Israel-based American writer, mom and doula Chaya Kasse Valier saw firsthand how women struggled after giving birth. The hard part isn’t necessarily labor, it’s what comes later, after the doctors are far away and you’re left alone with a demanding newborn. So she compiled real-life stories of 24 moms throughout the Western world in “Second Labor: Mothers Share Post-Birth Stories,” which came out in September. She hopes the book proves that there’s no such thing as “normal” when it comes to adjusting to the motherhood experience. She reflects on the postpartum period, and challenges, for JewishBoston.
Why did you write this book?
I never enjoyed having babies for the first weeks, not sleeping, and I knew as a doula and a mother, that others go through these experiences and wanted a forum for telling their stories. I got 24 mothers to write for the book. They wrote on various topics. Some of them I knew, so I knew their stories; others I found via Facebook mothers’ groups. They’re women from all over the world, and they sort of represent the modern Western birthing culture.
Why is that postpartum period so hard, and when does it get better?
You’re alone, and it’s non-ending, and you don’t have enough energy to make a meal. You want to love your baby, and yet you’re struggling to keep your eyes open. Usually it gets better with a sleeping routine. There is a midwife I know who says, “We’re pregnant for nine months and postpartum for the rest of our lives.” But these women mostly wrote about the first few months.
These women have such a range of experiences. What did you ask the women to reflect on in particular? Did you guide them?
I had a few guiding questions, like what was hard for you, what did you like, what was it like on day one, day seven, when did things get easier. And they all wrote differently. I thought, given the demographic, it would be a lot of similar stories, but they weren’t.
What sort of struggles do these women share?
[You’re] not happy about the baby. It can take four months to love a baby. A lot of people don’t want to admit that. Not loving your baby is one thing they don’t want to admit. Or problems with breastfeeding versus formula—that came out a lot. Or the disappointment of having a C-section and then trying for a vaginal birth after a cesarean. One woman still feels remorse about it. There’s a story about a third child who is a Down syndrome baby, and a story about a cleft lip baby and what it means to have surgery on your child at four months. There’s a story about a second birth, a loss, and there are stories about twins and a woman who had an 8-year-old and a 10-year-old and hadn’t decided if she wanted a third child, and how glad she was that she didn’t let it go. She was happy with this angel baby. These are all true, real stories. It was important for me to keep them in tact and not “Hollywoodify” them. They stand on their own. They aren’t composites.
Is there a universal thread among these women?
The universal message is that there is help to be asked for and to be known. One of the main goals of the book is to make that awareness global. There’s hope in all of these stories, in large part because people are probably not going to share any story until the end, and all of these ends are hopeful and positive.
What do you hope readers glean from the book?
One is the knowledge of what women are going through. Even husbands, if their wife is crying all the time, they might not know that it might not be normal. She might need more professional help. They don’t realize there could be mental illness going on. Secondly, people need to organize meals! In the Jewish community, we’re used to that, but not everybody else. Or just a phone call.
A lot has been written about postpartum depression, the breastfeeding wars, and so on. Who is this book for?
People devour it within a day. It’s stories, not statistics, the personal angle. This is nothing extreme. This is a book about the other 85 percent of women.
As a doula, what do you think new mothers still lack?
Even if it’s their eighth child, it can be different each time. They need someone calling and checking in. Even postpartum doulas do those first two to four weeks. They need someone to ask them specifically about stitches or nursing.
How’s it different to be a mom in Israel rather than in the U.S.?
Generally speaking, there are more babies. People are more used to babies being around. But mothers are no different. Absolutely not at all. In either country, this book applies.