Book Review: The First 40 Days

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Book Review:

The First 40 Days; The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother
by Heng Ou.

My obsession for deliciously healthy and lovingly prepared food goes waaaaaaaay back to when my teenage years.  My mum raised my brother and I on her own whilst simultaneously working two full time jobs for the NHS.  As a trained Nurse and Respiratory Specialist she managed a Chest Clinic by day and a busy A&E department by night.  Her struggle to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, on an NHS salary was REAL! 

From around 10 years old, I’d get myself home from school and learnt pretty quickly to rustle-up an after-school snack up.  Mum would get home at around 5pm with a quick turnaround before heading back off to work.  She didn’t have time to cook a family meal and so for some time dinner consisted of Bernard Mathews Chicken Kiev Balls, mini pizzas, Findus Crispy Pancakes and spiral oven fries.  Not exactly what you’d call nutritious but what more could she do?!  She was doing her absolute best already.

Fast forward a few years and eventually I got kinda fed up with indiscriminate beige food that  all cooked on one oven tray.  I also got tired of seeing how stretched mum was.  I realised I had an opportunity to cook a meal for us, for her coming home.  This was around the same time Ready, Steady Cook first aired.  TV Chefs were challenged with making tasty, nutritious meals with a limited range of pantry ingredients, most of which we’d usually have around the house.  I started cooking meals from the show and was hooked!  

I’d get such a buzz from creating tasty dishes from scratch but that was NOTHING compared to the smile that would beam from Mums face as she’d fall through the door at the end of another exhausting day and know all she had to do was simply kick off her shoes and nourish herself properly.

Food and cookery has occupied an enormously enjoyable part of my private life ever since, but it was only very recently that I saw a way to combine this love of cooking for others with my work as a Postnatal Doula.  

A Doula colleague recommended I give The First 40 Days a read.  It’s a book written by a single mum and fellow food-enthusiast who, like so many of us, faced her own battles with Postnatal Depression and discovered (or rediscovered, I should say) the ancient traditions of postnatal nurturing through a combination of restorative food, tender care and ample amounts of rest. 

The book itself is utterly delicious.  I love the imagery, colour schemes and layout; the book has a Boho simplicity that seems both traditional and contemporary simultaneously. 

it isn’t just a recipe book

What surprised me the most about this book is that it isn’t just a recipe book.  Firstly the author takes some time to explain her story and you realise just how personal a journey you are walking with her as you turn each page.  Secondly, Ou takes a holistic look at postnatal nurturing that extends beyond the immediate need to nourish the body with wholesome food and includes the elements of Retreat, Warmth, Support, Rest and Ritual.  The philosophy behind the Chinese tradition of  ‘confinement’ or ‘lying-in period’ is convincingly explained and balanced for integration into contemporary, Western living.

Whilst the recipes are based heavily around traditional Chinese cooking, the author has made efforts to simplify the ingredient lists so that most people will be able to find the essentials.  Some recipes – like Vegetable Stew (for Caesarean Section recovery in this case) – feel old and comforting to this Brit whilst others, exotic and inviting (Pickled Congee with Tea Eggs and Pickles or Fish, Papaya and Peanut Soup).

I cannot wait to sample some of the recipes and furthermore, get making them for my lucky clients! YUM!

Do you have experience of a postnatal confinement period? How was it for you?  Did food play an important role in your postnatal recovery?

Let us know your thoughts!

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