Becoming a mother, is quite honestly the most humbling, grounding, growth inspiring process I have ever undergone. More than that, becoming a mother, awakened my heart. It awakened my heart in a way that nothing else probably ever could. I still remember the tidal wave of emotions that came over me as I held my first son (and my second!) after he was born. Looking into his eyes, gazing up at me, his tiny fingers grasping my mountainous hands in comparison to his. His fragility. His need for me. It was the most momentous ambush of love that I have ever experienced in my life. Pure Love.
And then, the following day there was also fear.
Why fear? Because I loved him so much. I loved him so much, and I was the humble caretaker of this little human who depended on me for everything for quite some time. This love, was so powerful, so awe inspiring, so much bigger than me, all I could do was surrender to it. And I cried, and cried, and cried out of deep motherly love for my son. He awakened my heart to unconditional love. To loving because I love. Because I love to love him. And I feared how much pain could be caused from loving so deeply because losing that love is the scariest thing in the Universe!
To be a mother for me, has been to feel, deeply. And to feel, means to heal. It means to grieve. It means to love so deep. It means feeling ALL OF IT.
Seeing all the terrible news stories all up in our news feeds these past few years (stories that have been going on a long time, they’re just more in our face) is tremendously hard to feel. And today, I heard a story of an infant falling off a bridge. My heart literally felt like it was going to crack at the pain of feeling what those parents must feel, and then feeling the fragility of life, that it could happen to anyone. I could barely muster feeling that. But I did. To feel the very real possibility of the pain of losing a child which can happen to anyone, we don’t ever know how life is going to go. These feelings are the hardest for me. Earlier this week I learned of the loss of a beautiful mother in our community. A beautiful, soulful, loving, compassionate, light beam. Her children and father left behind, to grieve, and pick up the pieces, and thankfully our community is holding them. Yet still the pain is real. The grief is real. The loss, is real. And that, could happen to any of us. These feelings, they hurt. They hurt so very deep. They burn.
Yet all I can do, is feel them, welcome them, and embrace that life, with an open heart, means feeling. It means pain. It means grief. It also means tremendous love. It means deep wells of compassion. It means your heart swelling because of the way your son looked at you tonight. It means twinkles in your heart when your son sings twinkle twinkle little star to you with all the joy in his heart because he knows all the words now. It means crying when you watch your favorite horseman riding to one of your newest favorite songs because it’s just beautiful to see man and horse as one. It means feeling gratitude for simple presence. It means feeling. This open heart, it’s scary stuff. I feel more now than ever, since I became a mother. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because the love-the love soothes the grief, and the pain that comes with living, and the inevitable suffering that comes with being human and having your knocks.
To be a mother, to me it’s to feel. It’s to be human.
It’s the greatest gift I’ve ever been given. It’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I wouldn’t change a thing. Not a darn thing. This love. It’s a gift. It’s a blessed gift.
So, I do my best. To feel it all. Even though there’s a lot of painful things happening around me (us). A lot of deep intense grief and pain. I do my best to feel it so I can respond to it if that is needed. Rather than shut down and want it to go away. So, I can respond to others who are suffering. And so, I can ask for help when I am. To feel, is to heal. It’s also to grieve. It’s also, to love. It’s all of it. I wouldn’t change it for anything.
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.
Today I had a baby sitter for a few hours for the first time in over a week because I was home sick taking care of sick kids. My husband is home now with said cold, and thus can be there if the babysitter has any questions. Yet still, it took me thirty minutes to get out of the house. I vowed to go and slowly groom my horse, spend time exercising her, and take her for a ride into the mountains to get some peace and quiet. Do you know how many times I thought about checking in on things? Too many.
I have learned after what took almost six years, that I must create time that is just for me in the name of peace of body mind and spirit. It doesn’t always happen, but sometimes it’s there, whereas in the past, I walked around with the burden of thinking I had to do everything.
This burden, this cage, was created by myself.
It is up to me, to create time and space for me.
I have learned, after many years of taking care of everything, that I set it up this way, and no one is going to help me unless I ask. Of course-there are friends-who show up-and recognize you’re overwhelmed. Of course, there is family who will see you need an extra hand. Yet still, the magnitude of what a mother (any mother) must think about whether she stays at home all day or balances work and home, is tremendous. She needs help.
To protect your peace, you must:
After my health challenge with adrenal issues and autoimmune issues, I realized enough is enough. I focused on my health, started letting childcare in, set up a babysitting swap with a friend, started having more dates with my husband, and began to create space for my peace. It may have only been a handful of hours a week, and that was enough to start-it was something. Soon I learned what I needed, I prioritized, I did the things I speak of above, and I recognized I was the best advocate for my wellbeing.
Protecting my peace is a lot of things for me. It means knowing the importance of me getting a break. It means listening to my heart and surrounding myself with people who are kind to it. I value my role as a mother, and remind myself daily the amount of energy I put out to take the best care I can of my children. I find healthy outlets if I’m feeling burnt out, and I do my best to get that energy out of my body.
Listen, no one is going to protect your peace for you. Life with kids is sometimes chaotic and intense. It can be tremendously draining. Not everyone has the resources for childcare, nannies, housecleaners etc., and I get that. However, the first step, is recognizing the importance of your peace. Even if it’s an hour in the morning before your child/children get up, or an hour at night, you must create a space for you, and protect it. Your children will benefit, your relationship will benefit, and mama, you’re worth it.
Mamas, if you would love help creating strategies to protect your peace in your day to day life, check out my one on one sessions that are designed to help you find more balance, harmony, and value in your role as mama.
©Michelle Peterson 2016
Imagine that we care for mothers like we would care for a tree that bears much fruit every single year, we value that fruit, we are nourished by that fruit, it sustains us, and we understand the importance of caring for it. This is how I envision us caring for our mothers.
Mothers give everything of themselves. It does not matter if it’s a stay at home mother, working mother, single mother, or a mix of the above and more-mothers give everything they can to their children. This goes on for the rest of their lives and yet for some reason we do not have a lot of awareness in our culture around the need for postpartum care for mothers of all shapes and sizes.
In my experience, the challenge I have found with mothers, when helping them set up and receive postpartum care is the resistance to asking for help.
Many women have been raised to believe, and taught by the lack of postpartum care in our culture, that we are to do it ourselves and that this is just how it is. The model of community care is something that has to be re-initiated in our communities, to help mothers get the care they need. In many other cultures, this model is inherent, it is understood that the postpartum window is a vulnerable time for the family, and there are practices in place to support the new mother and family.
The Seven Sisters Model is all about building community during a time of increasing isolation amongst our people. We all have different worldviews, perspectives, and ways of relating. The one thing we all share however is that we love our children. Asking for help is an empowering model for the future of our children. It lays the foundation for a stronger sense of social consciousness. Not only that, this model keeps on giving. In the heart of one who receives such unconditional help, flowers the seed of passing it on. Every family that I have shared this model with has passed it on in their community. Every single one.
There are three primary archetypes I have encountered when it comes to resisting this help.
Superwomen are a thing of our times, and I love them. I believe women can do it all and I also believe, they don’t have to. Asking for help during the postpartum window is like asking for helping building a foundation that will support yourself and your family for many years to come. I encourage people to see it as an investment in a healthy, balanced, future.
We also have she who feels unworthy. This is a big one, a common one, and a harder one I’ve found to work with as it’s often buried and runs deep. There are many women who do not feel it is ethical, or proper to ask people to stop their day for you. This is so common. After some digging, I often find that underneath that, is the fear of asking. The fear of being let down. The fear of no one showing up. You know what, I get it. I get that you don’t want to ask others to take time out of their day, and I get that not everyone can. The good news is, people won’t volunteer to help, unless they can. I have never seen anyone feel forced into helping someone in the postpartum. More importantly-you are worthy mother of this care. This is not just for you. This is for the child you are caring for. For your relationship so you actually have reserves to tend to it.
Lastly, we have she who does not know what to expect. No one knows how a woman's birth and postpartum journey is going to look. What I do know, is that there is a lot more to adjust to when a baby arrives than anyone can prepare you for, and you can however prepare yourself to have help set up in the event you need it-and trust me-a little help goes a long way. Know that having a little extra hands around while you adjust to a new body, a new being in your life and relationship, and a whole new world, is a healthy investment for yourself, your baby, and your family.
Mothers-Mothers to be-for people to be able to help you you have to be open to receiving that help. You are investing in not only yourself but your entire family.
The Seven Sisters Model was created with Mothers in heart and mind. It does not matter what kind of mother you are, this model can be adapted to anyone’s life style and needs to bring support into the postpartum period. We will all benefit from our mothers being better cared for and the health of not only our mothers but our community will reflect this care. Let us fill our mother's cups-the well from which we all drink.
©Michelle Peterson, Founder Seven Sisters Postpartum Program
Best Kept Secret for Postpartum Depression? Help at home: http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2014/06/best-kept-secret-for-postpartum-depression-help-at-home
How Other Cultures Prevent Postpartum Depression Social Structures that Protect New Mothers’ Mental Health: http://www.uppitysciencechick.com/how_other_cultures.pdf
How Many Women get PPD? The Statistics on Postpartum Depression: http://www.postpartumprogress.com/how-many-women-get-postpartum-depression-the-statistics-on-ppd
Postpartum: 4th Trimester: http://www.peggyomara.com/2014/01/07/postpartum4th-trimester/?fb_action_ids=477258032414326&fb_action_types=og.likes