Friday, February 25, 2011

Sisterhood Community

This week, we welcome guest blogger Jessica Martin-Weber, aka @theleakyboob, a Mom of 5 girls and the boob behind The Leaky Boob, real support for breastfeeding, valuing encouragement, honesty, humor and safe community for all.

The other day my three year old decided that she didn't need help going potty any more. Confident and enthusiastic, she banished me from even lurking in the hallway to be ready to help. I had been hoping for this day, actually. She's been going potty for a good long while now but always with assistance. I dreamed of the day when she would no longer urgently squeak "I go peepee!" at the last second leading to a mad dash to the toilet after I dropped whatever I was doing to prevent the swelling tide of urine sure to puddle on my floor if I didn't move post haste. So to have her tell me "I DO IT MOMMY!" was like a dream come true. Almost. After the third change of clothes I was beginning to think that maybe the mad dash approach was much better than the let's-use-every-towel-and-clean-pair-of-panties-in-the-house method currently being employed. This suggestion was not received well and my daughter insisted on going it on her own, rejecting even my offer to show her how to pull her pants down below her knees using both hands instead of just one. In no uncertain terms she made it clear that my assistance was no longer required and she felt hurt at the implication that I didn't feel she could handle the situation. Well, maybe I'm projecting a little there with that last bit.

Finally, after several pair of panties, changes of clothes and a few tears, my little girl found me in the kitchen later while making dinner and in a small little voice said "Mommy, you help me pull my pants down please?"

I have a strong, stubborn, independent streak as well. Sometimes this serves me well, others, eh, not so much. Tossing my hair over my shoulders and planting my feet, I look whatever is coming my way square in the eye and tell everyone to back off. In other words: sometimes I act like a three year old. And like a three year old trying to tackle some of these challenges screaming "I DO IT!" (What? Your 3 year old doesn't scream that?). I have on occasion failed some of the most important endeavors because I tried to go it alone. In the adult world I have done the equivalent of peeing my pants.

No man is an island. No woman either.

There are some things we are meant to do on our own, and learning how to manage going to the bathroom is definitely one of them. You may experience a regression in that area when you are the mother of small children and you find yourself with an audience during your own trips to the potty. There are, however, other struggles in life that we are not meant to do alone. Yet, if you look around so many of us are acting like 3 year olds screaming "I DO IT!" when in fact what we need to say is "can you help me please?" Today we don't like this idea though, having it together, looking effortlessly sleek is more valued than being authentic with those around us.

Several times on The Leaky Boob Facebook page I have asked the ladies there what surprised them the most about breastfeeding. The response we see the most is that breastfeeding was not as easy as they expected it would be. This normal, natural, and wonderful way to feed a baby isn't always easy at first. In fact, it can be full of challenges. So many that some women may really wonder if they can even do it. If they don't have the support of not just their partners or health care providers but also of other women, moms that have been there too with a wide variety of experiences, they really may not be able to continue breastfeeding their babies no matter how badly they wanted to. Sadly, often they don't even know where to turn to find support, are afraid of being belittled for asking, are embarrassed that they are having a tough time or simply don't even realize that they need more support.

Nobody should have to go it alone. I don't think we're meant to, we are social creatures.

In her book The Red Tent author Anita Diamant constructs a tale for her readers depicting the tight knit community of women in the Bible days of Jacob and his 2 wives, sisters Rebecca and Leah as well as their children, primarily daughter Dina. Based in part on historical and Biblical information, Anita also drew from Native American, African and other pre-modern cultures practice of a menstrual tent or hut. In this tent the characters of Diamant's novel share stories, advice, experience, humor and above all community. A sisterhood.

I put off reading that book for years. Friends had encouraged me and I resisted. It kind of creeped me out, to be honest. A book about the women that would hang out in the tent they were banished to during their periods? This did not sound like pleasure reading to me. It sounded more like a junior high school camping trip I had experienced once so, um, yeah, no thanks. After the birth of my 4th daughter and as I became a midwife student I was given the book and I finally read it. In one day.

Aside from the lack of time and my barely suppressed memories of an awkward junior high camping trip, I was also avoiding the book because of another issue I had. One I feel like I have to whisper it: I didn't like groups of women.

It wasn't that I thought women were petty, superficial and insecure, even though I did think that. It wasn't that I thought women were competitive, whiny, and desperate. I thought that too. It was more that I never, ever knew what to say and felt like I couldn't relate. For some reason relating to men was easy for me most of the time. Women, on the other hand, made me incredibly uncomfortable. I avoided women-dominated events like the plague; never attended a woman's only event, rejected girl's night-out evening and I even talked my husband into doing the mommy and me dance class (renamed, thankfully) so I could be spared potential interactions with other women. Even when pregnancy and parenting threw me some curve balls I wasn't prepared to handle, moms groups and playdates were completely out of the question. Places where I could learn from other women walking the same path, I refused. I planted my feet, tossed my hair back and screamed "I DO IT!".

I tried once, actually. As a brand new mom with a three-week-old baby I attended a meeting of all women, moms, looking for some help but was so completely intimidated to hear that I was doing everything wrong and felt out of place because I was nothing like them. Overwhelmed and feeling even more insecure, I left that experience near tears vowing never to go back. When I got home I called my sister, two years younger and not a mom herself, she listened to me cry and rant in frustration. She only told me one thing: it will be ok. Not particularly helpful and not even a little bit useful those four words helped me find my footing if for no other reason than my sister, my little sister, believed in me. How I wished she had been the big sister and had more experience. I didn't like women but I did like my sister and we couldn't walk away from each other.

In reading The Red Tent, Diamant's description of women relating in a way that was so real intrigued me. More than that though, it drew me in. As I attended births, I discovered some of that same spirit Diamant captured in her book as I supported the laboring woman and sat with the other midwives and birth attendants. I found it in the women of the family of the birthing woman as they cooked and cleaned and made coffee while waiting. I found it online forums where we discussed protocols and methods or cloth diapers and pregnancy. It was from this place that I began to understand something vital: we need each other.

Over time I've softened. It turns out I actually do like women and spending time with other women offering and receiving support empowers and energizes me. I even began spending time with women outside of attending births, women of all ages and stages of life. In many ways they are all my sisters. As I learned from them and even shared and supported some of them I began to wonder how much I had done the hard way or did not experience success in because I had tried so long to do it on my own. The struggles I had with breastfeeding, the emptiness of miscarriage, the desolation of postpartum depression, the despair of job loss and much, much more could have been so different if I had just let myself ask for help. My husband is incredibly supportive, a wonderful husband and father and my best friend, how much better would have been for our whole family if he had not had to be my only support?

Community, real community is the place where we can bleed together. It's not always easy and there may be conflict but it is real and it is powerful. Where we don't always have to be cheerful and put together. Where we can respect that each is in a different stage of whatever journey of whatever path we are on. Where we can educate, inspire, agree, and disagree, and still help someone struggling with pulling down their pants. That's where we find real support -- support that goes beyond soap boxes and stereotypes, beyond cheerleading and celebrating. Support that doesn't walk away when we do things differently. A sisterhood community.


  1. Thanks for your candid recall of your journey to the Red Tent...
    As I sit in Red Tent circles of women and girls today, it seems we resonate in our bones with the knowing of how familiar this experience is...

    Reaching beyond cultural and other differences, a Red Tent space allows us to relate in the most profound way to each other as cyclical beings.

    All differences melt in the face of our shared experience. How deeply moving this is, each time anew...

  2. Very nice. Thanks. I enjoyed reading this before bed... a little something to meditate on when I close my eyes.

  3. I feel so blessed to be in the company of the amazing mamas in my Holistic Moms Chapter - but more, in the community of a national organization that supports holistic parenting everywhere!

    Thanks HMN for being my sisterhood community!!

  4. I would love this post even if Jessica weren't one of my best friends, but it touches me even more deeply because I've been one of the women who has been privileged to hold her hand as she tentatively waded into the waters of female-centric groups and relationships. Thank you for the reminder of how much we need each other. I'll remember that and give you a call next time I'm tempted to go it alone.


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