Parenthood: It Takes a Village

By: Christine Kowaleski, DNP, MHNP-BC

It takes a villageYou’ve no doubt heard the expression “it takes a village,” made popular in our cultural lingo with the publishing in 1996 of It Takes a Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us, a book by then First Lady of the United States Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The notion of it takes a village did not originate with Mrs. Clinton, but, rather, it is an African proverb that means an entire community of people must interact with children for those children to experience and grow in a safe and healthy environment.

No matter what your political affiliation, both sides of the aisle can agree that everyone across our nation wants the best for our children, their parents and families.

Healthy Babies Need Healthy Families
At Crouse Hospital, 4,000 babies are delivered each year in the safe and healthy atmosphere of our Kienzle Family Maternity Center. With more births than any other local hospital, and home to the Baker Regional Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Crouse leads the region in best practices for maternal-infant care.

Part of our care for mothers, fathers and the family unit includes raising awareness about and treating Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs), which are the number one obstetrical complications affecting one in five women. Consider this staggering statistic: PMADs are the number one cause for maternal mortality in the first postpartum year.

We know these statistics yet, still, the stigma felt by mothers struggling with PMADs continues to produce shame and guilt in the new mother.

Although there are screening tools to identify “at risk women,” new mothers are stunned by the postpartum emotional experience. Historically, the mother’s family, particularly the grandmother, gathered around a new birth in support of the mother, allowing her to rest and be nurtured herself. Today, many grandmothers are still working and new mothers may live far away from their own biological family by the time they have their own children.

The Royal Family introduce new baby

Photo credit: Chris Allerton

Royal Household vs. Village-less Isolation
Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, for example, was fortunate to have her mother, Doria Ragland, be able to travel from the U.S. to the U.K. to be at her side for the birth of her first child. On May 6, when royal son, Archie, was born to Megan and Prince Harry, the new family was enveloped by a proud grandmother, doting great-grandparents and millions of well-wishers across the globe.

Yet many mothers-to-be and new families aren’t always so lucky to have parents and close relatives nearby. A lack of support can leave a postpartum woman feeling alone and isolated, even if she has friends. She doesn’t believe anyone else could feel what she is experiencing, such as struggles with breastfeeding, depression, anxiety and scary thoughts. She feels guilty and is too ashamed to share her feelings.

Recently Beth Berry, a writer and life coach, posted what she sees as an injustice to mothers in her moving statement of affirmation and advocacy on Berry writes,

“It takes a village, but there are no villages.

By village I don’t simply mean “a group of houses and associated buildings, larger than a hamlet and smaller than a town, situated in a rural area.” I’m referring to the way of life inherent to relatively small, relatively contained multigenerational communities. Communities within which individuals know one another well, share the joys, burdens, and sorrows of everyday life, nurture one another in times of need, mind the well-being of each other’s ever-roaming children and increasingly dependent elderly, and feel fed by their clearly essential contribution to the group that securely holds them.

I’m talking about the most natural environment for children to grow up in.

I’m talking about a way of life we are biologically wired for, but that is nearly impossible to find in developed nations.

I’m talking about the primary unmet need driving the frustration that most every village-less mother is feeling. Though the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child” has become cliché, the impact of our village-less realities is anything but insignificant. It’s wreaking havoc on our quality of life in countless ways.”

Crouse Family Village
We agree with Beth Berry’s view, which is why we’ve created a village for the perimatal family at Crouse Health. Our Family Support Program offers counseling, medication management and support groups for pregnant and postpartum mothers and their families.

To date more than five hundred families have utilized the services offered, and many mothers return to the Crouse Family Support Groups when they have more children. Surrounded by empathic care providers and the mutual encouragement from other moms and dads experiencing similar thoughts and feelings, they find the village they need at a most important time in their lives.

In her article, Berry sets forth a number of tangible steps, which I encourage you to look over. She begins with two important statements: “The fact that you’re struggling is not a reflection of your inadequacies, but the unnatural cultural circumstances you’re living within,” referring to the lack of villages our ancestors enjoyed being part of.

Honor Your Needs
She also encourages new moms to “own and honor your needs.” Berry explains that “most mothers are walking around with several deeply unmet needs of their own while focusing almost exclusively on the needs of others. This is precisely the thing that keeps us from gaining traction and improving our circumstances, both individually and collectively.”

If you’re a mom or dad struggling with the overwhelming demands of a new addition, please consider becoming a part of the Crouse Family Support Program — for a week or as long as you may need.

As Berry suggests, “Practice showing up bravely and authentically and asking for what you need, whether that’s support, resources or encouragement.”

>Learn more about the free Crouse Perinatal Family Support Program
>Join us at Marching for Mothers

Christine Kowaleski, DNP, MHNP-BC specializes in Reproductive Psychiatry. She is a member of the faculty of the Pomeroy College of Nursing at Crouse Hospital.

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