Recently I came down with not one, but two bouts of mastitis, which left me feeling quite overwhelmed. In my case, the mastitis was an indication that I was doing too much. Between the pain and the fever, I wondered how I would manage to get the much-needed rest that I required in order to heal and recover properly. Somehow I did manage to get some rest during baby M’s nap times, as well as some help from my faithful friend Sarah, and a few other friends and family members. During this time however, I longed for either my mother or a close friend to come and stay with me for a duration of time during the recovery period. Essentially, I the mother, needed to be mothered. I shed light on these recent events not to elicit pity, but rather to raise questions and open a dialogue: is our current support structure for mothers adequate enough?
Support is essential as a [new] mother, and I have been blessed to have good friends and family members who have helped me a quite a bit, especially during the first six months. As the months have moved forward though, I have noticed that my support system seems to be dwindling. Extra help does not come as readily, as many friend’s and family member’s lead busy and sometimes complex lives. Now that baby M is almost a year old, people generally think that I need less help, which for the most part is true expect for when he is teething. This is when I require the most support! I have observed for myself and other mothers that much-needed help mostly occurs during an illness or a crisis, but why not before then? We, as a society would be wise to take the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” to heart.
The fact is, our society is not set up to help new mothers, let alone the mother in general. There seems to be a huge gap in how we support and care for the mother. There are a few factors that contribute to this lack of support, one being geography, but the main factor is our individualistic mentality.
When a mother is preparing for a birth for example, she must ensure that she has a specific support team in place, otherwise she may not have someone to help her with additional duties such as: laundry, cooking meals and washing dishes. Usually this additional work falls on the shoulders of the husband or partner (if a close family member such as the mother is not available to help for whatever reason), but this should be a time for both parents to bond with the new baby. And in the case of the single mother, like myself, a support system is even more critical as there is no husband or partner to take on the additional work. Caring for a new mother, in order that she may focus on her newborn and herself should be the norm, but in many cases is not.
Even before I became overwhelmed by mastitis, I was thinking about ideas around community and mothering the mother. It is, in my opinion not enough to simply offer programs and classes on support (although perhaps a good start), there needs to be an actual change in the fabric of our society and the way we think and do things. If anything, how we choose to spend our time and what activities we choose to prioritize need to be taken into consideration, as well as mending the generational gap. The real change needs to begin in our minds and hearts. At the end of the day, it is important to remember that whether a mother is new or seasoned, she needs to be nurtured at whatever stage of motherhood she is at.
*If you would like to read more on the idea of mothering the mother I have included the following resources: “Mothering the New Mother” by Sally Placksin and also a blog post written by Svea Bodya-Vikander entitled “Mothering the Mothering: 40 Days of Rest” published at the Birth without Fear blog.
**Here is an excellent resource on mastitis and plugged ducts by Kellymom and of course, never hesitate to call your local Le Leche League chapter.