It’s an undisputed fact that time for postpartum recovery is crucial after you’ve gestated and birthed a human baby. Your uterus blew up to the size of a watermelon and needs a chance to get back to its former self. Your hormones spiked and crashed, and remain kind of all over the place for a while. And who the hell knows what’s going on with your internal organs, pelvis, tailbone – and of course, your good old vag.
Some experts even say women need a whole year to recover from childbirth. And yet, so many women don’t even get the 12 weeks of maternity leave they are legally required to have. And forget about getting paid for time off. That’s a pipe dream for many postpartum women.
The whole thing is a bunch of misogynistic, patriarchal bullshit. Imagine if a working man broke his leg or had major surgery. There’s no way he would be expected to return to work while healing from that. Hell, many men can’t even deal with the common cold. But I digress …
Recently, I came across a really powerful image that perfectly depicts why women desperately need time to heal after having babies. It was shared on the Facebook page Labor of Love – Lancaster, PA, a page curated by birth advocate and mom Laura Fry. Fry used the image of a paper plate to represent the wound left by your placenta after birth. And let me tell you: this simple image – and the explanation Fry gives to go along with it – is freaking genius.
“22cm or 8.6 inches,” explains Fry, describing the dimensions of the paper plate she shared in the pic. “That is the exact diameter of a paper plate, AKA the fine china in our house. It is also the average diameter of a placenta.”
Amazing, right? Fry then goes on the explain the significance of this paper plate (i.e., placenta). She explains that most women are given the advice to take it easy for a few weeks after birth, but that many of us don’t even know what that would look like, or what the reason is for the advice. One of those reasons, Fry explains, is that after the placenta is delivered, women are basically left with a wound the size of their placenta — and it needs time to heal, dammit!
“[A]fter the baby is born, mothers are left with a wound on the inside of their uterus where the placenta was attached,” explains Fry. “That wound will take at least 4-6 weeks to completely heal. During that time they are still susceptible to infection and hemorrhaging. Even if they have a complication-free vaginal delivery and feel okay, they will still need to take care of themselves and not overdo it for those first several weeks postpartum.”
Welp. It’s one thing to know in theory that a postpartum woman’s body needs time to recover, but a picture truly is worth a thousand words, and Fry’s pic and post seriously drive that point home. Most of us don’t even know how big our placentas are, let alone the healing that needs to happen after said placenta leaves our body.
Now, Fry is careful to explain that she is not a doctor herself, but that her point is that we all need to use some common sense postpartum, and that resting and being pampered should be a priority for us all – whether or not we will be able to do so for 4-6 straight weeks. Our bodies really went through a thing when we had a baby, and our recovery should be of utmost importance. And everyone around us should support that (including our employers!).
Fry’s post has gone viral, which is no surprise. With 2.5K commenters sharing sentiments along the lines of “Thank you” and “Now I get it!” it seems like Fry’s message was one that many, many of us dearly needed.
Our postpartum needs should be taken seriously, especially because, as Fry points out in her post, not taking time to rest and focus on physical recovery makes women more vulnerable to postpartum complications like hemorrhaging and infections. And with the U.S. having some of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world – a rate which appears to be rising – this is not something that any of us can afford to take lightly.
In an interview with Scary Mommy, Laura Fry, a former health professional turned stay-at-home mom from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, explains that her own knowledge and advocacy was born out of her first difficult birth experience.
“[W]hen my oldest was born … I sustained a 4th degree tear,” says Fry. “I chose home births with my next two births and felt so amazing physically after those compared to my first birth, that I didn’t take the time to rest like I should have. While preparing for those births I became very passionate about maternity care.”
Fry even went on to create a Facebook group to support other women who sustained 4th degree tears after birth because she feels passionate about making sure that postpartum women receive good support and empowering knowledge, especially after traumatic birth experiences.
As for the inspiration behind her viral placenta/plate post, Fry tells Scary Mommy that it was inspired by a conversation she had after her friend had a baby.
“[A]fter one of my friends had a baby, I was in a conversation with a few of my friends about recovering afterwards,” says Fry. “When I brought up that the wound left inside you is a big reason why we are told to rest for a few weeks, I could see the light bulb go off in their head. They all said ‘I’ve never thought about that before, but it makes so much sense!’”
Don’t you just love that? Fry says that soon after the conversation, she began searching around her house for things that were 22cm (the approximate size of a placenta), found the paper plate … and the rest is history, as they say.
Besides just how brilliant the idea was, it’s also so necessary for us to be having these conversations, and raising awareness about these issues. Kudos to Fry for bringing this to light, and educating us all. And let’s hope that more women will begin taking their postpartum needs seriously, that their communities will band together in supporting them, and that changes will come on a systemic level that will allow postpartum mothers to get the resources and support they so deserve.