It takes a village to raise a child, says the old African proverb. From the first days of becoming a parent, professionals insist that you use the support structures around you; generally, family and close friends, as it can be a tough adjustment, especially while coping with sleep deprivation. What if your support structure isn‘t around if you don‘t live near family or don‘t have friends who understand what it’s like? This has become increasingly common in modern Ireland, as people move away from family for work or college, friends have emigrated or moved on for work or relationships, and you are left home alone with your newborn, wondering where that village has disappeared to.
Two main types of support networks seem to be coming up to fill the void which has been left by the traditional support structures – physical networks, where you can meet face to face with people who are in the same situation and understand, and a more growing trend of online support groups, through forums, social networks and blogs.
Face to Face
Many areas contain mother-and-baby/toddler or general parenting meet-up gatherings. Hosted with the aim of linking parents in an area, decreasing the isolation and pressure of new parenthood, they create a social outlet where children are welcome to attend. For new mothers, this can be a godsend, as if they are the first of their group to have a child it can seem like their child is more of a burden in a social setting than when they are around other parents and children. Cuidiu, the Irish Childbirth Trust, is one such group which encourages members to meet on a regular basis for coffee and other events, to chat and meet new people. “My midwife told me about the Cuidiu support group when I was pregnant,” says Geraldine Muhr, a member of the Cuidiu Cork group, I have found the support invaluable. I am so grateful for what Cuidiu does on a daily basis, they’ve helped us go through rough times and I have made great friends out of it. Founded in the 1970s, today Cuidiu has twelve branches around Ireland and serves as support to women for their antenatal, postnatal, breastfeeding needs and general parenting support. Much of the work is volunteer-led, some who train as antenatal teachers and breastfeeding counsellors, others who organise events to encourage parents to meet and support each other.
It can be easier to find support online rather than in person. This support is available in many different formats – forums set up for pregnant women, Facebook “birth clubs” groups for women with similar due dates, or parenting blogs giving advice and reassurance. These groups can kickstart friendships in real life, or provide support anonymously for potentially embarrassing problems or questions you don‘t feel you can ask in person. “The best of part of these networks is that you have access to a ready-made set of people who are at a similar stage of life to you. They can be a wealth of information”, says Suzy Addis (blogger at The Airing Cupboard. It means you have access to advice and support on tap, whenever you need it, from people who are going through something similar”. They’re constantly on – thanks to the 24/7 accessibility to internet, doing the night shift with your newborn or being unable to sleep doesn’t mean sitting there alone; someone from your new digital village is likely pulling an all-nighter too. While medical advice should always be sought from a qualified medical professional; reassurance that things are normal, names aren’t awful and that babies do eventually learn to sleep for more than thirty minutes can be sought in the hours before dawn.
Whichever format works best for you, there are numerous choices out there to meet new parents and gain support. Best of luck in finding your village.
This piece originally appeared in Easy Parenting Magazine.