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It takes a village

June 7, 2011

I work with a beautiful woman named Jacque. Her son was born in the same month as my son — and her daughter, the same month as my daughter.

Jacque is from Ethiopia and has shared several stories with me of the differences in American culture and Ethiopian culture – especially in regards to pregnancy and the postpartum period.

Her stories of strong, supportive women, rich traditions, unshakeable faith and the rich fabric of family relationships has enlightened me.

It is in these discussions that I have begun to ponder our cultural value systems – and where we place our priorities.

Though America has incredible medical technology, facilities and wealth – we often lack the simple support system found in Ethiopia (a third world country) that can make the most profound differences.

And like with anything, our best qualities are often our worst — we have more education, wealth and opportunity; therefore, less of us live in tight knit communities with family nearby.

We have more opportunities for women, yet fewer maternity benefits in the workplace.

We have more access to incredible medical care that supports the pregnant woman — but very few rituals that uplift the postpartum mom.

 

Some food for thought:

* According to the New York Daily News, “Of the 190 countries studied in the report [on parental leave], 178 guaranteed paid leave for new mothers and nine were unclear about their maternity policies. Just three countries clearly offer no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave — Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States.”

* In Ethiopia, the mother is expected to rest in her house for 40 days postpartum if it is a boy (80 days if it is a girl). During this period, the women family members flock to her side, feed her, take care of the daily chores, and give her this special time of pampering to rest, heal and bond with her young one. All a new mother is responsible for is feeding her new baby.

* According to a report by the University of Washington Medical Center on Ethiopian culture, “On either the seventh or the twelfth day, depending on the region, the mother and child go outside to be in the sun. This is done for the baby’s health. Neighbors come on this day to clean the house. In preparation for this day, the mother is pampered. She is given beautiful clothes, is decorated with henna, is fed special food, and is seated in a special chair. Her husband may bring her gifts.”

*As part of Ethiopian culture, new mothers are taught by elders how to care for their babies. They are never left alone during this 40 to 80 day period.

 

Sure, Ethiopian women have their own unique set of challenges — and, of course, you can find a good family and a good support system here in the US as well.

However, the way a culture views life, pregnancy and childbirth greatly impacts the success of our families.

If businesses see working moms as wasted resources, if women see motherhood as something they have to just “do on their own,” if families see business success as more important than success in their relationships, if babies are seen as burdens, if sex is seen as recreational, if human life is seen as disposable, then we will fail.

What I love about Jacque’s story is a culture that celebrates, protects and supports not only babies — but the mothers that carried them. It takes a village to raise a child.

We are all part of that village.

 

“The woman is the heart of the home. Let us pray that we women realize the reason for our existence: to love and be loved and through this love become instruments of peace in the world.” – Mother Teresa

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2011 1:36 pm

    Amen! On a regular basis I think that we have it backwards in the US. I am not much into politics but I think it’s a major injustice and disservice that the mothers in our workforce are literally forced to go back to work sometimes as little as 3 weeks after birth. If we had standards in place that allowed for a more meaningful maternity leave (i.e., 6 mos – 1 year), think of the potential increase in “contributions/productivity/happiness” of mothers. Both in what they contribute in the work force AND to what they contribute to their families and world with their children (whom they’ve been able to nurture when they most need to be with their mom). Well written. Your blog is among my favorites. πŸ™‚

  2. June 7, 2011 1:44 pm

    YES! I’ve thought this so many times! I’ve noticed that when I am out running errands with my baby in tow, the people whom I suspect were raised in other “it takes a village” cultures are often the ones who are practically RUNNING to assist me. Darting to hold the door open for me, carrying my bags to the car, whatever it may be. It’s so uplifting to feel that, and yet so sad that it’s not the norm in our culture.

    P.S. I miss you, Jacque! πŸ™‚

  3. June 7, 2011 1:47 pm

    P.P.S. When I returned to work 12 weeks after having baby #1, my milk supply took a nosedive. With baby #2, I’m at home almost 7 months later, and he’s still getting the best nutrition possible. Not to turn this a breastfeeding issue, but I’m just sayin’.

    • June 7, 2011 1:57 pm

      Zoe… yes! I read this while researching for this post:

      Researchers found that new mothers who were at home for three months or more were about twice as likely to be predominantly breastfeeding beyond three months. Results of the study are published in the June issue of Pediatrics.

      “Women need to be helped. If the government could make changes, like extending the Family and Medical Leave Act, women would know they have job security, and it would help those who want to breastfeed,” said study author Dr. Chinelo Ogbuanu, a senior maternal and child health epidemiologist in the division of public health at the Georgia Department of Community Health in Atlanta.

  4. June 7, 2011 5:16 pm

    Love the post!

    And I don’t think it’s as much about coercing government or business to do something for us as it is about the choices we make as parents with the circumstances we have. It comes down to our real values. How important is it that we support a mother being home with her kids for an extended amount of time after they’re born? It sounds like it’s worth doing as long as we can still get paid, force private businesses to save our place for extended amounts of time, etc. But maybe our culture needs to recognize the importance of mothers being home with their little ones in more profound, meaningful ways. It’s the most important job in the country, but it doesn’t get the respect and honor it deserves, so women end up feeling even more pressure to validate themselves in other (and quite honestly less important) ways in the business world at the expense of being the mother they’d like to be.

    At some point – on at least some level – we have to choose between some aspect of our career and our kids. Which means choosing a standard of living that is compatible with our values. We spend our time pursuing duel incomes, long hours, overtime, excessive travel and “climbing the ladder” and our money on extravagant vacations, fancy cars, bigger houses, iPhones and nicer neighborhoods…then we complain we don’t have enough time with our kids. Granted, there are surely some people who don’t have any of those nice things and still struggle to spend the time with their kids they need. But that’s a rare few. Even the poorest Americans are among the richest people on the planet.

    Once spending more time with our kids, especially at those critical times of development, is more important than those other luxuries we confuse for necessities in life, then our behavior will change.

  5. June 7, 2011 7:49 pm

    You make so many great points in this single sentence: “If businesses see working moms as wasted resources, if women see motherhood as something they have to just β€œdo on their own,” if families see business success as more important than success in their relationships, if babies are seen as burdens, if sex is seen as recreational, if human life is seen as disposable, then we will fail.”

    It’s not just a government policy or business mandate that created this sad situation, so far from what nature intended for mothers and babies. It’s the culmination of all of our attitudes surrounding family life, marriage, babies, and sexuality. The more we start to see these connections, perhaps we can start to untangle them.

    Though it’s a daunting prospect as young mothers “caught in the system,” isn’t it? I’m always amused when people raise their eyes when I tell them that we haven’t really decided how many kids we’re going to have – we’re just planning to let life unfold and see how our family takes shape according to our experiences with each child and (I hope) God’s plan for us as well. But already I feel the cultural pressure that “two is enough” – why would you possibly want more? Especially as a woman with a career? Because this is the best stuff that life is made of. Because this is what I value – people, relationships, family. Because I’d rather have less money to go around and more people to share it with.

  6. June 7, 2011 9:54 pm

    Beautifully said, LKF!

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