Why Every New Mom Deserves a Postpartum Retreat

A personal essay on one mother’s journey to provide all mothers with better postpartum care.
postpartum retreat

Six years after the birth of my first child, my life still revolves around my postpartum experience, awash in an unfamiliar euphoria. 

Imagine, me—a sender of saccharine gifs and mushy memes to my spouse—during those prenatal days. A transformation so stark, my old self would have scoffed in disbelief.

No scientific study I found could explain this euphoric hijacking of my usual mood, but it didn’t matter, because I felt great.

Even buoyed by this unnatural high, my type-A personality didn’t change. I devoured pregnancy books and made a sport of auditing pediatricians, attending their classes under the guise of a dutiful expectant mother—all while secretly grading them against my own draconian standard for who would dare care for my impending bundle.

I forged a relationship with a group of women—distant friends and acquaintances whose due dates aligned like stars in a trimester-specific constellation. We remain tight-knit to this day. And every encounter with my OB/GYN came armed with a laundry list of questions, each one meant to dissect every nuance of pregnancy.

I clearly yearned to be more than prepared—over-prepared even. Yet, hindsight reveals a hard truth: I was battle-ready for pregnancy and birthing, but totally unequipped for the postpartum period.

Pretty soon, induction day was upon me because my son was fashionably late by a week, and I felt ready. Armed with the courage of a carb-laden feast—the last supper before the labor fast prescribed to mitigate aspiration risks—my husband and I arrived at the hospital with bags of crap, like pillows and a yoga ball, that I never ended up using. 

Underneath my calm facade, I was nervous. I had drafted a living will—a morbid just-in-case

document—spurred by the memory of my husband’s cousin-in-law who tragically passed away during childbirth despite the best of care.

I shelved my nervousness and accepted the epidural after what I felt was a respectable amount of suffering through labor pains. Now, avoiding more pain seemed like a sensible strategy.

I suspect the epidural was injected a hair too far to the left from center because, throughout labor, its effects were minimal on the right side of my body. I kept having to lay on one side so I wouldn’t feel as much pain on the opposite side of my body. 

So this is motherhood?

It took over 24 hours to be dilated enough to start pushing, but, when the time came, every push made me dry-mouthed and nauseous. I took giant gulps of water from the hospital-provided water jug between each push.

Three hours and an eternity of effort later, my son made his debut, resembling less the cherubic vision I’d Instagrammed in my mind and more a pint-sized gremlin—proof that reality laughs at filtered expectations. 

Suddenly, I found myself wheeled into a recovery room where the nurses had seemingly poofed and vanished, leaving me, my newborn, and the chill of responsibility hanging in the air.

Um, now what? I’m a mom? 

The PowerPoint, the handy guidebook on ‘What Now?’ Not a leaflet in sight, not a poster with step-by-step baby wrangling instructions—apparently, hand-washing merited more instructional ink than newborn care! 

Meanwhile, my legs felt gummy and tingly as they were starting to regain sensation as the epidural wore off, but my bladder felt like it was going to explode, probably from all the water I had gulped down during delivery.

We called a nurse into our room but she said that, because I had a catheter inserted during labor and delivery, standard procedure when a mother gets the epidural, my bladder just needed to “wake up.” After woozily hobbling over to the bathroom with a nurse flanking me at either side, I tried my hardest to pee for 10 minutes but nothing happened. And, yes, both nurses were my audience as I mortifyingly sat on the porcelain throne.

As fate would have it, I had developed a bladder condition that required yet another catheter in an area of my body that felt excruciatingly painful and fragile. This meant that any time the baby would cry, I needed someone to bring him to me while I took wild guesses at what was wrong with him. 

Soon, a lactation nurse came in for maybe a 10-minute tutorial, showing me how to grab my baby by the back of the head and forcefully jam his tiny face into my breast. The lactation nurse showed no regard for my fear that even his tiny nose was pressed so far into my skin that I was scared that he was basically being suffocated by my boob.

The goal of this breastfeeding technique seemed to be to force his little mouth open and trigger his natural sucking reflex like some cruel culinary technique, foie-gras style.

Surely, there’s a better way than this?

It was during this time that I started to think that there had to be a better way for women to get on boarded into motherhood than relying on mere intuition alone. 

The stroke of luck that my son’s grand entrance was post-midnight meant we scored a stay at the hospital from Thursday’s induction to Sunday morning—a small miracle. While there, a nurse graced me with a 411 on the sacred trifecta of newborn care: bathing, diapering, and the swaddling arts. My breast milk was a no-show, but I had the cracked and sore nipples to prove I was trying. 

Pre-delivery, I had planned to put on some makeup and breeze out of the hospital in a new, carefully chosen outfit with my husband as my son’s and my paparazzi. In reality, I was barely able to squeeze my still-pregnant-looking belly into my new sweater and I was too exhausted to even think about makeup or even brushing my hair.

I took the directions for pain relief in hand because I was still heavily bleeding and in pain and waddled out of the hospital. I was sad and disheveled. 

And while the world may leave you to believe this is all temporary, it was life for nearly the next six months.

Daycare, sleep & struggles

It was sleepless nights when both my husband and I would take vigil near our newborn trying to stay on a schedule where we would feed him every two to three hours, change his diaper, and try to bounce him back to sleep. My swaddling skills were laughable, each attempt shadowed by the fear that my ridiculous swaddling technique would inadvertently cause sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

When my husband’s paternity leave ended, I felt the pressure of parenting our son alone. Add to that, the relentless power pumping I was doing to try to increase my milk supply, just to get enough milk to cover half the amount my son needed. To say I was exhausted is an understatement.

Pretty soon, the writing was on the wall: daycare for my sweet little three-month old. Every maternal instinct screamed that he was too young to fend for himself at daycare, and the price tag of the crème de la crème daycare was as much as a mortgage payment. Yet, the reality was that I couldn’t juggle the baby and return to work,  just didn’t enjoy taking care of our baby for hours on end, despite overflowing with love for him. 

To top it all off, I had no more “leave” left in myself. I fell into a very niche category of political appointee that was neither eligible for FMLA nor any kind of state-protected, paid maternity leave. I was unofficially given maternity leave with a portion of my salary diverted to pay for someone else to take on my work responsibilities in my absence during the busiest time of year when the state legislature was back in session and the culmination of the year’s work would come to fruition or die.

The entire scenario reeked of injustice. It was as though we were abandoning our miniature human to navigate the daycare jungle solo. The daycare workers were so “hands-off” and busy that they wouldn’t even wipe a kid’s nose that was dripping so profusely that he was basically eating his own snot. Hence, it was no shocker that our son was sick every other week during his daycare tenure.

Each bout of illness transformed my poor baby into a mucus-marinated little being, perpetually unable to breathe through his already tiny nostrils. Nightly, my husband and I would take turns sleeping in the baby’s gliding chair, holding the baby upright throughout the night just so he might be able to breathe a little. 

A few months postpartum, I noticed that breastfeeding felt just awful and not in the conventional ways. By then, I’d relinquished the battle with breastfeeding, turning to exclusive pumping—a grueling, hours-long daily ritual. 

Yet each session tethered to the pump ushered in a sinking feeling deep within my gut.

It was as though an anvil plummeted into my belly’s depths while a relentless echo in my mind chanted, ‘I hate this, I hate this, I hate this…'” The brutal cocktail of sleep deprivation, breastfeeding woes, and the myriad other trials of motherhood took a toll on my marriage.

It was years before things started to improve, but in the midst of it all, I began to seek solutions and understanding of the awful graveyard of postpartum-hood. It was around this time that I recalled the stories of my husband’s friends’ wives who traveled to Korea to stay at a postpartum care center after giving birth. I couldn’t help but fantasize about how different my own postpartum journey would have been with that kind of support. 

A business is born

I banded together with some professional acquaintances to dig into the statistics, which turned out to be staggering: 80 percent of South Korean mothers transitioned directly from hospital to postnatal care centers, embracing two to four weeks of structured support post-childbirth.

Over 300 centers spanned the spectrum from standard to luxurious, each offering a recovery staycation complete with childcare, nourishing meals and educational support on caregiving. 

The concept wasn’t unique to Korea either. In China, thousands of these centers existed, with new ones continually emerging across East and Southeast Asia, Australia, the UAE, Canada and beyond. In these regions, mother-centered postpartum care had become a normalized, integral part of the family experience, evidently to the benefit of all involved. 

A deep-seated calling stirred within me: I was compelled to pioneer a similar initiative in the U.S. and develop a care curriculum rooted in global, evidence-based recovery practices. Our meetings spanned weekdays and weekends, often extending late into the night. This intense schedule continued after my graduation, as we devoted nearly another year to refining our concept. I continued to collaborate closely with my working group to craft an 

In 2023, as I celebrated my son’s fifth birthday, I emerged fresh from my master’s program and found myself immersed in efforts to launch a postpartum care business in the D.C. area.

Every minute was accounted for, from fundraising—an arduous task given my lack of business ownership history so traditional sources of debt capital were out of reach—to scouting locations and conducting surveys with enthusiastic mothers and partners captivated by our novel approach to the postpartum period. 

Then, quite unexpectedly, I discovered I was pregnant again. 

Pregnancy round-two

Though we had entertained the idea of a second child, the harrowing postpartum journey with my first son loomed large, especially as I juggled the nascent stages of a new business with my full-time job. Needless to say, the news of my pregnancy did not thrill me: it overwhelmed me with incredible stress.

During this pregnancy, worries about the business would jolt me awake in the dead of night, leaving me tossing and turning for hours, unable to fall back asleep. I yearned for the euphoric feeling that had swept over me during my first pregnancy, but it stubbornly refused to materialize this time around. 

On the eve of my induction with my second boy who was measuring small, my business partner and I reached the difficult decision to part ways. I fielded the call en route to the hospital. Though the split was amicable, it left me feeling utterly deflated.

Now truly on my own, I was breathless under the weighty responsibility of safeguarding and growing my family’s investment in the business, not to mention starting and operating it solo.

Oh, and also, I was about to go through postpartum myself again.

The birth of my second child 

The experience was uneventful with labor and delivery lasting a fraction of the time as my first. Recovery was no less miserable, but the knowledge that a solution was on the horizon—albeit one I couldn’t personally utilize—offered a glimmer of solace.

Determined to breastfeed, I was nonetheless unsurprised when the milk refused to arrive. Hindsight taught me to expect this, but it didn’t stop me from trying. The lactation consultant who visited my hospital room this time around and took a gentler approach. I confided in her that, despite my best efforts, nursing remained excruciatingly painful—each attempt felt like a physical and emotional assault, echoing the distress I’d endured with nursing my first child. 

During this ordeal, I was introduced to Dysphoric Milk Ejection Reflex (D-MER), a physiological condition impacting nearly 10 percent of mothers, triggered by a sudden drop in dopamine during breastfeeding and pumping.

The consultant handed me a leaflet on the condition and left it at that. No further guidance on how to manage (or survive) was provided, not that I had high hopes for any. y expectations had already bottomed out. 

Just a day post-delivery, I was eager to leave the hospital behind. Moreover, I had pressing work obligations—a fiduciary duty to my investors and awaiting service partners, not to mention mothers and families who depended on the timely launch of my business to access crucial care.

Thus, with gritted teeth, I heaved my swollen, battered body out of the hospital bed and managed three painstaking trips to the bathroom—passing the unofficial hospital test that would permit my discharge. Just one day postpartum, I left the hospital.

Once we picked up my older son, our return home was delayed into the late hours. Our newborn began to cry just as I settled him into his bassinet in his newly appointed nursery, formerly my office.

At that moment, the full weight of my responsibilities—as a professional, a new mother and a wife overwhelmed me, and I found myself crying, a rare loss of composure for someone who prizes stoicism.

“I don’t want to do this anymore.”

My husband walked in on me at that moment, and I confessed, ‘I can’t do this. I don’t want to do this anymore.’ He suggested abandoning the elusive dream of breastfeeding as a first step towards alleviating my stress. True to the script of a guilt-riddled mother, I said I’d consider it, yet I clung to the idea.

Furthermore, I felt no connection to my newborn. My appetite vanished completely, resulting in the swift loss of the nearly 40 pounds I had gained during pregnancy, all shedding within weeks. Additionally, I was perennially on the brink of tears, easily set off by the slightest provocation. I also said very little throughout the day, and only in hushed tones. Clearly, something was profoundly wrong. 

I recall my husband snapping a photo of me at the kitchen table that Monday, just four days postpartum, buried in work. Amid the chaos, I clung to a solitary positive thought: this moment was undeniable proof of my tenacity as a founder. 

One night, as I lay awake trying to return to sleep after feeding the baby, I found myself scrolling through Instagram. An ad for a virtual therapist caught my eye. I decided to take the accompanying quiz, and my results indicated extremely high levels of postpartum anxiety and significant postpartum depression.

Embarking on weekly therapy sessions, I finally found some relief. When my therapist prescribed anti-anxiety medication, the effect was immediate. At long last, finally some hope!

And, even solo, my work productivity improved as well. In collaboration with a globally distinguished postpartum care expert, we began fortifying our care curriculum, grounding every recovery practice and service in rigorous scientific study. Together, we crafted a proprietary methodology for creating personalized postpartum care plans tailored to every mother and partner who would stay at the “retreat.” 

Six months after the birth of my second son and far less than the year I thought it would take, I opened the doors to Sanu, the nation’s first physician-developed postpartum care stay or “postnatal retreat” as many call it.

Insights such as the one on feeding on demand have been woven into the fabric of our services at Sanu—a moniker inspired by the Korean word for ‘postpartum,’ reflecting the essence of our mission to provide mother-centered, partner-inclusive postpartum care for whole family benefits.

I still can’t swaddle very well. But now I’m surrounded by a group of experts who can guide me and other parents through any postpartum struggle.


  • Julia Kim

    Julia Kim, CEO, and Founder ofSanu, is a seasoned leader with over 15 years of experience in lawmaking, policy, communications, and political campaigns. Serving as the national Co-Chair for Korean Americans for Biden, she mobilized volunteers and orchestrated efforts to engage hundreds of thousands of Korean American voters in key battleground states. Additionally, as the former Chairperson of the Virginia Asian Advisory Board (VAAB), Julia provided invaluable counsel to the governor on a range of issues, including education, civic engagement, and business and trade matters, championing the interests of the AAPI community. With an MBA from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business (MSB), Julia continues to make an impact as the founder and CEO of Sanu, a postpartum retreat dedicated to redefining care for new parents with comprehensive support and personalized experiences. A proud second-generation Korean American, Julia resides in Virginia with her husband and two sons.

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