By Maida Rogerson
Imagine. You've just had your first baby. Your husband is in a new job and doesn't have a lot of time for you. You've moved away from your extended family. Suddenly, there you are, you and your beautiful baby, home, alone. Your baby starts to cry, and you're dead tired and all you want to do is cry yourself, and you have no one to turn to.
Or, maybe you're older and you've just had your third child. The birth was hard and you're exhausted. Your husband helps as best he can, but he works during the day and you now have three children, each demanding your attention and you don't know where to turn. What do you do? How can you get to spend some one-on-one time with your new baby?
These are a couple of the situations that an obstetric nurse brought to the attention of Anne McCormick several years ago. Anne was working at a family center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and soon turned her attention to creating a program to help these kinds of new mothers. The program was called Many Mothers.
I found out about the program when I moved to Santa Fe fifteen years ago. I saw an ad for volunteers to work with new mothers and I thought it would be a wonderful way to start interacting with my new community.
Anne came to interview me and told me about the philosophy of Many Mothers. She believed that new babies thrive on love, care and attention and so do new mothers. Because extended family support is often absent, Many Mothers attempts to fill that role by using volunteers: grandmothers, aunts, businesswomen, and often other mothers who want to give their time to help a family get off to a good start. Knowing that bonding and attachment in infancy are necessary to create healthy adults, Many Mothers believes that in nurturing the mother, you nurture the newborn, the family and the whole community.
Service to a new family is given free of charge to all income levels. A new mother may need help with grocery shopping, housecleaning, laundry, entertaining a sibling, or rocking a baby so she can simply take a rest or a shower. We honor the work it takes to care for a new baby and we care for the one who does it.
At some point every volunteer learns this secretyou always get more than you give. That was certainly my experience with Many Mothers. I entered the program with visions of coming into a neat, tidy home, rocking a perfectly clean, sleeping baby for a couple of hours and then leaving. It hasn't been like that. I've spent a lot of time playing with jealous siblings so mom can spend some alone time with her new baby. I've done laundry; scrubbed floors; attended doctor's and court appointments; researched resources; cooked; cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned. What I did most, and what made all the other chores bearable, was listen. I got to know the joy and terrors of my new mothers. I was able to assure them of the normalcy of their feelings, and on a couple of occasions alert the community when I felt a mom might be slipping into depression. I was deeply appreciative of the trust these mothers gave me in sharing their children and their lives with me, and I was happy to be able to contribute in such a tender and loving way toward a healthier community.
The thing I like best about Many Mothers is that the program meets a need on both sides of the volunteer experience. We volunteers meet monthly to discuss our experiences and to receive advice and help, and it's very clear that many of us are also distanced from our own extended families. Volunteering with new mothers satisfies our longing to be in family, to be "with" and "for" someone.
And I did get my experience of rocking a beautiful baby. My own mother died during a time when I was volunteering for a family. She lived abroad and I flew to her funeral. The day after I returned was the day I was to volunteer with my family. I didn't know if I could make it. I was tired and grief-stricken, but I decided to go. The mother met me at the door, baby in arms, and said she'd been up all night and asked if I would mind rocking the baby while she had a nap. Would I mind! I pulled the rocker to the window where I could look out to the trees. I held that baby to my heart, and we rocked and rocked, and I reveled in holding this new life and in knowing that life goes on and love is constant.
Anne McCormick died in the spring of 2008, but Many Mothers continues. She left us a manual she had written on how to create a similar organization in other communities. For me, heaven on earth includes being able to provide loving support for families with new babies so that everyone involvedthe givers and receiversexperiences the joy of rearing healthy children.
Maida Rogerson is an actor, writer, speaker and seminar leader. She uses the power of storytelling to move people to greater compassion, creativity and joy in their work and in their lives. Co-author of The New York Times Business Bestseller, Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work, Maida delights in sharing its inspirational stories and positive messages. Her particular focus is on acknowledgment, creativity and balance.