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Thursday, October 29, 2009

Presentation: Supporting Mothers.

When the demands of motherhood get so great that we sometimes forget who we are ourselves we need to reach out and be available to other mothers looking for the same thing. There are many different ways to support other mothers, and sometimes when life gets so hectic and busy that we forget that we were once where the new mom is.

Can you remember it? That first time you felt like a mom? You may tell yourself that it was the first time you felt the baby kick, or the first time you heard your baby cry, or maybe you think it was just after your baby was placed on your chest. These are all legitimate moments to think of ones self as a mother. I can remember when I first felt like a mom, it wasn’t when I felt that first kick, heard the first cry, or even pushed that child out so fast that he caused my midwives to jump to! It was 3 days later.

My milk had not come in. I was wearing clothes that did not fit, too tight on the tops, too loose on the bottoms. I was on partial bedrest because of a tear. So I hadn’t showered, or really been able to do anything for myself. It was 4 in the morning and this little baby was crying. Now, some back story for you all to chuckle at. My son was planned to the day, let me tell you. It was the night of my 23rd birthday, and I was just finishing my 3rd year of university. I was a psychology major. I had been married for a year, and honestly felt like I had accomplished nothing. So I said to my husband that I wanted to do something I could be proud of, something that I was “good” at. I was “good” at children. I was a nanny, a sister to 3 younger siblings…so we decided to get pregnant. And we did. The next month. Of course I was so sure that I could “do” this baby thing that I still enrolled in my fourth year, fought through the morning sickness. (or all day sickness) and tried in vain to finish that year out and convocate, in April and have the baby in May. We had it all planned out nicely.

What do children teach us? That you have to be flexible. So needless to say, none of that happened. But, that is another story entirely.

So, back to the bathroom. I could “do” this. I was “good” at children. So why on earth was this baby crying and why on earth did I have no idea how to make him stop?!

And then it hit me. It hit me hard. So hard that I had to hold on to that little baby for dear life so that I wouldn’t drop him on the cold bathroom floor.

I became his mother.

I realized that this little baby, this little defenseless, fragile, teeny 7 lbs boy was completely reliant on me for his sole survival. That although he had a dad that was in the other room, and a grandma, and a granny, and countless others. I was his mother. I was the one where the buck stopped. I could at that moment, decide to step up and become his mother and tell myself that perhaps I didn’t actually “know” children as much as I thought I did, or I could go back to bed, give him to his daddy and give up. I decided to embrace this new role, with tears streaming down my face.

For I realized what this meant. I was responsible for him. I would sacrifice everything for him. I would be there through good and bad, through happy times, sad times, and even the best of the mad times. I would do my best for him and give my all to him. As I wept, and sobbed, I welcomed my new life and mourned the passing of my single womanhood.

My husband went back to work. My mother visited, but infrequently. The massive amounts of people who had once graced my door offering gifts and hugs and questions of “can I hold the baby” all died down to the sound of TLC on the television. I found myself increasingly alone. Even more so since my friends had all returned to university, or the ones who had graduated were no where near having children.

I felt lost. Bored when he slept, and haggard while he was awake. I started visiting online parenting groups and connected with one that had weekly playgroups on Thursdays in the basement of a church. I was to nervous to take the baby out by myself but reading other mothers comments and answers to questions made me feel better about my day.

This little contact that I had with other mothers was a turning point for me. I started looking for it. Waking the streets when I thought others would be out. Listening for the swings to start at a playground by my house and rushing out to see if I could catch that mom, or at least say hi.

I have to say that this was the lowest part for me. And I know of some women that got much lower than I. And all I can say, is thank goodness for outreach programs.

Things started to turn around when I started to attend a monthly breastfeeding support group. I started seeing moms on a monthy basis and we would meet for playdates as well. The online group that I was a part of started having playgroups in my community as well. I started getting out and meeting people. Talking about my problems, my frustrations, listening to other mothers talk about theirs, and building that sense of community.

As I started to get to know some of the mothers better I would call them, or email them just to chat. We would go out for breakfast as our children got older and were more likely to allow us that luxury. We would go for walks, go to the mall, library, zoo, science center, you name it.

But it wasn’t the outings themselves, it was that one on one. That mother to mother support. That acknowledgement that I wasn’t alone. That my child wasn’t the only one who liked to throw spaghetti in a ceiling fan, or run around all day in his underwear. That no one really knows what they are doing but we all pretend that we do. That we are all just trying to do the best for our kids in any way that we can.

That mother to mother support. Nothing is more important as a new mom than to find likeminded mothers that believe in some or most of the things that you do. That understand what you are talking about that can just lend a shoulder to cry on, and ear to listen to, or an encouraging, “you are doing great!”

In my line of business, and within the organizations that I volunteer for, I often get the question, “but where do I find these moms.” For some women it’s easy. They are extraverted they have friends that are going through pregnancy with them, they like to organize things and people generally find them. For others, like myself, it can be a tough climb.

I tell these moms that they need to be open to everyone, and that can be tough as a new mom as you are always trying to “fit” in to some group. It’s easy to judge eachother as the mommy wars rage supreme. Bottle vs. Breastfeeding, Crib vs. Co-Sleeping, Vaccines, Soothers, Parenting Styles, and these are just a few of the many, many, many things that mothers can judge eachother on. Discipline. That is a big one.

Regardless of judgment, I tell mothers that they must put themselves out there, and look for moms to talk to. Events like this one, where there is a common ground. Just to work up the courage to say hi. I tell moms that other mothers want them to say hi. That they are too shy themselves, or that they feel like their life may not be as interesting as it once was when business trips are replaced by diaper changes.

And we, the experienced mothers, we must remember what it was like to be that new mother. To take ourselves back to the time when we first realized that we were a mom, and remember what it felt like before we made our connections, our community. It is easy enough to forget as the children get older, or as we add more to our fray.

We have to make a conscious effort to embrace these new mothers. To listen attentively to their concerns, their questions and their suggestions. Although we ourselves may feel over worked, over whelmed and have issues that are well past the baby stage, we have to remember that these women are actively looking to find their place in the mommy world. That they have just recently gone through that life changing moment in the bathroom, and realized that they are that baby’s sole lifeline.

So, say hello. Congratulate that mother for nursing, or wearing her baby, or just getting out the house. Offer her suggestions for resources in the community. I always carry cards on my person with the contacts for some playgroups in the city and for city run resource centers.

She may not take your help, your suggestions or your friendship…but if she does, you will walk away knowing that you have made that woman’s life infinitely better just by being you.

And one day, she may end up, standing in a room, delivering a speech about how mother to mother support is the most important thing that she could have ever received. All while thinking about you, and the kind words that you imparted to her, when she was a new mom struggling in the fray.

I want to take this time for some of you to share your story of when you first realized that you were a mother. (or a father) and how you gain support.


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