Adventures in Co-Mothering
Raleigh NC USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 22 No. 6, November-December 2005, pp. 253-254
We have all heard the popular phrase, "It takes a village to raise a child." In my case, that phrase rings true, and I am very fortunate to have found such a "village." I have three wonderful sons (ages six, four, and 18 months), a husband who works long hours, and a growing birth/postpartum doula business. My life is full, busy, happy, chaotic, and would be absolutely impossible without the love and support of my two friends and partners in mothering: Robin and Molly.
I first met Robin three years ago at a local coffee shop. She had a beautiful dark-haired three-year-old in her lap and was very pregnant with her second daughter. She saw that I was carrying my son in a sling and asked if I was aware of the local Attachment Parenting (AP) support group. I told her that I would love to hear more about it. Over the next year, she introduced me to the AP group. In turn, I took her along to LLL meetings. Soon, I was singing her praises to my co-Leaders and helping her with the Leader application process.
We enjoyed many afternoon house projects, cookie-making, egg dying, arts and crafts, and just chatting while watching our children have a great time playing with each other. We soon began trading child care when we had appointments or wanted to go to the grocery store solo (what a treat!). It was nice to be able to get such things done, knowing that the children were happy and well-cared-for.
When I became pregnant with my third son two years ago, it seemed only natural that Robin would be there for his birth. I actually ended up riding with her to the birth center while my husband and the two older boys followed behind us. I'll never forget hearing her voice through the foggy haze of a contraction, telling me how great I was doing (while also taking amazing pictures and videotaping the birth for me). She came to visit a few days later with a meal and a beautiful scrapbook of the birth that she had made. Her two daughters instantly fell in love with the new baby and "adopted" him as their "brother."
After that, we were really just like a big, happy extended family having play dates, sleepovers, and going to La Leche League meetings together. I felt so lucky to have found such a wonderful friend.
About a year ago, Robin told me that she had met an amazing woman at her daughter's swim class. Molly had a three-year-old son and was pregnant with her second baby. Robin invited Molly and her son to a toddler sing-along at the same coffee shop where she and I had met. The three of us got along famously (as did all of the children).
A couple of months later, Molly gave birth to a gorgeous baby boy. Robin and I were there to take meals, help with her older son, and encourage her in her efforts to breastfeed.
Molly is an upbeat, positive person with sharp wit and a hilarious sense of humor. It was a joy to bring her into our crazy circle. It was not long before the three of us and our children were spending many of our days together -- sharing, playing, laughing, crying, and just being there for one another.
When her baby was only six months old, Molly was admitted to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy. Connor was exclusively breastfed and had never taken a bottle. Did I mention that this was also the first day of school for three of our children? Robin and I "went into action." We kept all seven children overnight at Robin's house—giving them dinner, baths, entertaining them, and shaking our heads in disbelief that it was all going so well (no one was falling apart!). We were aware of potential risks of cross nursing, but in this emergency situation Molly gave permission for Robin and me to nurse Connor if he became upset. It seemed like the most natural thing in the world to help out a friend in this way. Molly could relax and not worry, knowing that both of her children were safe and happy. Molly came through the surgery with flying colors, and all the children had a blast at the "pajama party."
If I am ever down in the dumps, it's not unusual for me to get a "pick-me-up" note in the mail from Robin. If I have a dental appointment or have to attend a birth, I know I can call them. It never fails to send me into fits of giggles when Molly answers the phone with her familiar "What?" Our children truly think that they each have six siblings! Robin's youngest daughter said to me about my baby, "You know, Finny really thinks I'm his sissy." If we meet for coffee, we never know which child we will leave with (my baby often reaches out to leave with Robin, and her daughter likes to come to my house). When my 18-month-old reaches out for Molly or Robin, I find it odd that I never feel even a twinge of jealousy -- just overflowing joy that he has people like them in his life.
Robin and I are ecstatic that Molly is considering LLL leadership. She has also observed the birth of one of my clients. She has a natural ability to put people at ease. The three of us have begun working together with post- partum clients. I am a registered nurse and a DONA certified birth doula, as well as an LLL Leader. Robin is certified from DONA as a birth doula, too. As postpartum doulas, we help with cooking, housecleaning, sibling care, and infant care. Robin and I have now worked together for four births while Molly and our husbands watched the little ones; what a wonderful experience. It is so rewarding to be helping other mothers in the same way that we have supported one another.
Whoever said that "three is a crowd" did not know the three of us. These two women have enriched my life and the lives of my children in more ways than they can ever know. They continually inspire me to be a better mother and a better person. My wish is that every mother with young children find and cultivate such relationships of their own. Mothering is a wild ride, and it's a lot more fun if you aren't on it by yourself!
Editor's Note: Cross nursing is not something that is generally recommended because there are risks involved. However, in an emergency situation like the one described in "Adventures in Co-Mothering," the baby benefited from receiving mother's milk and comfort when he was faced with unexpected separation from his mother. Cross nursing is not a decision that should be made lightly.