One of the biggest challenges that I have experienced so far in my postpartum world is a lack of “community”. Anymore, families in the US are not brought up with multiple generations under one roof. Many families members, even of just one generation, often live scattered around the country (or across the world, in some cases). That old saying “it takes a village to raise a child” is completely valid. I have been raised in a society where there is an alarming lack of cumulative wisdom and sharing of birth/child rearing experiences, and that has had an unfortunate impact on my experiences as a mother so far. To further push the point, for those women who are lucky enough to have been raised in an extended family, there is still a certain sense of taboo surrounding the real, hard discussions about many issues encountered in these processes. This leaves many women – myself included – with a feeling of isolation. It makes many of us feel that our worlds have been completely flipped upside-down when we become pregnant and again when our babies are born, because we do not have a real-life knowledge base to compare our own experiences to. It makes us feel as though many of the very normal, natural things that we are experiencing are unique to us, which in turn makes us hesitant to share with others and further perpetuates the problem. I feel lucky in that I do have an incredible mother who has been 100% supportive and nurturing during my pregnancy and motherhood journey so far, but I also feel blessed that I recognized the lack of a larger knowledge-base to support my own experiences early-on, and was adamant about finding ways to create this sense of community for myself.
Being an active social media user, I first turned to the internet. Early in my pregnancy, before making the news public, I found myself on google searching for every idle thought and fear that flitted through my mind.
“Can I eat lunch meat while pregnant?” “If I don’t have morning sickness, does that mean that I’m not pregnant?” “When will I start to feel pregnant?” “Percentage of pregnancy ending in miscarriage” “How to tell if I’m pregnant with a boy or a girl” “Cute ideas to tell parents that I am pregnant”
It was truly out of hand. As I spent more and more time on google, I soon realized that it was fairly easy to skew the search results based on the way that I phrased the question. I found myself thinking “Wouldn’t it be great to compare my experiences with other ladies who are going through the same things at the same time or who have gone through this before?” I eventually found myself in a facebook group of about 600 other women across the world who had apparently arrived at the same conclusion that I had- we needed to create our own community. For whatever reason we all had this need. For me, I know, it had a lot to do with this: In my immediate family on one side, I was the most recent baby born (25 years ago!) and on the other side of the family, there had been 2 second cousins born, but they lived on the other side of the country. The information regarding their gestations and upbringing did not feel accessible to me. In addition, I was the first of our close friends in the area to get pregnant. I felt as if I did not have a peer group. The women of this new facebook group were all due around the same time that I was. Some were first time moms like me, others had one or multiple other children as well. I truly believe that the best thing that I could have done for myself early in the pregnancy was join this group. These women allowed me to ask the candid questions that I needed answered so badly, all while hiding behind the safety of my keyboard. They did not judge or laugh at me. They shared in my excitement and in my misery. The group dwindled down in size over the 10 months of my pregnancy, with some women unfortunately losing their babies early, some women just choosing that it was not an outlet that they needed any longer, and some women being kindly asked to leave because of passing unfair judgement or just being outright rude. By the end of my pregnancy, there was a solid group of about 50 women or so, who were (and to this day, still are) women who I consider my friends. We have shared in each others’ joy and sorrow, we have all asked “stupid” questions, and we have all shared our input on our fair share of “TMI” questions that you would only ask a close group of girlfriends who have their own experiences to base an opinion off of. We are all honest about our experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – so that we can collectively grow and learn from them.
After Little Man’s arrival, I also started to recognize the need to get out of the house and find other local women who were in the same place in their lives that I was. Much to my delight, I was able to join a “Mom & Baby Meetup” through the Doula group that I used to help aid in my son’s birth. Since joining, I have been blown away by the impact that these women have had on me as a woman and mother. The first time that we met, I remember being taken aback upon realizing that I could stay seated right where I was and breastfeed my beautiful baby boy uncovered, all while speaking candidly and honestly with these remarkable women. It was freeing. I remember feeling warm and fuzzy inside as we shared our birth stories. I remember genuinely choking up when I realized that, though our birth experiences and journeys to motherhood were all so different, we were all going through the same trials. I remember the relief that I felt when I realized that other new moms were having the same challenges that I was every day.
Whenever I am feeling like navigating postpartum life is near impossible, I just take out my phone and call/text/facebook any of my beautiful, strong-willed mommy friends for reassurance and validation. I am eternally grateful to these communities for helping me keep perspective and remember that I am not on this journey alone.
On a daily basis, I am forced to participate in a society that places very little value on the relationship between a mother and her young infant, but I find solace in the fact that I am doing my part to help reverse the vicious cycle. I want there to be an overwhelming support and sense of community for my friends as they begin their journeys into motherhood. I want them to have the option to use it to their advantage or to go about it on their own. I have vowed to my girlfriends that, as the pioneer mother among us, I will candidly share any/all aspects of my pregnancy, labor, and child-rearing experiences with them if they want to hear it. I want their pregnancies to come ready-made with the sense of warmth, support, and inclusion that I had to seek out.