Hot take: No one wealthier, stronger or more powerful is coming to save us. It's up to us to show up for each other.
One of my best friends just had a baby. She's the first really close person to me to do so, and it was the most exciting experience to watch her throughout the entire process. From the moment she told me at six weeks, to the first time I got to hold him at ten days, she's done the most incredible job moving through the journey of becoming a mother. I've been most impressed by how easily she's taken just about every aspect of the change in stride - no major health setbacks or upsets during pregnancy, generally easy labor, and in the first month of her son's life, she's been handling the lack of sleep and constant maintenance like a goddess. I genuinely don't how how she's done it all.
I don't know if she feels this way and I hope it's not the case, but as her due date crept closer, I began to fear for her the reality that so often happens once people become mothers and parents: friends stop coming around. I remember watching "16 and Pregnant" when I was younger and feeling horrible for those girls who couldn't go to prom because they couldn't find a sitter, or somehow even worse, they had no one to go with anymore. Their old friends abandoned them. I really, really didn't want to be that kind of friend. But no matter our age, it seems that way too often, as soon as we find ourselves in the role of full-time caretaker - whether it's caring for a newborn, our aging parents, or even our own bodies - our circles grow more distant. They say "it takes a village" mainly to discuss motherhood, and while that is absolutely a part of the story, it's not everything.
Where is the village? When we need all the help and support we can get, where is it? Why do so many people leave at the most critical time?
And, most importantly, what can we do as individuals to minimize the damage for our friends in need?
It would be a dream scenario to live in a place someday, once I decide to become a mother, where other parents are living with similar intentions. They want their children raised as I want mine to be - immersed in the outdoors, learning through their senses with natural stimuli, very little screen time, room to roam, people to play with and guide and nurture them every step of the way, and adults around who are responsibly taking on the task of facilitating such a sacred environment. Mothers would not have to return to work six weeks postpartum if they didn't want to or feel obligated to. They could take as much time as they deem necessary to spend their first days with baby soaking up the sunshine, taking walks, bonding with each other and with Earth. And if they did want a break - if they did want to return to work or take a few days away with friends - there would always be a reliable person to step in and care for baby in their absence. We would not have to weigh the cost benefits of whether to stay home or pay for ridiculously expensive childcare. But of course, and unfortunately, this is a dream scenario. Extremely difficult to find or maintain.
I believe our ability to work with a community for support is intrinsically tied to the way we view healthcare. It would also be wonderful if we were not so tightly held to the monopoly of the medical system as it stands - and this conversation leads us in all sorts of directions. I am in no way knocking all of medical science and technological advancement in saying this, but when we are taught to place all of our trust in a system entirely too large and entirely too expensive to hold everyone, it becomes not meant for everyone. There is something to be said for learning what community care could truly be, and attempting to gain some of our collective power back. Instead of spending an entire pregnancy going to back-to-back appointments, we could strike a balance and, in turn, make a promise to ourselves to trust our bodies. Likewise, instead of letting our loved ones die in a strange place hooked up to machines, we can work on getting comfortable with bringing them home to spend their final days wrapped in love.
We must be honest with ourselves, here: capitalistic life has taken us very, very far from this ideal being a reality. We are not supposed to want to give birth from home - too many risks. We are supposed to try to give our sick and aging loved ones the longest lives possible, by any means necessary. We are supposed to be okay with going into debt to keep them pumped full of painkillers for just a bit longer. Our sick, aging, and disabled loved ones who can't afford healthcare? Well...nothing much we can do about that. We are supposed to surrender, give up and give in. This is what keeps it going.
But does any of this feel natural or okay? It doesn't to me. So since I began learning more about community care (thanks @sahdisimone) and empowered parenthood (thanks @winonawyborn and @erinashleigh.green), I've realized just how multifaceted this problem is, but also how we can make choices as individuals to break away from it as much as possible. We don't have to give up or give in. We don't have to just go along with the way things are. Sure, it will be more difficult to go against the grain, but if we care about creating a future where we can genuinely benefit from a community, where we can raise our future generations to value the help of their neighbors instead of some large systemic entity, it's well worth it to deal with the hard. Here are some small action steps we can all take:
Break down your fear of strangers.
My generation was especially brought up on the "stranger danger" campaign, and it definitely did a number on us. Absolutely, keep a healthy sense of skepticism on hand when travelling to a new place or when you're alone. But don't let this idea of staying anonymous and distant immediately correlate to the only way to stay safe from harm. If you've never spoken to your neighbors, it may be a great time to reach out and introduce yourself. If you've never told the clerk at your favorite boutique that you like her taste in music, you might be missing out on a meaningful connection. Don't be afraid of other people. Often times, you'll be surprised at how much a simple, quick interaction can offer.
Contribute to mutual aid.
Everyone knows someone who is really struggling. Everyone has seen mutual aid requests come up on their Instagram feeds, and just about everyone scrolls right by them every time, even if they know and love that person. Remember that housing is not an easy thing to hold onto for a great percentage of the population, and the medical system is not friendly. They do not care if you can't pay. They will not help you. Especially in our country, we need to look out for people who can't afford proper care. or shelter. When you see a mutual aid request, actually take the time to read it and donate whatever amount is comfortable. For you. If you can keep providing, keep providing. And if you can't, take a few extra seconds to share it out to your community.
Don't be the friend that leaves.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it's all too common to find that people who find themselves in tough, demanding new positions (mothering, illness, caretaking, etc.) also find that their nearest and dearest are up and leaving in the midst of their struggle. If you care about a person going through a hard time, it's not required of you to drop everything you have going on to be on-call for anything they might need...but to some, it may feel that way. Resist that. They just need to know you're still there, and even if you move away physically, even if you can't hang out like you used to, you can still be there. Make a promise to them and to yourself that you won't abandon the friendship. Promise that you will put effort into being a piece of the "village" that friend desperately needs right now. Go out of your way, if you can, to give them relief in some tactical way. They will not forget your kindness.
Get abundantly clear about your values.
Maybe the village isn't for everyone. Maybe some of us take great pride in our independence and ability to take care of ourselves. I tend to believe, though, that this can't be stated without an undertone of privilege. Wherever you find yourself leaning on the topic, there is a responsibility to envision and, more importantly, actively work toward the kind of future you want for yourself and others. If you value stable healthcare, advocate for it. If you value collective childcare, affordable education, or any other important movement toward a fairer future, advocate for it. Unabashedly.
Take no one for granted.
I've experienced a fair amount of loss in a multitude of ways this year. It's never the person or thing you'd expect. In phases like this, I'm reminded to step back and hold immense gratitude, as much as I can, for life as a whole. The fact that the people in my life were there, or are still here, means everything. They are actively making my experience of living what it is: an immeasurably abundant and beautiful opportunity. Take time, as often as you remember, to just be thankful for who and what is present, for who and what shaped you.