Postpartum and Breastfeeding

First 40 Days: Why This New Mom Opened a Postpartum Retreat

Paula James-Martinez

First 40 Days: Why This New Mom Opened a Postpartum Retreat

“The First 40 Days” is a term often used to describe the newly postpartum period, during which your body is healing, your hormones are shifting rapidly, and you are navigating the significant identity changes that accompany new motherhood or introducing a new sibling into the household. Full of tears, joy, struggles, and successes, no two postpartum experiences are alike. But just because postpartum is a unique experience for everyone, it doesn’t mean there isn’t inherent value in sharing, normalizing, and learning from each other. In the latest installment we sat down with Julia Grace is the CEO and founder of Sanhu House.

Julia grew up in a family of nurses and hospitality professionals. She started her career in not-for-profits and her mission in life is to make life-improving medical services more accessible. Prior to starting Sanhu House in 2022, Julia worked at Open Society Foundations, one of the largest grant making institutions in the world. She recently gave birth to her first child and shared what is taught her about improving postpartum care.

Needed: Julia, tell me a little bit about yourself? What do you do? How many children do you have? How old are they? 

Julia: Before motherhood I considered myself akin to the Korean sporty spice - I identify with athletics as a form of extracurriculars over arts when it came to the American schooling system framework and grew up snowboarding, skiing, playing basketball, and even skateboarding. I grew up in the bay area, near San Francisco, until highschool then left for the east coast for my education and was there for all of my adulthood up until recently when I moved here to Santa Monica in 2022! While being on the east coast, in NYC, I found my calling in the nonprofit space, specifically in public health. Then and now I find myself inherently drawn to creating access to basic needs as humans to live a happy and healthy life.

Since having my daughter less than two months ago, my focus now has been 50/50 - motherhood and launching my company, alongside prioritizing my own wellbeing; a challenge I am working through.

Needed: To start, could you tell me how you got into postpartum as a space?

Julia: During the pandemic, I observed my cousin’s pregnancy journey - she was born and raised in Korea and all her family besides me were there. She was afraid of not having support after she gave birth; and it took me by surprise – for the first time, after researching and delving into options to look for postpartum care for her here in the US.

I realized how lacking America’s postpartum care options were and how the US is completely failing families, especially compared to other wealthy nations.

My cousin’s mom (my aunt) had been working as the Director of Infant Care in one of Seoul’s largest luxury postpartum care centers and my cousin shared how much she wished that care existed here. That was the lightbulb moment for me. Inspired by Sanhujori, the traditional Korean ethos of personalized postpartum care, I felt compelled to start the first of this offering in Los Angeles.

Needed: Let's talk about your postpartum story. This was your first time which is a huge shift? What happened that you didn’t expect?

Julia: Americans are not good at relaxing and generally speaking, don’t value physical well being in the same way Asian cultures do (in my opinion).

Since ideating this company and working in the postpartum and maternal health space, I was frustrated seeing women and new mom friends who didn’t do all they could to relax and get their bodies to regenerate and recover after birth - I saw a lot of my friends being amenable to their partners and families who wanted to visit and therefore didn’t allow for the down time that I thought was necessary, or I saw friends who didn’t stop doing chores around their house, or didn’t take a break from work, etc.

I promised myself I wouldn’t be like that. That I would take my postpartum recovery seriously and do 40 days of full rest and only bond with my baby so that I could get back to a physical, chemical, emotional, and mental equilibrium as quickly as possible. 

I didn’t take my own advice. I soft launched my company, which opened the second week after I gave birth. The needs of others ultimately transcended my own needs.  

I allowed my family and my partner’s family to come stay with us because they wanted to witness our new baby - their grandchild.  

To this day, six weeks postpartum, my cesarean incision is inflamed, I’m dealing with postpartum depression, and hormonal imbalance. My body is far away from what I believe is “full recovery”. I believe the window of acute recovery looks like the first 6 weeks, but I didn’t give myself that sacred time that I needed and wanted and expected to let my body heal. America’s system and culture does not give women time and space to have and be postpartum positive; and therefore even though I think of myself as an independent and individual thinker - it was too difficult to go against the tides of everything and everyone surrounding me, including myself.

Needed: You stayed at Sanhu House as part of your experience - talk me through what happens when you check into a postpartum hotel like Sanhu House?

Julia: Every stay is considered and intentionally planned for the birthing parent’s needs, however Sanhu House guests can always expect a program that prioritizes rest and nervous system regulation, a menu tailor-made for restoring a postpartum body, certified feeding support, bodywork such as postpartum massage, a maternal mental health guidance + group sessions centered in creating community. 

While I was a guest at Sanhu, I didn’t have to lift a finger. I literally had one of our doulas - who is a [female] football player - woman handle me and carry my full body to help sit me up, because I had no core strength. She put the breast pumps on me so I would not have to reach and strain my incision area. The food delivery was clutch. I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner in bed. 

My feet and legs were so swollen so I had a postpartum lymphatic drainage massage. I remember when I checked in, my feet wouldn't fit into my slippers. When I checked out, thanks to the foods I ate and massage, I felt more whole in my body again - and I could fit in my slippers! 

Latching and milk production wasn’t working for me in the beginning. The doula support there was HUGE. I would have felt lost without that. They gave me breast massages, baby positioning for better latching support. I also really  appreciated spending time with other mothers in the mothers lounge when I felt up for socializing.  

Needed: What would you do differently if you had another postpartum experience?

Julia: Probably not launch a company! I would also have less visitors and really allow myself to go into a sanctuary and disconnect from everything and everyone outside of my nuclear family. 

Needed: In terms of actual physical preparation, what do you think people should do in preparation for postpartum recovery?

Julia: For me, pelvic floor exercises and core strengthening were what I really focused on during pregnancy. I found the Every Mother app was great to help guide me in those practices. Every person is different, so I don’t think there is a one size fits all. However, creating a plan of support that helps to nourish our bodies and our emotional well-being is key.

Needed: Anything else that you wish you as an expert in the postpartum had wished you knew beforehand?

Julia: To be completely vulnerable here, the most challenging parts of postpartum are my hormones, mood balancing, and sleep! All of which are interconnected. My entire pregnancy, I thought I would solely formula feed so I could prioritize sleep, but once baby Ocean came, I completely submitted to what the most acceptable arrangement of feeding a baby is.

Explicit and non-explicit messaging to breastfeed is everywhere. I have ended up exclusively breastfeeding since. I’m sure many moms can relate to feeling the pressure of performing “perfect motherhood”. I’ve finally allowed myself to now explore formulas for my mental health - so I can have time back for myself. I value sleep over everything, because I value getting better. I guess this is a longer answer to say that mothers should not feel guilt about making a “mother first” choice - whatever that may look like. I was feeling torn between two great options, but finally came to realize that prioritizing myself, physically and emotionally, is what is best for me and my baby. 

To try to make sure no mother feels alone Needed has introduced our 'Postpartum Guide,' a comprehensive and continuously expanding resource designed to support you with shared experiences and expert insights, covering all your postpartum needs. Because a lack of support, should never be normal. 

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Paula James-Martinez, Filmmaker and Editorial Director

Paula James Martinez is a creative producer, filmmaker, and former fashion editor. She is the director and producer of film company Semi-Retired Productions, and in 2018, started working on her directorial debut on the documentary Born Free, which investigates the truth about birth and maternity in America. She has since founded a non-profit organization The Mother Lovers to raise awareness of the US maternal health crisis.