed One, so she'll be addressed as Blessed One. That could be the first one, but it's really part of the fourth one.
Tahnee: Okay. I guess, is that in many ways to honour that transition from maiden to mother, and to kind of re-position that woman in the culture or the society that she lives in? Is that kind of the intention?
Jenny Allison: Yes, it's very much a daily reinforcement of her change in role, and the status and honour of her role. I mean, if we think about it, she has to be applauded for her bravery to go through birth, and also after, and her generosity in what she's giving in terms of her total devotion to the baby. She's been through what some cultures call A Woman's War. She needs to be treated as a hero.
Tahnee: When we look at the lens of Chinese medicine and these four commonalities, they seem quite simple, put in practice.
Jenny Allison: Yeah. I think what you have to understand first, I mean for people who haven't a strong cultural background of a postpartum, I've noticed that it's important for them to actually understand in terms of physiology what's happening to your body and mind after giving birth in the postpartum.
Jenny Allison: I think if women understand, and their partners and people around them understand, all the changes happening that actually involve almost every organ in the body...when they understand that, then they can go, "Oh, okay, it's logical then that we treat this time as something really special, and take this opportunity for women to heal well."
Tahnee: So can you give us a brief summary, and obviously we don't have a lot of time...
Jenny Allison: Oh, the changes?
Tahnee: Yeah, what are some of those metabolic changes in case people aren't aware.
Jenny Allison: First off, the obvious one is that the placental site has to heal, and that takes six weeks. You get the lochia discontinuing and then slowly diminishing over six weeks. That's in line with the placenta site healing, so that first has to happen.
Jenny Allison: And you've got big changes to the vagina and cervix, and they are quicker to heal, but there are big changes. And then there is, in surgery, obviously much, much bigger healing to take place.
Jenny Allison: But then you've got some quite interesting physiological changes because the output of the heart changes dramatically after childbirth. Initially the output is quite high because obviously you're supporting the placenta, you're increased blood volume. Once it's delivered, suddenly the output is lower, so it's like a water mill where suddenly the water flow through it is lower.
Jenny Allison: This explains why women can easily feel cold and tired, because their heart output actually takes up to six weeks to normalise to a pre-pregnancy heart output again, so that's just a really obvious reason a woman should be resting and caring for herself well.
Jenny Allison: Then you've got the kidneys. They're excreting quite a lot of the whole process of the uterus coming down and the cells shrinking again back to pre-pregnant state, so the kidney are working hard too. Then you've got these tremendous hormonal changes, which probably are more commonly known, and the other changes of the progesterone and the estrogen dropping dramatically when the placenta's expelled, and at the same time, the beginning of the output of the oxytocin, which will stay high while the mother breastfeeds.
Jenny Allison: You could write, well people have written many books about oxytocin, because it's a huge subject, but a tremendously helpful hormone to have in the postpartum. I won't go into it here, but it's basically about love and trust, and trusting key people. It's not like a love drug. It's about tuning in to key people, so both the baby and the mother, and father, and those around her to a lesser degree are producing oxytocin which is a hormone of bonding.
Jenny Allison: Those are the main things, but the change with the estrogen and progesterone, some women, their brains are more susceptible to low estrogen, which means that there are fewer available serotonin receptors, and while initially you have this tremendous production of an hormone called endorphin, which helps with pain, those levels drop after the first few weeks, and then you're left with low estrogen.
Jenny Allison: If you are one of those women who are more vulnerable to the serotonin relationship with estrogen, then you can start to experience depression then. So that's one really obvious reason of why the mother should be absolutely cosseted and really well looked after.
Jenny Allison: The final one that is also really important, which is perhaps also not talked about much, and that is cortisol. Initially just after the birth, the cortisol's high and it needs to be because it helps promote proper clotting, and obviously you needed the adrenaline and cortisol being high during the labor, but afterwards you want that cortisol to normalise because if cortisol stays high which happens when women are under stress, then you don't get proper wound healing and you get a feeling of being stressed and exhausted, and eventually, if the cortisol stays high for ages, you'll get adrenal exhaustion and your milk goes down and you're just totally depleted.
Jenny Allison: One really interesting thing is that cortisol stays high if people's status is in question. It's kind of of physiological truth about human beings, but if you feel that if you're low status your cortisol will stay high or it will go up. If you're honoured and you're felt to be of high status, your cortisol level will drop, and so that makes it really obvious while you would honour the mother just for that reason alone.
Tahnee: Yeah, that's a really powerful kind of... Yeah, and when we look at our culture and how postpartum women are treated a lot of the time, it's all about the baby, nobody gives them any attention or takes care of them.
Tahnee: Yeah, I could hear in there that you were also talking about the kind of Spleen organ system there when you're talking about the serotonin and this ability for the body to... Because I'm imagining digestion plays a huge part in this, and you talked about that a bit at the beginning like keeping the mother warm and nourished and those things.
Tahnee: You speak about food and herbs in your book, the Golden Month, and I've thought about it a lot in terms of this idea in Chinese medicine invading cold and winds and all of these things which are kind of fundamental ideas of what can create things like aches and pains and chills and fatigue and all this stuff in the body.
Tahnee: I mean, warm, mushy food? Like what other kinds of things that you see being really beneficial?
Jenny Allison: I mean, I've talked about Western medicine, but you could sum up really briefly from a Chinese medicine perspective, the woman is considered to be qi and blood deficient in general after childbirth, so that describes someone who is susceptible to cold, who can easily get tired, and with a blood deficiency can easily become emotional.
Jenny Allison: What you want to do with the food is you want to nourish the blood, and you want to strengthen the qi. As you said, what the very first approach is to make sure that food is digestible and warm, because there's also a very simple mechanical fact that if you put cold food into your stomach, your body has to work harder to actually get the temperature in your stomach up to a point where the enzymes can become properly active. So all you're doing if you put cold food in your stomach, is you're taking away energy that's needed for healing and for breastfeeding.
Jenny Allison: The most obvious thing to do is to prevent any unnecessary use of energy. Of course you put the food already warm into the stomach, and then the body doesn't have to work so hard. In Chinese medicine, we say that that will help to strength the stomach and spleen.
Jenny Allison: Then because there's a lot of healing taking place, and you're producing milk, you have to have food which is nourishing the blood. So if you just translate that into Western terms, basically it's nutrient-rich, and good quality protein. So some people say chicken. All around the world, women are given chicken soup. It's almost everywhere, and when I was interviewing women, and I said, "So, what would be the main things about the diet?" And then they'd go, "I know one thing I can say." And they said, "Chicken soup."
Jenny Allison: Chicken soup is like the most fantastic go-to for postpartum women, because it's nutrient rich. It's got all the minerals, the amino acids, everything that's being leaked from the body, the gelatin at the same time, so it's warm at the same it's helping to strengthen qi because you put other things with it, and it'll have some carbohydrates in it as well. It's almost like a one-stop shop, chicken soup.
Jenny Allison: There's one thing I've really learned, and that's that postpartum is about empowerment. The mother is really, she's in control, she's the queen, and if mother says, "Look, I'm sick of chicken soup," then you don't give her any more chicken soup. You give her what she wants.
Tahnee: Yup. I've really observed reading a lot of work around this that there are quite a lot of animal foods in there for rebuilding, and slow-cooked things, and often a use of herbs. Like, I used personally a lot of jing nourishing herbs, and kind of qi nourishing, and blood nourishing herbs postpartum. I would put them in my food.
Jenny Allison: I think what you can do is put those herbs into bone-based soups like chicken soup, which is a star basically, and then you're really concentrating your intention with all the vitamins, minerals, and the effect of the herbs, the jing herbs.
Jenny Allison: But I suppose I should also say that, I mean, why there's an emphasis on animals foods is because they are a very easy and good quality source of protein, and this is very important for women in the West who follow a vegan diet. Protein grounds the spirit in Chinese medicine, because it nourishes the yin in the blood. It grounds the spirit. That's really, really important postpartum.
Jenny Allison: So for women who are vegan, it's important that they think carefully about their diet, and manage to get a lot of good quality concentrated protein from another source, because that is really an important aspect of postpartum diet, is that it's grounding. It grounds a woman and her body.
Tahnee: Well, it's such a... I mean the marathon analogy gets bandied around a lot, but the process of creating another human and then birthing them, and then nourishing and feeding them intensively for a period of time. It does require resources, doesn't it? It's not something you just take on lightly.
Jenny Allison: Absolutely.
Tahnee: I know for you, we spoke a little bit before we jumped on this call, but around the sort of preparatory, you know making sure that you're ready, I suppose, during pregnancy and even before that.
Jenny Allison: Yeah, that's a really important point, because if you go into childbirth and nutritionally not resourced, then you're on the back foot basically. I think it's really important to make sure that during pregnancy you're eating well.
Jenny Allison: There was a very interesting study done of the Mediterranean diet, which I think everyone knows it's high in antioxidants and low in trans fats and bad carbohydrates. Basically there was a big study done in Crete, and the daily olive oil intake was quite big. It was more than 40 grams, but it was not processed, it was locally produced olive oil. It was very high in antioxidants, but the Mediterranean diet basically is high in antioxidants, so it's got a lot of fresh fruit and vegetable, airy sea food, not a lot of sugar and junk food and overly sweet food.
Jenny Allison: What they found was they compared another group of women who basically ate what they called was a Western diet, consisted of salty chips and red meats and takeaways, trans fats, and a lot of sugar, and they found this relationship that was so clear that it was quite stunning really and that was that 50% more depressive symptoms were recorded in woman who ate a Western diet.
Jenny Allison: The women who ate the Mediterranean diet were half as likely to get postpartum depression as those eating with the diet. It was a good study, so basically it wasn't these women who were upper class and eating well anyway, or got all situations anyway. It was just two different populations, probably rural and probably urban. Anyway, the result was so clear, and it was a big study of 500 women, so that becomes a groundbreaking research I think to show that what you do in the pregnancy is really going to have an effect on the postpartum.
Tahnee: And so simple I think when we look at diets like that, that they're very moderate in all ways.
Jenny Allison: Yes, not expensive. Not an expensive diet.
Tahnee: Yeah, it's not an extreme, because certainly something I'm quite passionate about is moving away from extreme ideologies around eating. I think women have enough pressure on them as it is, you know?
Jenny Allison: Actually on that, I'm sorry to interrupt, but that brings me to a point that is really, really important Western woman that matters, the postpartum is not a time to cut down on carbohydrates thinking that you'll be losing weight, because complex good carbohydrates are absolutely essential.
Jenny Allison: Our midwife, she's now passed and she was in New Zealand, but very China, and she said, "You're down at coal freight. You're like painting, and this is like 25% more energy you need. You've got to have something that gives you energy," and carbohydrates in Chinese medicine, as you know promote qi, sanction qi. In Western terms if you have carbohydrates in the morning you actually get a boost of serotonin. So then definitely not something to be kept down in the postpartum.
Jenny Allison: Sorry, I just-
Tahnee: No, I'm really glad you did, because I was going to talk a little bit about that cultural pressure, and so much... I mean, it's such a complex topic, the world we live in now. But you know I do, I remember like myself, I would eat nearly a loaf of local soda a day when I was breastfeeding. I was shocked by how much bread, because I don't normally eat a lot of carbs. You know, I'll have a little bit of whole grain a day or whatever, but yeah, I was just craving it really hard, and then having more protein and stuff at night.
Tahnee: You know, remember thinking I'm really glad that I'm not having to think about what I look like, because you know, it was such a funny time.
Jenny Allison: You touched on such an important point, because a nutrition they say, "A woman is never more beautiful than after the birth of their first child," and the beauty standard is different after you've given birth. That doesn't mean that you've left go, but you're illuminated from within. I just, clearly the possibility of, in Chinese medicine we say the spirit being fulfilled. That gives a beauty that's just incomparable, I think.
Tahnee: Yeah, I think too that this idea of getting back to something that we were. I think our culture really misses the transition and the honoring of it, and I think what you spoke about-
Jenny Allison: Yes, because you aren't going back to what you were because you've changed fundamentally, and physical, emotional, psychic if you like. It's all over that you've made this transition on, so to want to go back to what we sometimes call the skinny jeans and praters. It just doesn't sooth women, and it's like a misconstruction of feminism. It does not sooth women.
Jenny Allison: The way that postpartum is seen generally in the West nowadays doesn't sooth women, because this is their time, and the whole idea of, "You have to get back into life as soon as possible. You've got to lose weight," and incidentally if you're cortisol's high because you're not rested and you're stressed, high cortisol is much more likely to gain weight, than if your cortisol is normal.
Jenny Allison: Just going back to the idea of losing weight, and that's not really to the process. It's not relevant.
Tahnee: Well I read this really fantastic, actually no, it was through one of my yoga teachers because I study yoga as well, and he's a big advocate for adipose tissue. He calls it an antenna, and he says that when we're holding our babies, that fat is communicating. It's the kind of tissue of love is what he calls it, this transmission. He said hormones, all these sorts of things transmit when there's this fat-to-fat contact, which is through the baby's squishy body and our squishy bodies.
Tahnee: Yeah, I was like, "Oh, that's a really beautiful way of thinking about it." It's just kind of an antenna for qi. For my body as well, once I sort of stopped breastfeeding and was back to my normal life I guess my body did just change back to more or less how it was, you know? I was quite shock at how I just stopped being as womanly. I was like, "Oh, and there I am."
Tahnee: Yeah, it was quite a surprising, almost overnight.
Jenny Allison: I think the point too is that if you haven't had sufficient nurturing and rest in the postpartum, if you've taken this golden opportunity we call it, then your, we think in Western terms, your cortisol will be normalized, and normal cortisol really means that your weight will be more normal as well. So high cortisol, gain weight. Low cortisol, normalize weight.
Jenny Allison: Yeah, it's kind of a no-brainer.
Tahnee: Which is why we see women pushing themselves to be back at work. I've had friends with really brutal maternity leave, contracts and things where they have to go back after six months and all this kind of stuff.
Jenny Allison: Yeah. I think that the workplace has a lot to answer for in terms of women's exhaustion. This is sort of going beyond the postpartum, but yeah, just women feeling that they just have to push on, push through, and that's been what leads, when the baby's a year old or 18 months old, then they're coming into the clinic with exhaustion and catching colds all the time, and feeling in low mood.
Tahnee: Yeah, I think, I guess I don't know what the answer is. I wonder if you have any insights, but I think that's a really tough one for women, especially as the child gets maybe that little bit older, because something I've observed with myself, which was challenging, was that my capacity has changed and I just can't push myself as hard as I used to. That was a big shock for me.
Jenny Allison: I think it's required, both internal and external change, so internally or with your own self as a mother, and with those around, it's a matter of changing your family culture and your wider community culture around the great importance of this, and then from a political perspective, it's really about women getting better pay to to continue the role, and fathers getting paid just a catch on to you, and these are things that Western government always very reluctant to part from the Scandinavian countries.
Jenny Allison: They're very reluctant to concede to women. What I've noticed actually, which is really quite hopeful is in this generation, in your generation of young women having babies now, there is a bit of a ground swell about oh, the postpartum, we forgot about that, because way back when women took control of birth, way back in the '70s, and you got these... The Bible really was Spiritual Midwifery a book [crosstalk 00:23:59] by an American woman.
Tahnee: I love it.
Jenny Allison: Wonderful book, but I found what was interesting was that wasn't a postpartum, it wasn't a change of awareness of the postpartum, and I think it's because by that time in the West, postpartum all the postmodern traditions had basically slipped away while women gained tremendously through this movement in the way that they controlled their birthing processes.
Jenny Allison: Nothing happened about the postpartum because it was already from the West called The Cinderella Period, like unobserved, not even thought about really, whereas all this time in most tradition cultures, it was continuing on strongly. I think sometimes immigrant women coming to Australia and New Zealand are really shocked to find out that the way that they are treated in hospitals is all about the babies. They say, "What about us? We expect to be treated like queens," and this is not happening.
Jenny Allison: I think that an awareness is growing, and there was actually a book published last year from some researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne. One section of it was some research that they did about women coming from backgrounds where the family supported the mother after childbirth, and the women who had family support after childbirth, it wasn't necessarily the immigrant mothers, it was that the family culture was to support mother, but they reported almost zero distress, whereas those who didn't have family support reported high levels up to 70%, 80% difficult stress.
Jenny Allison: That was another really obvious message to everyone. Look, the evidence is there.
Tahnee: I think that's really interesting, because that idea of feminism and how we've almost interpreted it, because I think about what happened in the '70s as well because it was really that feminist movement, is this idea of taking control of birth is very empowering. Then the yin to that is then the surrender of postpartum. I know for me, there was probably a few weeks where I really resisted.
Tahnee: I felt amazing because of all the wonderful hormones. I felt very strong and had a wonderful birth. I think a part of me was very resistant to this idea of rest. I felt like I was weak and not strong if I rested. I can look back at that time and really feel that there was some subconscious things going on for me around that, and my own sense of self worth.
Tahnee: Yeah, and I think that's kind of a general theme for a lot of, I guess, modern women with this idea of feminism and doing it all, you know? It's an interesting and tricky one.
Jenny Allison: There was a myth going around of you know, well the tribal women just give birth, and she just goes back to work. I don't know how the myth grew, but it became something that Western women, it gave them another high bar that they had to reach. Something else we have to do. We don't just have to work at our jobs and our careers, we have to give birth well, and then we have to just pop straight back. It really is a complete mess because the only circumstances where a so-called tribal woman or a woman in a tradition rural culture would not rest for 40 days in most places, if her family had left or there was extreme poverty and breakup of the family, or there was war or some big social influence that would take away the family's cohesiveness, but otherwise every single time mother would be resting for 40 days.
Jenny Allison: I'm lucky to be married to a man from Marley, whose mother gave me the most amazing instruction about resting for 40 days, and Marley's not a rich country, and the Marlian women and the men around as well insist on 40 days of rest after childbirth. They say, "You are the queen." Everyone runs around doing everything for you. Food, support, you don't even have to bath the baby if you don't want to.
Jenny Allison: My sister-in-law actually said, "You know, I had this situation with my first baby where I was up in the desert near the border of another country, and I didn't have any family support," and she said, "I felt so ill inside, and yet no one knew how I was suffering." For her next baby she was back in the family and had that family support, and it was a totally different experience with her, and she recovered really well. She just gets so wonderful and strong. She was able to describe how it was when she didn't do it, and how it was when she was able to.
Tahnee: I think when you look at what a rural tradition requires, they need people to remain strong and healthy so these periods of rest become, like in Chinese medicine, the confinement period. They become cultural and they become just a non-negotiable I suppose.
Jenny Allison: Yes, I think that's great word. It's actually women's rights to be well cared for after childbirth.
Tahnee: I think the opportunity, one of the things that I was told about Chinese medicine was that when we looked at these big transitions in women's left, there's opportunities for us to become, I think you called them the golden opportunities, which I really like. Could you talk a little bit about how these can become actual healing?
Jenny Allison: Oh yes, because it's a wonderful concept, and it is born out by oxytocin research actually. So cultivating one's health in the postpartum is part of this whole tradition in Chinese medicine, which is called the art of self cultivation for health, it's called yun xin. Within that, there's cultivation of one's health in the postpartum.
Jenny Allison: The term in Chinese medicine for the opportunities in women's life for rehabilitation, restoration, and improvement of one's health, they're called golden opportunities, and there are three.
Jenny Allison: The first is just a small one, and that's every time a woman has her period, that's an opportunity for her to nourish her blood, to look after herself to make sure she's warm. Then the other one is during menopause, which is another huge transition for women, that's also seen as a golden opportunity. They say that the blood goes from the uterus to the heart, and promotes wisdom, so that's a different transition.
Jenny Allison: But the biggest golden opportunity is the postpartum. It's such an intense transition, and it involves such an intense change on almost every metabolic process in your body, every organ. It actually reaches what's call a peak of change, where because of the changes of the metabolism during pregnancy, and then this intense change after birth, you can influence very strongly your health either way. You can either influence it negatively, and become depleted and maybe get depressed, end up with aches and pains, or you can use the opportunity to intensely change in a positive way.
Jenny Allison: Women talk about how old problems are resolved. Some of my patients who've done the postpartum in the Chinese way have said, "Yeah, I find that I'm stronger than before." You're more resourceful than before. Some of my old symptoms have gone. All of these things, so there can be a very strong physical and spiritual change.
Jenny Allison: When we come into intense oxytocin, that is an absolute parallel description, because oxytocin production is probably at it's most intense during the postpartum period, when a mother's beginning lactation and lactating. With oxytocin, because it's a newer modulator, it actually has the ability to annal old uronal connections in the brain to dissolve and new ones to form, so it can be this opportunity to heal former.
Jenny Allison: I finally talked to one other group in the world where they actually recognize that birth is an opportunity to heal former, and Druze mother, in the Druze tradition, which is a very, very strong and very profound tradition of postpartum care as well. But in Chinese medicine that's acknowledge through the concept of the spirit, which we call Shen. The transformation of the spirit allow for this tremendous psychic opening and healing place, specific to the right, and that's the other thing about oxytocin too.
Jenny Allison: If you're in high oxytocin production, but the circumstances are wrong in the sense that you feel endangered, unsafe, stressed, then you'll go into the mother lion aspect of oxytocin, which is aggressive and really stressed and traumatized, so it's an incredible moment.
Tahnee: Well, that just really clarifies this whole birth trauma thing, because I can imagine that hormonal cascade has interfered with intervention or non-optimal birth setting, and then there's some kind of trauma. I can just imagine. Yeah, that's a bit of a recipe for what we say-
Jenny Allison: One mother in the Druze tradition said to me, she said, "Look, in our tradition if someone's had a traumatic birth for whatever reason, I'll work really hard for their next baby to make sure that's healed."
Tahnee: Which country are they from, sorry?
Jenny Allison: The Druze tradition is they are culture that is basically around Lebanon, Syria, and North Israel. They're in a particular part of the world, but Druze immigrants in Australia and there's Druze communities I think around the world, but that's basically [crosstalk 00:32:42].
Tahnee: They have a very strong kind of midwifery tradition too, don't they? Sort of medicine woman kind of... Is that true? Do they have a very strong kind of midwifery tradition that women-based medicine. I feel like I've read something about them.
Jenny Allison: Ah, well I'm not sure, but they have a very strong mother-based postpartum. They also have ideas of a punctilious pregnancy, because what they talk about is that they don't just want quantity of babies, they want quality of soul. They talk about during the pregnancy a real awareness of eating food that comes from places that you've gone, the providence of the food is known so that you're not eating an animal that's been killed inhumanely, or if you're a vegetarian, not eating [inaudible 00:33:25], and you're conscious of not having, not cooking ham in pregnancy, of maintaining harmonious relations with those around you. All of those things.
Tahnee: Sounds really beautiful and intentional. Well, I think that's something I'm seeing is becoming more popular, or there's more emphasis now on women, maybe being conscious conception. I see that popping up a lot in the social media accounts that I follow and things.
Jenny Allison: Yeah, I think they're about conscious conception and conscious pregnancy, and conscious postpartum, because they also believe that there's a soul incarnate. They say how important it is in the first few weeks of the postpartum that the mother is just really takes a warm quiet space that she doesn't even go to a cold window if it's winter. She's just very cocooned with her baby. Her baby's so cocooned, and only basically handed to the father or one or two close relatives so that baby gets to recognize his or her new incarnation with the family that she or he has incarnated into.
Jenny Allison: Some of these ideas, yeah, they're very interesting.
Tahnee: I actually had an experience after my daughter was born, meditating that she was connected to me by this kind of golden tube when she was quite little, and I could really feel-
Jenny Allison: Oh, lovely.
Tahnee: Yeah, but I could really feel that until maybe three or four months, like it was very strong for the first three or four months, and then it started to... I could still feel it quite strongly until probably we stopped breastfeeding, I guess. Maybe around 18 to 20 months.
Tahnee: You know, and now she's two and a half. I don't have that same feeling that she's... We're still spiritually connected, I guess. I could really feel like that psychic connection between her and I when she was really little, and I've read a lot of accounts of those kinds of things. When you were saying it's a possibility for psychic kind of shifts, I could really feel that in my experience.
Jenny Allison: I think many midwives talk about just the first three months alone being the fourth trimester with the baby is so connected with the mother that really the best way to be as a mother is to assume that they're still inside in terms of protecting them, in terms of making a quiet environment.
Jenny Allison: I think all of this stuff is inherent in these really profound worldwide traditions. We've just got so much to learn from them, because of what we've lost.
Tahnee: How do women navigate hospitals like this? I read in your book there was a couple of accounts of women from different cultures who birthed in New Zealand hospitals. They couldn't believe they were sent home after a couple of days. Like you said, they weren't cared for. They baby was cared for.
Tahnee: That really kind of broke my heart in a way because I see that as such an integral part of the birthing system in our culture, and I don't know how we move away from it. It's a tough one.
Jenny Allison: Well, it kind of brings us back full circle, doesn't it, to the mother is to be honored as a queen.
Tahnee: I think you said something earlier that it's not about self care, it's about being held and empowered, and that to me is a really good distinction, because I do see a lot of... I think this is another problem in our culture is we really emphasize-
Jenny Allison: Oh yes, you're making a really good point.
Tahnee: Taking away the community aspect.
Jenny Allison: Not on the mother, actually. It's about allowing herself to be dependent on those around her being totally worth of that dependence, like being absolutely there for her.
Tahnee: Which, again, I guess requires a big shift in how we all relate to that.
Jenny Allison: Absolutely, because we're just taught how important independence is, and I think this is a general kind of Western idea that interdependence is not really something that we emphasize much, where as we know all around the world interdependence at these moment, it's absolutely crucial.
Tahnee: And I read in your book that you did interview a lot of women, and you had some of their dialogue, which I really enjoyed reading. You spoke to women who, you know, they were maybe in African countries or in other parts of the world, and they still did have jobs, and they still went back to work and things, but they did take that time to prepare their bodies. I thought that was really nice, because sometimes I feel like it's either/or, you know you're either the stay-at-home mom who has the support of the family, or you're the mom who puts her kid in daycare and goes back to work. I feel like we've got to be able to have these conversations a little bit more.
Tahnee: My partner calls it in a slippery way.
Jenny Allison: [crosstalk 00:37:35].
Tahnee: Yeah, I know. I mean, I don't think we can solve the world's problems, but it's just something that I'm really aware of. I guess, when you had these women, was it just purely that they've done these 40 days, or do you think it's the cultural thing? What do you think?
Jenny Allison: Depends on the country. I mean, if you're in an extended family, obviously it's real easy to go back to work because everyone around you is going to take the baby if you need to be away for a while, a few hours or something like that while you're working.
Jenny Allison: In a rural situation, obviously it's very different because most people have their babies with them as they do their agricultural work. I remember a Moroccan woman saying, "Look, 40 days you're treated like royalty. After 40 days you're back into everything, whether you're as a working mom outside the home, or a working mom in the home, you're a working mom."
Jenny Allison: I think the importance of 40 days is that there's no other time that you can do this healing. I mean, if you say, "Well, I can't. I haven't got a moment to heal after childbirth. I'll do it six months on," well, the opportunity's not there anymore. All those big changes, each change we talked about, all those other massive changes are no longer happening and what you've done is you've lost that opportunity for your body to recover itself properly.
Jenny Allison: For those important changes to be made, yeah, you can't go, "Well, I'm going back to work, and I'll have a big holiday later," because it just doesn't work like that.
Jenny Allison: It's true that you don't have to have another baby in order to work on a traumatic birth or to work on depletion after childbirth, but you just have to work that much harder, and you have to take time out and go, "Okay, well the next six months, whatever I need, I'm going to look after myself, because I haven't been able to recover my energy since the birth."
Jenny Allison: A lot of women come in to connect, three four years on, and they feel that they still haven't got their energy back.
Tahnee: Wow, I was talking to my acupuncturist about this, and he was saying he thinks it's at least a year of living very, very, very carefully to even start to get some of that energy back, blood back, with women that haven't done their golden month or the 40 days. So I don't know if you agree with that, but that was an interesting perspective. He said it's very, very slow to turn around once you've gotten to that point of depletion.
Jenny Allison: You have to put a lot of effort and time if you want to be able to turn your health around. I mean, it can be done, but why not take this amazing opportunity and not just recover, but actually improve your health?
Tahnee: That sounds exactly perfect. We might wrap it up there. I guess I really wanted to first thank you, because there was some really amazing stuff that I didn't know as well.
Jenny Allison: It's a pleasure to talk to you about it. Very exciting time actually in a way, because we've got to work for. It's going to make a big difference to mothers and children's health.
Tahnee: Yeah, and I think that's... My partner and I talk a lot about this idea of cultural change and generational change. I think my daughter will be raised with these conversations, and I think that's just one of the best things we can all do as individuals is keep it alive, I suppose.
Tahnee: Yes, I appreciate you helping us keep it alive. I know we do have a few practitioners who listen to this, so if you could share... You mentioned that you have a webinar, and I think a talking Melbourne, if that's right?
Jenny Allison: I think that the lecture will be restricted to students from the Southern School of Natural Therapies. The webinar will be available once it's launched. It's not launched yet, but that will be available probably by the end of the year from a group called Native Knowledge, which are up and running and they're based in Vancouver. That will be on there. I'll need just five new interviews.
Tahnee: Okay, so what we might do is we'll update our show note on the blog with all of the links when they're ready to those webinars and things. If people... They can obviously purchase your book [crosstalk 00:41:12]. Yeah, and if they wanted to connect with you, do you have a website or any other way of being found?
Jenny Allison: I don't. I'm sorry.
Tahnee: That's okay.
Jenny Allison: My publisher deals... If there's any kind of social media thing, people write to my publisher.
Tahnee: Okay, so I'll put details up there as well, that's Beatnik Publishing in Auckland. Yeah, okay, fantastic. Well, thank you so much for your time, Jenny. I really appreciate it.
Jenny Allison: Oh, and thank you so much too. That was a great conversation.
Tahnee: Yeah, it's been such a pleasure. Have a wonderful day.
Jenny Allison: You too, Tammie. Thanks.
Tahnee: Thank you so much. You're amazing.
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Thanks, guys. I'll speak to you next time.