Q&A with Kimberly Ann Johnson of The Fourth Trimester
What made you to decide to write The Fourth Trimester?
I didn’t set out to write a book, but I have been a harbinger of a message that is to speak about the unspeakable, and I realized that this information had to become common knowledge. When I was a new mother and struggling with a birth injury (although I didn’t even know that was a category), I combed Google to find holistic resources for the postpartum time. Time and again all I found were hundreds of thousands of entries on postpartum depression validating it. I couldn’t find anything on the impacts of the physical injuries and symptoms I was experiencing or what I could do about them. It was such an incredibly long healing journey for me, I wanted to write the book I never had and make it easier for other women to have all the information in one place, together with stories of women they could identify with.
What is the biggest unexpected challenge new mothers face in the first three months?
We place such a high value on autonomy that most women have the ideal that if they can do everything alone during the fourth trimester, they have succeeded and are a legitimate superwoman. In fact the opposite is true, this is a time when women have to learn how to receive help or they end up isolated and lonely. It can be very challenging for high-achieving, self-sufficient women to ask for help and receive it.
Another big challenge is no secret to new mothers: many relationships struggle after the baby arrives. What can couples do?
Before baby arrives, couples can troubleshoot what they might anticipate as difficulties and share with each other the support they imagine they might need. They can also recommit to themselves as the center of the family unit. This book offers suggestions of ways to check in and stay connected on verbal and physical levels during this sensitive time, so that it can bring couples closer together. Yes, it is possible to experience more intimacy with your partner through this transition.
You write that, like a lot of new mothers, you often felt depleted the three years after you had your daughter, and that you turned to exercise hoping to feel better. Instead, it always left you feeling more exhausted than energized. Finally, you found help in traditional Chinese medicine. Can you tell us about that?
On the most fundamental level, recovering from childbirth requires that we preserve and replenish our life force. Because of the extenuating circumstances of my recovery (a severe birth injury, living in a new country without friends or family, breadwinning for my family, breastfeeding challenges) and without any knowledge of the physiological postpartum needs, I was severely depleted. Exercise, which would have normally given me energy, drained me. So I learned that I needed to go back to the basic foundations of deep rest and nutrient-dense, collagen-rich food so that my system had energy to build from.
What does your book offer readers they won’t find elsewhere?
The information on women’s experience after having babies is sparse. We go from pregnancy books galore to baby books about sleep training and raising kids- we leave out the experience of women completely. Never before has information on the physical, the emotional, the physiological, the relational, the sexual, and spiritual elements of this transition to motherhood been put together in one place in a digestible, easy-to-read practical format.
What do you most hope new mothers will take from your book?
I hope that new mothers understand that there is good reason for however they are feeling. If a woman is receiving advice that everything is normal (her body, her mood, her relationship) but she doesn’t feel normal, that she knows help is out there. I want women to understand the profound shift that occurs, and that this transition and the mother herself is every bit as important as the baby. The cultural adage that as long as mother and baby are alive, then it’s all good needs to be updated. We want mothers and babies to not just survive, but thrive, and this book offers the inner and outer resources for families to do just that.