During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman’s life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, “Now what?”
I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)
Now what? I thought. The quote “It takes a village to raise a child” suddenly started to hit home, literally.
After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn’t feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn’t live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for “mommy and me” classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.
It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don’t know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.
My mother and father grew up in “the village.” Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.
When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other’s village.
The younger me didn’t realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.
It hasn’t been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn’t truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.
Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.
In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don’t need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.
Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can’t get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can’t get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son’s fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an “I’m here if you need to talk.”
I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She’s a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.
It may not look like the one I’d imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.