Finding Your Tribe

Historically, human beings have lived within a larger group of people, a family or a community. The relationships that existed in these larger units were so important, even from a very young age, for caregiving, education, and support. In many parts of the world, especially in less developed countries, these larger units still exist and are very much the social norm. Even in my father’s home town in rural Italy, three or four generations of a family live in the same building in separate apartments. Children grow up with a multitude of caregivers, not just one or two. Somehow, we have moved far away from that. People get married, have a baby, and create their “own” family, living in a completely separate house and/or city than their parents and siblings. These independent lives are actually somewhat of a mark of success, as it is seen to be less desirable to live with or near your parents and to rely on them for help. Unfortunately, in this attempt to become independent, self-reliant family units, we are losing so much that we have to gain from being a part of a multigenerational family or community.

Women, specifically, benefited immensely from being a part of a larger group. Puberty, sex, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding are all normal occurrences that used to be ritualized and celebrated by the women in our lives. We learned about all of these milestones by watching the women around us go through them. It was natural to be curious about them, and to discuss them openly. Now, women are ashamed and embarrassed by these events, they do not talk about them, and when they inevitably get pregnant, have a baby, and even breastfeed, they are doing it alone and without having the benefit of a lifetime of mentoring and discussion, and certainly without the celebration.

I really like looking after women having their first babies; it makes up at least half of my midwifery practice. These women are so excited, and it is so beautiful to watch them turn into mothers and families over the several months that I work with them. Threaded through these women, however, are some consistent themes. Fear, surprise, loneliness, isolation, inadequacy, and doubt, and that is just the beginning. They didn’t learn about what it means to be pregnant, to give birth, and to look after a new baby, breastfeeding or not, and it is all foreign to them. Sure, they may have a few friends who have had kids, but they are still all on their own path, and walking alone. They generally have the support of their partners, but partners aren’t fully able to understand what is happening to the woman because her experience is unique. Most of them will get through this transition with few scars and enter the world of motherhood, only to be met with judgment and competition from other mothers, and still alone in their experience.

Women need women. We need our grandmothers, our mothers, our aunts, our sisters, and our friends. We need each other to learn from, to cry to, to remind us of who we are, where we came from, and where we want to go, to support us, and to challenge us. We need men too, of course, but they are having a different experience than us. Somehow we have drifted away from leaning on our sisters, our tribe, and lifting one another up, and have ended up in a place where we compete, we criticize, we undermine, and we tear one another down. We are better, stronger together and we weren’t meant to do this all on our own. When we do, everyone suffers. This is true in every aspect of our lives, but never more so than when it comes to childbirth and motherhood. New moms need the support of other women, whether it be women within your own family, or a new group of women that you seek out yourself.

We need to change our dialogue, starting with the dialogue we have with ourselves. Talk to the women in your life about what is happening for them, particularly the new mothers. Talk to your daughters and nieces and don’t let another generation grow up without the benefit of a tribe of women holding them up. Talk to your mothers and grandmothers to glean from their wisdom before it is too late. We are much more powerful together than we are alone, and if you don’t have any women in your life to talk to, find them. They are out there, and there is a tribe for you.