postpartum care interview with Portland-based East Asian Medicine practitioner Rebecca Groebner M.Ac, L.Ac

Today, I introduce you to Rebecca Groebner M.Ac, L.Ac, who explains the basics of postpartum recovery from a East Asian Medicine perspective.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m a mother to two amazing sons as well as a Chinese medicine practitioner and chef. I run my own natural medicine practice, The Local Healer, in the Dekum Triangle area of the Woodlawn neighborhood of Northeast Portland, where I’ve lived for the last fifteen years.
I have always been passionate about the weaving of ancient knowledge and modern science. I have a Physics degree because I love delving into the why’s and how’s of the world and I’ve been working to learn Classical Chinese language since 2002 because it helps me to read the old Chinese medical texts for myself.
My family of four cuddles into an 800 square foot house with our three cats, five chickens and six garden beds that are home to a variety of food plants that continue to teach us about navigating the seasonal energy around us.
How did you get interested in treating pregnant and postpartum mamas?
Three and a half years ago, in a tiny room lit with two beeswax candles, my second son was born in a cattle-bathing trough filled with sea-salted water. The midwife handed his vernix covered body to me and the water felt instantly cooler as we waited for the placenta to descend. I had spent the last ten months stoking the deepest fires of my being to circulate nutrient-rich blood through both his and my body, to keep the light of life alive for us both. His hot body laid on my chest while I delivered the placenta. I was left with a vacuum where all that heat had once been. I shook as two women helped me out of the water and onto my bed.
I had a different community than after my first birth, where we ate barbecued chicken sandwiches and fries from Fire on the Mountain and I went back to work with my baby after a couple of weeks. This time, friends (and fellow Chinese medicine physicians) brought me wild elk and well-cooked root vegetables, pigs trotters slow cooked in eight treasures vinegar and ginger and chicken congee with blood moving herbs. Women came and burned moxa on my belly and back. When I got mastitis (a chronic problem during my first postpartum), I was brought topical herbs, internal herbs and had acupuncture done in my bed while I nursed my baby.
I had already been caring for pregnant and postpartum women by this time: I started attending births in 2005 and doing postpartum doula work while I was in school. However, the love, care and knowledge that I was blessed with after my second birth helped me to bond with my baby and with my family in a way that I feel every woman deserves. The immense knowledge contained within ancient medicines and science around birth and postpartum can be a force in our modern world to bolster the way we care for mothers and their newborns.
How do you serve postpartum women and what do you focus on?
I work with pregnant women to create a treatment plan about the proper care needed, and the foods and herbs to be used after labor and into the first month postpartum. I also provide hands-on treatment for postpartum mamas to help facilitate a strong and balanced recovery after giving birth.  In the first few weeks after birth, it is important that:
  • The lochia  (blood, mucus and uterine tissue discharged after giving birth) is completely cleared from the uterus so that it can regain it’s proper tonicity and the blood and qi move, unobstructed, through the reproductive organs. There are two major channels flowing through the uterus: one connects the uterus to the heart and the other connects the uterus to the kidneys. If there is a retention of the lochia after giving birth, it can cause physical and emotional issues and can lead to problems with future births and menopause.
  • The uterus and kidneys are warmed and the yang is tonified after giving birth – again, to help with the tonicity of the uterus and to recharge the battery that has been spent during pregnancy and labor.
  • The blood and yin fluids are tonified and rebuilt, because the heat cannot be held without that container.
  • And finally, the spleen and stomach are properly cared for in every way, so that they continue to function at optimal levels. The spleen and stomach are the root of the blood, and hence, the root of the breastmilk (an extension of the blood).
What message do you have for all mothers?
Today, I had a woman tell me that when she had her first (and only) child, she wasn’t able to get the care that she needed because she couldn’t afford it and she also didn’t know what kind of care to get. She said that this setup a story in her life in which there is nothing but deprivation in the postpartum and that new mothers are never cared for.
I want all mothers to know that we do not have to be deprived of care during the postpartum and that many cultures, the world over, have beautiful traditions to ensure that this happens. Our American culture is still forming and as women, we have the power to co-create the kind of postpartum care that we envision for ourselves and all women.
Together, we can create a new story for the women in our culture – a story in which the postpartum period is a time of abundance, compassion and care. A story in which we gather around in support of one another and always lift each other up.
Rebecca’s East Asian Medicine practice uses acupuncture, herbal medicine, nutrition, and holistic meditative-exercise systems to support whole family health.  You can read more about her practice on her site, The Local Healer.   East Asian Medicine, also referred to as Chinese Medicine, has so much to offer women during the childbearing year.  I encourage women to seek out Chinese Medicine doctors and acupuncturists in their own communities for postpartum recovery.