Two days after giving birth to their daughter on July 3, Catherine Mersereau and Dave Altarescu found themselves situated in a small cottage west of Woodstock with their newborn, Mila, in the middle of the woods and away from their home and families. This wasn’t an accident. It was part of a carefully thought out postpartum plan that Mersereau and her husband had been mulling over for about a year in preparation for the adventures into parenthood.
“Over the past year I had read a lot about birth and postpartum. In all the literature I was reading, I could sense that pregnancy and birthing were fairly straightforward. But I kept hearing that people were really falling down in the postpartum period,” said Mersereau. “I was lucky that pregnancy was a joy. I wanted to figure out the postpartum experience.”
They found what they were looking for on eight acres of forested land, a postpartum retreat also known as ‘a baby-bed-and-breakfast,’ owned and operated by Ashlie Yair of GreatFull Wellness.
Originating in countries like South Korea, the concept of postpartum retreats has given rise to a growing number of similar businesses in the United States.
GreatFull Wellness’ postpartum retreat provides support to new mothers and families in the aftermath of childbirth. The postpartum retreat is Yair’s most recent addition to her list of other birth, in-home postpartum care, and reproductive wellness offerings. Yair, a trained doula, lactation specialist, wellness coach, and mother of three, started her integrative wellness practice to help those who had fertility challenges or those looking for better reproductive health. She sees the retreat as a service to help mothers and families build a solid foundation of physical, emotional, and mental health from the moment of birth.
“This is an intensive process to learn about yourself, each other,” said Yair. “You get to gain new skills and now tools for how to support yourself. It is a process where you are learning and .growing as a human.”
That is for you to deal with
According to the National Institute of Health, one in seven women in the United States can develop postpartum depression (PPD). Some health professionals believe the numbers are much higher.
Until recently, the medical world in the United States has been slow to acknowledge the seriousness and long-term effects of postpartum mood disorders like postpartum depression. “People would be surprised to know that the effects of postpartum anxiety — and what happens in those first 30 to 40 days following a birth — influence multiple health markers for the rest of your adult life,” said Yair.
There may be a subtle shift in the focus on PPD with the recent news of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approving the first-ever treatment for postpartum depression. This comes as positive news in a country where rates of PPD and maternal mortality are higher in the U.S. than in other developed nations.
Though it’s a step in the right direction for those suffering to have access to the necessary and immediate care of pharmaceuticals, Yair acknowledges that there’s work to be done in this country to provide a more holistic system of postpartum care.
“As with any mental-health challenge, we know that there are many factors that contribute to each person’s mental health,” Yair said. “Three that we can control are first, how resourced someone’s body is in regard to vitamins, minerals, and general nutrition. If someone is depleted in certain areas, they are more likely to develop mental-health challenges.
“Secondly, how resourced or stressed someone is in their lives, meaning how much support or lack of it is existing for the demands of the current stage of their lives.
“Thirdly, sleep. Sleep or lack of is a huge factor in mental health.
“Unfortunately the reality of our current society is that these will not be addressed before or after pregnancy.”
Overall postpartum care in the United States is considered far behind what’s available in other countries. “Other countries and cultures have a normalized system of postpartum care,” said Yair. “In the United States, we are all in our own bubble. ‘You had a baby. This is for you to deal with. We’ll bring you a casserole, but this is on you.’ People who are birthing here in this county are depleted. They feel alone. The partner might not know how to best support them.”
Sweet bonding time
Every stay starts with a prenatal meeting beginning with extensive intake forms long before the expected due date so Yair can tailor the stay to individual families. “We were able to visit the property and meet Ashlie to start developing a relationship,” satd Merseraeu. “Ashlie immediately felt like someone I could be vulnerable with.”
Most couples choose to stay five to seven days, according to Yair. The cottage can host up to four people and comes fully equipped with all the gear needed to care for a newborn and healing mother. Every meal is provided using nourishing ingredients for mother and partner. Yair sources her produce and meat from the farm next door, Zena Farmstead. Regular house chores like laundry are taken care of for the duration of the stay.
Additional services are available. A family can show up with nothing other than their adult clothing and they will have all they need,” said Yair. A pop-up shop inside the cottage is supplied by the Beloved Birth and Baby Boutique in New Windsor. A pool and lounging area are available, and families are able to visit during a stay.
Rest is at the top of the list of priorities. If a family feels comfortable with it, Yair will take the baby for at least two hours a day so the parent(s) can get rest without hearing the baby’s noises.
“Having a new baby can turn our world completely upside down,” said Yair, “and it is challenging to find your way to the surface. The entirety of our lives comes into the birthing space and postpartum space with us, and this process can bring up things that have been long forgotten. It is challenging to navigate all of those emotions.”
Mersereau and her husband live in Shandaken, and have family available to help out. It came as a surprise to both families when they decided to book a stay at the retreat.
“It is interesting that we chose to do this, but I’m really happy we did. When our families came to visit us, they understood why,” said Mersereau. “As soon as we came home, life intruded. That week was truly restful and supportive, and we had some really sweet bonding time.”
A stay at the retreat is $550 a night. A minimum three-night stay at Boram in New York City is $2300 a night.
Yair hopes to one day partner with investors to build a larger facility which will be able to provide a portion of in-house care on a sliding scale or at no cost. For now, Yair believes that this type of care is essential healthcare. “I was a person who would not have been able to afford to stay in my cottage, and I am conscious of that every day,” she said. I also believe, this is the type of care everyone deserves and it should exist for whoever can afford it now with the goal of it one day developing into something that will be accessible to a broader socioeconomic group.”
For those who can’t swing a stay at the retreat, options like postpartum consultations, a Wednesday-night new parents group, and virtual contacts are available.
One month into parenthood, Mersereau knows she and her husband made the right choice for herself and also her family. They found it a softer landing than going home right away. “At this point, it’s all just such a blur,” she said. “So many people I know have had different postpartum experiences,and many wished they had known this was available.”
For more information, visit the Greatfull Wellness website.