It takes a village to raise a child…
Is probably the most misleading phrase in the world of parenting. Not because it isn’t true, it very well is, but because the conventional wisdom suggests that it’s your baby that needs the village. What was once a proverb has now become cliché.
The village is for you.
It takes only nine short months to build an entirely new human from scratch. But what often gets overlooked is that becoming a mother is a delicate, complicated gestation in and of itself. It is a painstaking process that, unlike your pregnancy and delivery, won’t draw to a climactic close with the tangible fruit of your labour (pun intended). It began when you first saw those two blue lines, or heard her heartbeat for the first time. It began when you conceived, and the truth is, your own transformation doesn’t have a due date because from this moment, you will forever been in a constant state of development. Oh! but you will be just as new, vulnerable and precious as the baby sleeping in your arms.
You are a new creation.
And like your baby you need a body for survival. By this I mean multiple parts of whole coming together, cohesively, to deliver the nutrients you need to thrive in this new stage of evolution. You need a tribe. You need a village. Becoming a mother is a lot to unpack physically, emotionally and spiritually. In a way, having a baby is really two births and a bereavement. It’s the birth of your child; this tiny, perfect, beautiful reflection of you and the person you love. It’s the birth of the new you; a mother, provider, protector and lifelong worrier. And it’s the death of who you once were. You will never be that girl again. And that is both distressing and thrilling. It is painful and gratifying.
The early days will challenge you physically in ways you couldn’t possibly have prepared for. There will be days you feel like you are navigating an alternate universe with a broken compass. This disorder in your life will be punctuated with confounding exhaustion. But you probably expected to be tired. You may have even expected to be overwhelmed at times.
But you probably didn’t expect to look in the mirror and not recognize your body. Or that the rush of hormones would leave you feeling weak and volatile. Maybe you didn’t realize that even a textbook delivery still injures your body. Did you anticipate how monumental simple tasks would become? Like washing the dishes, doing the laundry, going up and down stairs… siting down on the couch without an inflatable ring like a regular person? Did you realize that at a certain point of sleep deprivation you may actually become a danger to your child and yourself? Or maybe you assumed that Post-Partum Depression is something that happens to other women, but not you; but then it happened to you. Did you foresee the nature of your relationship with your partner shifting? Sometimes that’s a good thing, but for some people it can be devastating. How do you know where your relationship will end up?
When you become a new mother you need a village to keep you grounded; to keep you tethered to who you are. You need all hands on deck to ensure that you don’t lose yourself in the process of giving every ounce of yourself back to this tiny human.
You will need someone to look at you when you can’t look at yourself in the mirror and say, “your body is more beautiful to me now than it ever has been because it made us a family.” It did. Your body made a beautiful gift and it will never be the same again. You need someone to remind you that your value is more than the sum of your parts.
That person was my husband.
You will need someone to take your hands in theirs, look you in the eyes and say, “I know you love your baby. But there might be a few days, or a few weeks that you may feel overcome with sadness and need a good hard cry. That’s normal, and it’s ok. It doesn’t mean you don’t love him.”
That person was my mom.
You will need someone, at some point, to drop what they’re doing and throw you a lifeline. At some point you will need someone to feed, rock and sooth your baby so you can sleep. You will need someone who will insist on babysitting so that you can actually go on a date with your husband.
That person was my sister.
You will need someone to remind you that everything is going to be OK. That you are safe, protected and stronger than you give yourself credit for; that you are loved unconditionally.
That person was my dad.
You will need someone to tell your secret thoughts too. The one’s you fight back with muffled sobs in the shower. The thoughts that keep you awake at night with guilt. You will need someone to vent to when you’re covered in spit up and haven’t brushed your teeth in 3 days. Someone who won’t judge you for wanting to sell your baby on Etsy.
This was more than one person. These were my best friends near and far.
In the beginning I felt like admitting that I needed help meant that I was doing something wrong. Somewhere along the line I was failing as mother. Facebook and Pinterest were stark reminders that perfect moms were all around me. And they were balancing family, careers and gym sessions with style and aplomb. I could barely balance my baby while breastfeeding.
It took almost a year to finally realize I wasn’t designed to do this alone. I wasn’t an island before I had a baby, and I certainly wasn’t one now. I needed support and encouragement now more than ever. Even after I finally settled into a comfortable rhythm with my baby, I still needed help navigating the new person I was becoming. I needed, and still need, a community of people for reassurance, advice, support and respite. I am fortunate enough that my village is also my family. This is a profound privilege that is not lost on me. I am thankful every day for those blessings in my life.
But, there are so many moms out there who don’t have a village. They are waking up every morning to an uphill climb. They are weary and their backpacks are heavy - but not with resources. Their days are long, tedious and more exhausting than I will ever know. Somehow they are doing it.
They still need a village.
You are all your baby will ever need. Your body was designed to create life and sustain it. But you were not created to be alone. And so, you were not created to go through this alone either.