Last May I had the honor of traveling to Russia to teach at a midwifery conference where I met Zifa. She is a leading voice in Russia, rallying to care for postpartum mothers. Welcome, Zifa!
My name is Zifa Astashko, I’m 33, Russian doula and I am a mother of five children, a daughter and 4 sons. All my kids were born in water unassisted, at home and in nature, in a tipi in the mountains, “solo” – only with my beloved. I have really wonderful experience of orgasmic labour and for some time was sure that most women can get the same. Now I know that it is a gift of nature. And a mother should be very opened to nature to get the gift…
I lead seminars all over Russia and inspire couples to give birth mildly in love, train them to be ready to manage themselves. Russian men are excellent doulas for their wives but they need to be sure and ready. I give classes in rebozo massage for couples, we play on a Theater of Birth, and I give lectures about the Sacred Circle of conceiving, pregnancy, free labor and postpartum recovery.
The theme of postpartum health after birth is rather exotic in our country. Our society is quite baby-centric but still child-unfriendly, and this oxymoron makes mothers to be always in stress, trying to conform the ideals of a superwoman… There’s simply no time and space for a mom to stop and think a little about herself.
Just a century ago people live together with their families, and all females were ready to help to a young mother, she had enough time to recover after labour. They say “if a sister-in-law is dear she gets banya 3 times, if she is not, then just one”. But anyway a mom after birth got her mild special sauna! If the mom gave birth there, she stayed there, sometimes for all 40 days and got procedures of a special massage and belly-tie from a midwife. Midwives were called “povituha”, that means “who ties up”. Usually she was an old wise woman with plenty children and rich experience.
Thank God, recently the knowledge and art how to be “a povituha” is returning to Russians. And modern povituhas are young nowadays.
I learned from such great specialists as Julia Shelepina and Angelina Martinez Miranda. Mexican and slavic cultures have much in common.
[the word for whale in Russian sounds like the word kit, which has the meaning kit of tools for health, and also whales are a symbol for wisdom and kindness]
There are 5 whales of postpartum recovery:
Bandaging of belly with the help of a long piece of fabric
Support and care
The povituha can serve a newborn mother during first ten days, cooking special herbal tea and good warm food with spices, making morning massage, helping the woman’s body to recover, she learns to tie her belly up, she gets support. During the sacred 40 days a woman can get some saunas and herbal bathes. On the 40th day we make a special “banya” and closing ceremony. A mom talks about her labour, pregnancy, sometimes they cry, sometimes there can be tears of gratitude to a baby… We bathe the mother, massage her and relax in plenty various ways, it depends on a certain povituha. As for me, I sing a lot, play on vargan, use hypno technique, massage with rebozo and make Ayurvedic Abhyanga massage with essential oils. I work alone and do the closing ceremony “7locks” with the help of a special rolling-pin.
After the woman frees her body and mind we close the woman with the help of 7 long tissues – “svivalniki”. They look very like rebozo [Mexican shawl] I use some rebozo and some slings-wraps. Usually the banya takes 4-5 hours and the ceremony is about 1,5 hours. Her babe is usually with a dad or a granny, we make pause to breastfeed. The service is the time only for the mother, it is a way to thank the human goddess for bringing a new soul. Certainly it is better to close birth soon after a child birthday, but any mother can get it no matter how old is her child.
After ceremony the mother takes some rest, dress new clothes, and then the family can celebrate all together her coming with new status of Mother, no matter, if she gave birth to her first or fifth child. Usually I ask her husband to prepare a present for her, something what the child can inherit, other relatives can bring some food, flowers. Traditionally the holiday is called Rodiny and the newborn could be shown to other people.
As for me, I found out the wonderful world of postpartum recovery only with my 4th child, and went deeply in my 5th pregnancy. I studied a lot and led webinars and for myself wrote a programm “40 days” with short recommendations on what to do, what herbs to drink, to bathe, advice from Ayurveda and so on. At webinars I presented my “40days”to participants and suddenly other women began to write to me asking to sell it. Then they had so many questions where to get this or that. One day I was very upset because a mom wrote me she couldn’t manage to recover because she hadn’t herbs and time to sew a benkung. And then my genius husband said that we can post herbs and oils and benkung, because we know where to get it. It was after my fifth birth, a year ago. We named our project Mamin Kit. Kit means “whale”, I’m mad about the wonderful giants!
Now we have a new website mamin-kit.ru. Usually people find us in social network https://vk.com/mamin_kit in Vkontakte.ru. Here they read articles about health, can find a postpartum doula, ask me a question and book what they need.
We pack and send good Altai herbs for tea and bathes, quality essential oils from France, Russian “svivalniki” and Asian benkungs, edible tasty clay from Kazakhstan, Indian spices, honey, water propolis and ambrosia from the Caucasus, books for parents and many other healthy things. It is not so simple for a couple with 5 little kids living in a tiny village but we believe it helps moms to be healthy. It makes us so happy to hear from the mothers we’ve helped.
The shift towards focussing on postpartum recovery is a kind of revolution. I see huge eyes of ladies listening about benkungs or closing ceremony at my seminars. Usually moms after 2-3 kids know something and want to get the closing ceremony. But recently I do it more often for mothers during the first 40 days postpartum, after a course of herbal tea, baths and self massage, before benkung and I see how great it is.
I see my mission to tell women not only how to give birth mildly at home, but also how to be healthy and happy.
Mom is happy – everyone is happy!
Zifa’s work is such a beautiful melding of her own Russian birth traditions with practices from other parts of the world that are rooted in the same philosophy of rest, support, and care for postpartum mothers. Please share Zifa’s work with your Russian speaking friends: mamin-kit.ru!