Summoning the village.
We are not a lone species, but we isolate and categorise. We are not supposed to do this alone, but surely we do. We can’t ‘have it all’, so why do we think we need to? Why have we gone so far from the village, when it is what we truly need.
This is tiring. The first year of a child’s life is exponentially and earth-shatteringly tiring. You have just birthed a human, and now you are feeding them (definitely) with your body (maybe), functioning on little-to-no sleep and carting this extra person around wherever you go. Your life, your meaning, your entire reason for being has shifted while simultaneously leaving you the same, but so so different. It is a lot.
And yet. There are expectations, keep the house clean and feed yourself, slap that makeup on and get dressed, go out to that baby group, feed a baby, functioning on little-to-no sleep, carting that extra person around wherever you go. Do the food shopping, pay that bill, answer the door to the postman with a baby clamped onto your nipple in your dressing gown with no bra on and a maternity pad wedged between your legs, and feel shamed because its lunchtime and you’re still not dressed, and there’s washing up from last night and wet laundry in the machine from two days ago. Answer that email, sterilise the bottles, don’t forget to buy milk, get up in the night and pick the baby up from the moses basket with a cut across your abdomen, feed, order nappies on Amazon, resettle the baby, lie awake for an hour, fall asleep, then order more nappies in the morning when you forget that you did it at 2 am last night.
We are dividing, drawing up lines within the ranks, separating and pushing away when we need to come together. Women are powerful, we grow babies, we give birth, we feed them from our breasts, we heal, we raise them, and sometimes we do it all again, and again. It is a symptom of this patriarchal society that these strong women then feel alone and pitted against at our most vulnerable time.
We are not meant to do this alone.
Its very hard to ask for help when you are at your most vulnerable. Its even harder to say you are struggling. Mothers of two month old newborns should not be responsible for finding help and connection in the early days, they have enough on their plate. And so do mothers of eight month old babies, or a year old, or two. Ironically it’s so much harder to find connection when we need it the most.
Create a village. Create a community. Create an inclusive space for everyone. It doesn’t have to be huge, it doesn’t have to be bright and shiny and new and dazzling. It doesn’t even have to be inside. You don’t have to have a website, or a logo, or a name, or a group, or a weekly meet up. What is lacking is connection. Connection is free, and empowering, and real. Create that.
Find local Facebook groups, write a shout out to mothers. Host an open house with cake and coffee and tea for everyone, all welcome.
Create a weekly meet up at a cafe, something that a sleep-deprived mother could look forward to, something that could help give someone just one thing to do with their day.
If you know someone has had a baby then cook for them. Make double of what you are having for dinner, drop it on their door step and send them a text. Even better, put it in a dish that they can keep.
Organise a fuss free outdoor play group, a couple of blankets and maybe a craft if you feel up to it. No insurance, no fees, no frills. Just something to entertain children outdoors, while parents can get some much needed fresh air too.
If you have a friend who is expecting with not much support around her, invite people to put in money for some postnatal support from a doula. Mothers need to be mothered too.
Go and say hi to that mum alone in the corner of that loud church hall, invite her for a coffee after, make her feel welcome. I’ve been that mum who no one spoke to for an entire session, it doesn’t feel nice.
Share your knowledge in a non-judgemental way. If you know someone is struggling then pointing them in the direction of help - a lactation consultant, a group, an evidence-based site, a sling library - can be helpful. However, telling them that the only way to do x is to do y, can actually be incredibly alienating.
If you know of a free group that you like the ethos of - a sling library, breastfeeding group, church run play group - one that feels necessary and important in your local community, then please go when you can. More than likely that group relies on funding from a system that works on attendance.
Set up your own group. Don’t do this if you are sleep-deprived, don’t have the time, or feel it would add unnecessary pressure on you. But if you feel that it is needed in your community, that there is a huge gaping hole for lonely mothers to fall into, that you want to and can do, then maybe that’s a good solution.
Smile. Smile at that mother on the street with the over-tired toddler. Smile at the new mum in the corner of the cafe feeding her baby. And if you feel you can, offer some help. Even if they say no, you’ve connected, and that is important.