I’ve probably Googled it twenty or thirty different ways:
“postpartum without a village”
“surviving postpartum without a village”
“parenting without a village”
“mom without a village”
I found some random articles and blog posts that were along those lines, especially regarding parenting. Some were really good. Some…not so much.
Most sources assumed that I was in a supportive community already, and almost all assumed that my “village” was based in my home culture. Neither of these things were true though.
I had gone through pregnancy 3.5 times, given birth 3 times, and was in the middle of raising my four small children ages 6 and below, all in a foreign country. I felt as though this allusive “village” I always read about on parenting and mommy blogs didn’t exist for me.
I had some friends, both American and Japanese, nearby. And I know they wanted to support me as much as they could. But there’s something about being near your closest friends and/or your immediate and extended family, that seems to make or break that “village” feeling when you are in the thick of pregnancy, postpartum, and parenting littles.
I didn’t feel comfortable calling any of these friends on a day when it wasn’t necessarily an emergency; it was just a rough day when I could have used some help. I didn’t want to ask my friends to plan a meal chain after my babies were born – and none of them did. I didn’t want to bother my friend who was already stressed out with her own kids, just like she didn’t want to bother me.
And so I didn’t. I know that a lot of that is on me. Besides the fact that I chose to put myself in this situation of being far away from my own village during these years of my life (ok, I had my husband’s help in that decision…), I am a very introverted and introspective person, and it takes a long time for me to open up to people.
By the end of our time in Japan, I was getting better at asking for help when I needed it, but I still had a hard time sharing my heart with the people around me. I wasn’t super close to the one American friend in the area. And my closest Japanese friends didn’t speak very good English. It’s kind of hard to share your heart when you can’t speak your heart-language to the person you’re sharing with.
So I tried my best to be a village of 1. I accepted help when it was given to me, but I rarely asked for it and never assumed it would be given, especially not when I needed it the most.
When I was pregnant, I planned out far ahead of time all the things I needed to do, and either did them myself or they didn’t get done. I planned out easy crockpot or throw together meals for a month postpartum, and researched how to avoid the “baby blues” and postpartum depression, while doing my best to avoid all that “village” advice. And I tried to manage my days so that I didn’t go insane.
By the time I was having my fourth baby, things went fairly smoothly and I felt like I had a good grasp on this “village of 1” lifestyle. It wasn’t easy, and I still sometimes thought with envy about how nice it would be to be back in my home town, doing this parenting thing with the help and support of my family and close friends.
Sometimes though, it takes saying goodbye to the people in your life to realize what a part of your life they have become.
I became pregnant with my 5th child during a very stressful season, which ultimately ended with our family deciding to follow God’s leading to leave Japan and the mission field.
It was during those last 6 weeks of packing, cleaning, saying goodbye, and moving back to the States that I found out that, however independent I may have thought I was, I had inadvertently become a part of a village – a community of support people who there for me in the most stressful season of my life, and who shared their hearts with me regarding the impact I had had on their lives.
Meals came without asking. Support came in the form of three dear friends with 1-year-olds strapped to their backs, armed with mops and brooms as we prepared our house for move-out day. It came from one friend doing our laundry after our washer and dryer were sold; it came from another family of friends taking all four of our kids for the entire day so that we could finish up last-minute packing.
No, it wasn’t a conventional “village”; my family and best friends were still thousands of miles away, and sharing our hearts was less about the words that we spoke and more about the tears in our eyes as we said goodbye.
It was an unconventional village, and it was beautiful.