Our duty of care to mother each other, is to fight for each other – from the farthest corners of the world, to our next door neighbor.
When a mother is awake to the needs and hopes of her sisters around the world, something profound happens. We become connected through a powerful bond that can transcend borders, religion and status. I can talk to a mother anywhere in the world about her children, and immediately we have a framework for understanding something about each other’s lives. I remember standing at a bus stop in New York City with my newborn daughter. An older lady draped in a fur coat and diamonds started speaking to me. My first thought was, “what could we possibly have in common?” She asked me if I was breastfeeding my daughter. I thought it an odd question, but as this was something that had come easily for me, I replied I was. And then she started to cry.
As we waited at that bus stop, she shared memories of having her two children in the 1950s, of being told by doctors and nurses not to breastfeed, of having her babies removed from her, and of the many interventions and rules that dominated childbirth during that time in the United States. I was left with a small insight into her deep grief, still felt almost 60 years later, at not being allowed some key experiences with her babies. I was transformed by the realization I had judged her before I knew anything about her. And grateful she had not done the same to me, or I would have missed a most treasured exchange – one that has stayed with me for almost 15 years.
I’ve been mothered by many mothers. My own, my mother-in-law, my sisters-in-law, women in my church, women in my various neighborhoods, women I’ve worked and partnered with professionally, dear friends. I’ve been mothered by women living in extremes of desperate poverty and great wealth. I’ve been mothered at bus stops and by campfires. I found that in becoming a mother, I needed mothering from others all the more.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever received was from Milly Businge, a community leader, mother of 8 and grandmother to many, who lives in rural Uganda. Milly has led a life of sacrifice and commitment to improve the lives of others. Now in her 60’s, she remains someone I will always look up to. When I met her a few years ago, I was immediately smitten by her passion and quiet fierceness. I asked her what was her best advice to other mothers. Her reply was definitive. “Stick to it. It pays off.” Now that I am in the thick of raising teenagers, I cling to that. On the surface our lives may have little in common. But she taught me well that day and her counsel has never left me.
As we mother our children, let’s also remember to mother each other and lift each other up. Let’s remember to use our voices for each other, to speak out and speak up for those in more vulnerable circumstances, to agitate our elected leaders to make the right choices for women’s and children’s health, and to remember we are tied by this incredible connection of raising children in this world. We must fight for every woman to have proper access to healthcare when pregnant and in childbirth, for the right to breastfeeding support if that’s what works for her. We must fight for every child to get access to life-saving vaccines and protection from diseases. We must fight for every child to have clean air and proper nutrition, the right to a quality education, and safety. Our duty of care to mother each other, is to fight for each other – from the farthest corners of the world, to our next door neighbor. Now that’s a mother’s day I want to celebrate.