Days before one of my dearest friends went into labor I found myself longing to be by her side as she entered that divine time of stillness — somewhere in between knowing that the life you once lived is all but gone and holding out hope motherhood will somehow fit.
She and I don't live in the same city, let own same state. My heart ached to not be by her side. As a new mother myself I wanted to not only help her cross that threshold but to also welcome her and her baby back into the fold, to receive their arrival, and hear about their journey.
Many of us live our lives like this. Estranged. Apart. Away from the center of it all. In my twenties, this seemed fine, actually necessary for my growth into an adult where much of my focus was directed toward cultivating an inner well of self trust and self love that Jungian analyst Marion Woodman and international counselor Sheryl Paul speak about. Community was the furthest thing from my mind.
But now that my husband and I have a family of our own, there has been an emptiness, really a loneliness, that has occupied our days. I have longed to sit by a community well, to be present in the companionship of others as I voyage into motherhood. Ultimately I would find my "village" with the help of two well-connected doulas and a breastfeeding support group, but it takes a lot of work to find the right channels of support, and unfortunately mothers so rarely have access to these services, let alone the energy or time to craft their communities.
Culturally we also don't encourage connecting in this way, sitting together, amongst each other to whisper the truths of this life-changing rite of passage. No, we are conditioned to get on with our lives. We are back to work within weeks, and maybe we sit side-by-side watching our children play, noting here and there, yup it's hard, or my god I'm exhausted. But we rarely drop in, stay long enough to get to the heart of the matter: Motherhood, it changes us. And with that, our emotional lives are rich. In a single day I can go from feeling pure joy to immense grief. To hold it by myself feels like a lonely struggle when it shouldn't be.
In the presence of other mothers I want to ask, why does it have to be this hard?
Often I’m met with (and find myself doing, too) the small talk that centers around developmental milestones or parenting choices. What has us afraid to talk about our pain or even our joy?
I'll argue that it's not just a single reason. But for the purpose of writing today, I'll suggest one of them is because we don't have the proper containers to set up safe and supportive spaces and conversations that expand the levees of our hearts to unleash what sits behind.
A safe container looks a lot like the willingness to be vulnerable with one another, to drop into whatever feeling is arising and offering it to another asking, what about you?
The heart loves company. It loves to know it is not alone over the guilt you feel toward doing any of this right or the grief that arises knowing family leave is days from ending. It also delights in sharing the joy of watching your child roll over or how she just learned to say mama, over and over again.
Notice an opening? The way in which you tear up over these moments. This is your heart opening, expanding, radiating out, saying "this hurts” or “I am so touched.” We aren't supposed to have these feelings alone. We are supposed to share our inner experiences, to have others meet and hold them.
This is what we call community.
As we often don’t have a framework or language for how to connect, we find ourselves shutting down, walling off, and the flow of emotion is siphoned: A breeding ground for loneliness, fear, and judgment. I believe this is one of the reasons why we feel pitted against one another over the choices we make as parents, which further entrenches us into isolation. We aren’t encouraging our hearts to open.
Because what if I really knew how hard it was for you to not be able to get your baby to latch in those early days of nursing, and so you painfully had to make the choice to pump and bottle feed or introduce formula? The tears you shed, the grief that stormed your heart, the fear and panic you felt over the primal need to feed your baby.
When I hear your story, I've forgotten all together about the choice you made, but rather, I'm connected to your heart, and in turn mine. I see you. I hear you. I'm inspired to do the same.
The poet Mary Oliver wrote, "Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine."
Come, let's do just this. Let's sit by the well together.