“It takes a village to raise a child.” -African Proverb
It’s a commonly repeated phrase. Some may even call it cliche, and at times I found it a bit archaic. As a first time mother, though, I found myself searching for communities who could help me with answers to the million and a half questions that come up over the course of having and raising a child, and for awhile I was afraid that, society being what it is today, I wouldn’t find what I was looking for in a mothering community.
I am privileged to belong to several very caring groups of local mothers on Facebook. I have turned to them for everything from breastfeeding encouragement to couponing advice, and I have yet to be disappointed in their responses to my questions. However, this being an online group with mostly online-based interactions, I never would have expected them to come to my aid in a truly physical way like they did last week.
On February 1st, I found myself in the back of an ambulance. It had recently snowed, and while the highway itself wasn’t bad, the shoulders and medians were still fairly slick. On my way home from a maternity photo session, I was merging from a side street onto the interstate. I wasn’t thinking much of the snow and ice. We were supposed to celebrate my birthday that night, which was belated after having two deaths in our family within a week of my actual birth date, and as I was turning onto the on-ramp, I was mentally going through my closet to try to decide what to wear to the festivities. As I accelerated in preparation to merge with the highway traffic, my tires hit a patch of ice. I tried to direct my car away from traffic, toward the shoulder, but the wheels didn’t obey. Instead, I swerved directly into the highway.
I slid across four lanes of traffic, finally coming to a stop in the far left lane, perpendicular to the oncoming traffic, which was traveling at about 65 miles per hour. It all happened so fast that I didn’t even see the vehicle coming toward me. I heard a horn–very loud, very close–and then there was a loud crash and the curtain air bag had exploded in my face. My body had collided with the driver’s side door–WHAM!–and suddenly I saw stars. My left shoulder and hip were in agony, and I couldn’t move my arm.
The next twenty minutes or so are a blur. I called Adam, got interrupted by a police officer wanting to take my information, and then called him back after the police officer left, this time in tears. A woman uninvolved in the wreck, but with an apparently big heart, had parked her SUV behind me to block traffic from hitting my small car. She handed me her information. I barely remember this happening. After a bit, the EMTs came and loaded me up onto the stretcher. I was having head and neck pain by this time, so they fitted me with a neck brace. Ever the photographer, I documented my view from the bed in the ambulance.
Not a particularly interesting view, I grant you. But I wanted to capture the moment. Everything was happening so fast, and I wanted to document what I could. Probably silly, but this is me. Clearly I wasn’t hurt too badly if I had the sense to want to remember the experience later. But I still couldn’t move my arm and was terrified that my shoulder was injured. How would I care for Charlie?
Fortunately, after snapping some x-rays of my hip and shoulder and doing a CT scan of my head and neck, it was determined that there were no major injuries. I was in pain, I had some serious whiplash, and I was told that it was only going to get worse before it got better, but nothing was broken or out of place. I went home relieved and armed with pain killers and muscle relaxers to get me through the beginning of the week.
About halfway through my hospital visit, I snapped a selfie of me lying in the hospital bed in a neck brace, and I Instagrammed it. Like I said, clearly not doing too bad if I was able to keep documenting things. (Although by this point, I was pretty loopy on Vicodin and Flexeril.) About an hour after it posted to Facebook, my friend Molly, who I knew from one of these Facebook mommy groups (Peaceful Parenting on the Prairie, which I highly encourage local moms to check out), left a message asking if I would need help with Charlie and if a meal train needed to be started for us.
Now, Molly had just had a baby. Like, just had a baby. She was three days postpartum. (I know this because I photographed her birth.) Unsurprisingly, she wasn’t offering to fix meals herself (nor should she have been expected to), but as the creator of this parenting group, she offered to organize the meal train and ask about it on the group’s Facebook wall. She got things organized through a site called Take Them a Meal (which would be a great way to organize a meal train for a newly post-partum mom, by the way). Several people signed up.
I’m not a bad cook, but with only one usable arm and a whole lotta opiates on board, the thought of me in front of a very hot surface was just sounding like an accident waiting to happen, so having these women who I barely knew (and some I didn’t know at all) offering to supply us with food for a few days to get us through was kind of a relief. We couldn’t afford to eat take-out for five days in a row.
Now, I have a lot of friends. (This is not me bragging, mind you. It comes from being extremely extroverted and unable to keep myself from talking to strangers, which on the outside seems like a great personality trait but in reality almost got me kidnapped once. We’ll save that story for another day.) I would say I’m really close to about five of them. Out of those five friends, one offered to bring us food and another told me to text her with whatever we needed. On the other hand, a group of almost-strangers was volunteering their time and money to make sure Adam and I were fed. I even had a couple people privately message me and offer to come help me with Charlie.
This isn’t to shame the other three of my close friends and ask them why they were being shitty friends. They all live in Kansas City, and I wouldn’t expect them to drive all the way to Lawrence just to bring me dinner. The point here is this: I realized I had, in fact, found my mothering village.
You’ve heard me talk about this before, the mothering village. It used to be a given, back in The Olden Days when we all lived in huts. Mothers would take turns watching all of the community’s children while their parents were off hunting, gathering food and supplies, or taking care of the other needs of the village. The practice of milk-sharing, which is still alive and well today, began in these groups. How many babies would not have survived if mothers didn’t share their ample milk with the children with mothers like me who could not, for whatever reason, adequately produce? Children were literally raised by the whole village. At some point, humanity stopped being a species where only the fittest survived, and became a population that took strength from cooperation and a sense of community. They shared, and consequently they thrived.
It may seem like today’s lightning-paced, technology-obsessed society makes the village mentality obsolete, but we are social creatures at heart, and as mothers–and as human beings in general–we need one another. We no longer live in multi-generational homes as a rule, so a lot of first time mothers may not have their own mother around all the time to help show her how to latch her baby onto her breast. Instead, we form groups like La Leche League and online forums like The Leaky Boob. We don’t have an agreement with our neighbors to take turns watching the children while we go to work at the hospitals, the restaurants, the law firms, or the grocery stores, so instead we post in our local groups or ask around on Twitter for child care recommendations. I have seen mothers reach out to one another across social media and through local communities for recommendations on marriage counselors and therapists to help treat post-partum depression. Our modern mothering villages are literally saving relationships and saving lives. And when someone gets t-boned on the highway, other moms are there to help keep the family fed and the babies cared for, whether they know you or not.
This accident opened my eyes in a big way to the way these interactions , both online and off, have replaced the mothering communities of old. We still need many of the same things–advice, encouragement, support, and fellowship. We just obtain them in a more modern way.
The mothering village is alive and well. It just looks a little different, that’s all.