Let me paint a scene for you. It's a small cafe' in a beautiful little tourist town. The best coffee and pastries. Beautiful, quaint, rustic atmosphere. The smell of spring in the air. Tourists and locals alike gather in the patio sipping their delicious drinks and chatting amongst the rumbling of the waterfalls and chirping birds.
A new mother arrives to the cafe with her 3-month-old baby in a sling, and her 3-year-old toddler bumbling happily next to her with his favorite truck in his grasp. His hands reach daringly for the toddler level candy as he walks past the counter, down goes the truck on the floor, racing across the cafe. His mother gently takes the candy from his hands, bending ever so slowly while holding her baby in the carrier and places the candy on the shelf, and then collects the truck. People stare at her while she handles the task of wearing and holding a baby, putting the candy bar down, gathering the truck from across the floor, and moving her toddler away from the colorful treats tempting his Crayola colored fingers.
So, it begins. Her toddler begins to wail at the loss of his once acquired candy bar. He wails and he wails, mourning his treasure now no more. His mother sighs, and tries to redirect him while managing a baby. She can't gather him up without dropping the truck on the ground, and nearly throwing her back out in the process. People continue to stare. Some get annoyed at the screams because it is tainting their ambiance at their sweet cafe get away. Her toddler throws himself again down to the floor limp. The mother feels the heavy stares on her. People glare, some curious, some concerned, some annoyed. All she can feel is the overwhelming weight of those who feel inconvenienced by her toddler's trial. She pulls him gently, to a corner of the cafe to help him gather himself, feeling the pressure of her own stress and feels the only thing to do is leave. She gets her tea and pastries to go, and heads hurriedly back to her car and then to her home. The home where she spends her days, tending to these beautiful children, often alone.
This scene is very real for a lot of mothers.
This mother clearly needed help, yet all these people, some of which who are probably mothers, couldn't find it within themselves to lend a hand. Lending a hand may have been exercising compassion. Asking if she needed help. Softening their gaze and not putting pressure on her to 'quiet her child'. It is not just on our mother's shoulders to get them the postpartum care they need, it is too on our shoulders as a society. Society is not easy on our mothers. If mothers feel judged, shamed, or even worse like they are a burden, they will not go out to public places. They will limit the places they go. They will feel like a burden upon society with their 'noisy children'.
Society does not always consider our mothers. We fawn over babies, we adore their sweet faces, and their whimsical chirps, but how often do we look up into the eyes of the mother, and ask her "How are you?". Often the dialogue goes right back to the baby;” How is the baby sleeping?" "Is he talking yet?" Even worse, the dialogue becomes giving unsolicited advice to the mother, which unbeknownst to the giver of advice, may color her whole day and make her question herself as a mother. This is especially true for new mothers. How often do we point out her successes? What an incredible woman she is to just show up as woman who is in service to the needs of others most of her day if not all. I believe in some circles this is called seva; selfless service. "In Sikhism, seva refers to selfless service for altruistic purposes on behalf of, and for the betterment of a Community."1
One day I went into the grocery store, and there are a few people there who I dialogue with during check out that see me weekly. Often with children. They've watched me chase toddlers through the aisles, and navigate tantrums. They've watched as my children have grown and learned to say hello to them. They've watched me be a mother. One day, one of the women, who I had seen weekly for years, was getting ready to leave the store for good and was moving. She told me this briefly and then turned to me, while I played with my toddler who was having a lovely morning, and said "You are just so awesome. You are such an incredible mother". I looked into her eyes, and saw that she meant it, and she was acknowledging all of it, not just this day. I felt it, and it touched me in a very deep place. I realized then, I needed to hear it. In that moment, she was demonstrating community caring. It was a beautiful moment of someone simply acknowledging me.
Mothers feel isolated enough as it is. It is up to us as a community to make the world a more supportive environment for them.
Here are a few tips on how we, as a community, can be gentler to our mothers:
Keep the dirty looks to yourself. When you give a mother a dirty look while she is struggling with her child, if she sees it, often times she feels shamed and pressured. There's nothing to be gained in this exchange. There is only loss. In most cases, she’s doing the very best she can and is well aware of how this may be affecting others. Demonstrate compassion. It goes much further and yields solutions rather than pushing the mother towards isolation.
The next time you hear a frustrated child who is perhaps irritating you. Take a moment to feel that you very well may have been that child once in your life. (probably many other times). Again, be kind. Have compassion.
Please refrain from often well-intentioned but still unsolicited advice and potentially making mothers question their choices and their ability to MOTHER THEIR OWN CHILD. If it is invited advice, well then go for it with grace.
Make it not about you for a moment, and think about what they might need (remember they are in service often all day to little ones).
If you see them struggling, ask them if they need help. Lend a hand.
Acknowledge them. Listen to them.
Look them in the eye and don't just focus on their children.
Many people circulate stories on Facebook about one person helping another, and they are moved by the story. Perhaps there’s a story about a suffering mom, and how a stranger saw fit to help her out. Remember that we do not know what anyone else is struggling with. If you need a little help finding compassion for a mother, remind yourself, she could be that mother, sitting in the dark at home battling postpartum depression. Give her some sunshine. Be kind.
It is on our shoulders as a society, to take better care of our mothers. Our postpartum depression rates, and the even darker sides of postpartum illness illustrate this. In the dark, many mothers suffer. They feel alone. They feel overwhelmed. They feel judged. They don't feel safe in society or supported. They feel left out.
Take a moment to think about how you can support mothers in your community. This is community caring. We are innately wired to help people in times of distress. Look at how people come together when there is a need. It's been demonstrated repeatedly throughout these intense years we are living in.
THERE IS A NEED and it's our mothers. It is not just on the shoulders of mothers to create a supportive postpartum window it is also on ours.
©Michelle Peterson 2017
If you would love to learn more about the Community Care Model of Postpartum support, check out our Seven Sisters Trainings.