'You'll be back to normal in 6 weeks' is the common thought and expectation of new mothers after having given birth.
This is a misconception that can cause women to assume that their lives will return to the way it was pre-baby. Firstly, the problem is with the words 'BACK to normal'. Mother's lives will be changed forever so it is more appropriate to think of 'FORWARD to normal'. The second problem is the time period of 6 weeks, as it can take a lot longer than that.
Part of the reason for this statement is the lack of acknowledgement that childbirth is in fact a rite of passage - the transition from maiden to mother. There are not one but two births when a baby is born. The birth of the baby and the birth of the mother. And with the birth of the mother, there is also the death of the maiden. This in itself is an enormous transition - one which takes time to integrate. The transition occurs on many levels including physical, emotional and social.
Physically speaking, the new mother has a 6 week check with her GP and that is when she is given the all clear that her body has healed up. But it can take longer, especially if the birth has been complicated or there has been medical intervention. There may be post-operative pain (with a caesarean birth), back aches and other minor ailments. A cranial sacral therapist, reflexologist or other complementary practitioner can help to rebalance the body as well as emotions.
On an emotional level, hormones can cause tremendous highs and lows. Fears of motherhood and grief or loss of the maiden can surface. Unresolved issues from the mother's own childhood can hinder the bonding between mother and baby. The change of the family dynamics from husband and wife to parents and child can cause friction until the 2 parents have adapted to their new relationships and roles. All these emotions that arise as a result of the above factors are often unexpected and unspoken because mothers are supposed to get 'back to normal' and carry on with their lives. By acknowledging that this is a rite of passage and giving herself space, the new mother can slowly adjust to her new role in her own time. The concept of a babymoon is not common in our society, however in some cultures the new mother is waited upon for 40 days. During that time she is nurtured and cooked for so that she can spend her time learning to care for her new baby and getting to know him or her better. She also uses the time to rest and recover and integrate the experience of giving birth into her being.
So how long does it take to 'go forward to normal'?
Each woman and her experiences are unique although I suggest to mothers-to-be to expect the postpartum integration of the childbirth experience into their everyday lives to take up to 2 years.