from elephant Autumn 05 issue
Pregnancy and Childbirth: An Herbal Journal
By: Willow King
During my pregnancy and the months that have followed the birth of my son, Lucien, I’ve come to respect the role that herbs play in our health. My becoming a home for another human being inspired me to eat well and pay careful attention to everything I put in my body. Being pregnant was an opportunity to deepen my relationship with nourishment. The birth year is a great time to acquaint oneself with the healing properties of plants. They provide a gentle strength and vitality that can be reassuring and restorative. They can hold your hand as your walk through the threshold of motherhood.
> Red Raspberry Leaf: It is no wonder that both raspberry and strawberry leaves are helpful during this time of flowering and fruit bearing. So much is happening inside the body, everyday remarkable shifts are happening, one week a little heart being formed, the next, little ears. Raspberry leaf is nourishing for all the muscles of the pelvic region, including the uterine wall. It is also helpful post-partum to restore your reproductive organs. You can drink this tea all day long and in the summer it is good iced. Pick some leaves in late August and dry them for a tea later. This is a mild tasting leaf, so it can be blended with other herbs or honey to taste. The ancient custom of taking tea is a lovely one to embrace during pregnancy, take time to sit and feel yourself changing, take time to taste what in Sanskrit is called Rasa, sweetness.
>Nettles: The idea of giving birth can be intimidating at first. There was a sting in the process of my pregnancy and birth, the ache of the unknown and the past slipping away. I listened to Billie Holiday and Chet Baker. I drew sketches of gnashing teeth and wrote down my dreams. I ate lots of dark leafy greens and…I took my nettles. Nettles can be seen to represent the fierceness and determination of which all women are capable. They’re high in iron, giving us that extra boost. They’re also high in chlorophyll and
vitamins A, C, D and K—all of which are important during pregnancy and lactation.
>Ginger: Spoonfuls of ginger tea were a constant companion in my first trimester. I was often queasy and green until Magic Week 13. How can something so wonderful be so hard? (I ask myself this about so many things in my life..!) The answer is almost always that things do indeed get better. Ginger is soothing to the digestive system, and small doses can quiet the nausea that may accompany the beginning months of pregnancy. It tempers the intensity with its grounded root qualities. Around the second month of my pregnancy I felt all my senses with visceral intensity. Smell, sound, touch: it was as if I was rediscovering my own world as this new being began to take shape. Had fish always smelled so strong? Cotton been so soft? The sound of my own breath so reassuring? Ginger is also a lifesaver when the milk comes in after birth. I was shocked to see my breasts swell to the size of cantaloupes and become hard as wood several days after my son was born. They were sore, and swollen, and needed relief. With hot ginger compress applied to both breasts, I closed my eyes and pictured all the women who had gone before me, amazed once again at the body’s ability to change and create—even if I did have android breasts that hurt like the dickens.
> Chamomile: Taking a bath is always a good idea—but during pregnancy, when your muscles and bones are all shifting to make room for the new little one, it becomes essential. Chamomile is a calming, gentle herb to add to your bath. There were evenings in the bathtub when I would marvel at my growing belly and imagine how the baby must feel, floating around in its dark world. After Lucien was born I took a chamomile bath with him and his little body completely relaxed in the water. It was as if he was soaking up the qualities of the herb through his skin.
> Fennel and Hops: Breastfeeding is a wondrous experience. To provide complete nourishment to your baby is a natural extension of having them in the womb—not to mention that it’s cheap, easy and sustainable! Mother’s milk is already sweet and fennel can make it even sweeter—and more abundant. For babies with sensitive tummies it can help to calm them. Mothers can drink it in a tea, or take it in tincture
form. Hops flowers are also helpful for increasing milk flow. One of the best sources of hops is good old-fashioned beer. If you do drink the occasional brew, make sure it’s made without harmful additives. There are also lots of alcohol free beers that contain hops.
> Yoga: Find a great pre-natal yoga class and attend regularly—yoga will help you feel limber and strong
throughout your pregnancy. It is also a great place to meet other women who are expecting—a great means of support before and after the baby is born.
>Walking: Taking a walk is a gentle, effective way to stay fit. It oxygenates your blood—good for you and the baby.
>Keep a journal: I kept a word journal and a drawing journal during my pregnancy. It is a great way to unwind and to record what is happening with you.
> Eat Organic: Always a good idea, but especially when you are pregnant as the baby needs lots of good nourishment to grow—and so do you!
>Get a massage: Especially toward the end, your body may be weighing on your legs and feet. A massage is a wonderful way to relax and prepare yourself for the journey ahead. You can also rub your own belly and give the baby a little massage too. They will often kick and move to let you know they like it!
> Take pictures: Even if you don’t feel like it, have someone take some pictures of your pregnant belly—you’ll be glad to have the pictures later. Plus, you can show them to your child so they will actually believe that once upon a time, they did live inside you!
Willow King, M.A, is a writer, teacher and mom. She is currently
working on a series of essays about childbirth and motherhood.