We’ve all heard the phrase: “It takes a village to raise a child.” Every parent, at some point I’m sure, has agreed with that statement on a very profound level. Yet here in America, we still persist in a culture that insists we raise our children independently. The lack of support
some too many new parents encounter in this country is astonishing and, quite frankly, depressing to think about.
However, this is not a post about what is wrong with the state of the world we live in. This is a post about something done right. Around here, there is an awesome little organization called Program for Early Parenting Support, commonly called PEPS. EVERY CITY IN AMERICA SHOULD HAVE THIS PROGRAM. You sign up while pregnant, pay a fee and get matched with a dozen parents that are also expecting their first child. All of you will give birth within the same 2-ish month window and you will all live within a couple miles of each other. Starting about the time your babies are 6-12 weeks old you will all meet as a group once a week, along with a volunteer mentor who guides the meetings. You talk about things like breastfeeding, how to get your baby to sleep, postpartum depression, how and when and what to feed baby. You may have “specialists” come to your meetings to teach you things like infant massage or baby sign language. You share your weekly highs and lows. There’s a lot of really great education for new parents that happens in PEPS, which was why I signed up for it. However, the learning isn’t what makes this program so incredible, so essential for new parents. What it all really boils down to is the level of support.
I didn’t realize how badly I was doing for the first four months or so after Zoey was born until many months later. In fact, it wasn’t until after Eleanor was born (by a very successful VBAC) and I had something to compare it to that I really realized the extent to which I had been affected by PTSD following Zoey’s c-section delivery. One moment in particular stands out in my mind: Zoey was about six weeks old or so and I had never – not once – been away from her for more than the amount of time it took to take a shower while Zach took care of her in a room ten feet away. On that particular day Zach was trying to convince me to leave the house – even just for half an hour – to run to the grocery store and just get away from the baby for a change. He knew something was wrong and was trying to give me the push he thought I needed to help me. You guys, I lost it. Completely. I broke down in hysterics, sobbing and clinging to Zoey, and telling him “I can’t do it. I’m not ready.” Then, THEN. I actually refused to go upstairs and take a quick shower while Zach watched Zoey because I was convinced that he would take her and leave the house “for my own good” while I was in the shower and couldn’t stop him. Even when he promised me – explicitly – that he would not do that to me, I didn’t trust him. This was my husband. Zoey’s father. And I couldn’t leave her alone even with him, even for ten minutes. I was that messed up.
So. Clearly I was in need of some kind of serious help. Enter PEPS, stage left. Our group started meeting when Zoey was about eight or nine weeks old. There were several things that shocked me right off the bat, the first of which was how small Zoey was. She was one of the oldest of the thirteen babies in our group (twelve mamas, one set of twins) but by far on of the smallest. Smaller even than one of the babies that had been born prematurely. The second, and biggest, shock came when we shared our birth stories (talk about an ice breaker, huh?). I was the only mom there who’d had a c-section. I had thought for sure that with a cesarean rate of over 30% there would be at least one other mom who knew what I had been through. After that first meeting I went home feeling intense jealousy for all these other moms who got to have great birth experiences (note: they were NOT all great. Some were far from it, but at the time I couldn’t see past my own pain to perceive theirs). For some reason (probably because I’d shelled out over $100 to join the program) I continued to go to the meetings every week. I was probably one of the least supportive people there – constantly rattling off sentences that started with things like “well all the latest research show that the best thing to do is…” and acting as if I somehow knew everything about babies and being a mom. Me. The person who had never changed a single baby diaper before Zoey was three days old. The person who had probably spent less than ten hours around babies in my entire life. I knew nothing about babies.
Here’s the thing: week after week I kept going to meetings. It was the one thing each week that forced me to get up, get Zoey and myself out of the house and interacting with other people. And week after week these other moms continued to talk to me. And support me. And help me. It didn’t matter if we hadn’t showered, if the only clothes that fit were baggy maternity tops and sweat pants. We took turns hosting in our homes and it didn’t matter if there were enormous piles of dirty dishes in the kitchen and dust bunnies big enough to hide Easter baskets in the corners. We were there for each other and for ourselves. After the first twelve weeks, our volunteer mentors said “goodbye and keep in touch” and we were on our own. Our babies are now two and a half years old and many of us have had (or are soon to have) a second baby, and we still meet. Every week. Not all of us, but many. We also have monthly “mom’s nights out.” We trade baby clothes, recipes, toys, and stories. We call each other for support. Many, many times these other mamas have helped me out by watching Zoey when I was keeling over with morning sickness or had to go to a doctor appointment. These other moms are my village. When I was dealing with the confusing feelings of being a mom and no longer pregnant yet never having “given birth” they were there to reiterate that my birth experience was just as valid as anyone else’s. They get me through every day. It was because of them that I was able to shake free from the mental breakdown I was in after Zoey’s birth and have the courage to fight for the VBAC I so desperately wanted. They cheered me on every step of the way. I cannot imagine being a new and clueless mom without the support of these amazing women.
Monica, Petrina, Laurel, Shanon, Marloes, Maryanne, Nan, Lorraine, Niamh, Alison and Jill – I love you all. You are the best, most patient, loving and wonderful mamas and friends. Thanks for being my village.