Thursday, February 25, 2010

Families within communities

When a baby is born a family changes and develops. Today I am reflecting on the development of families within communities. How does a young mother, bringing her first child into her world, form linkages with other mothers in her community? How does a father make this transition?

The focus of midwifery is the mother-baby as a unit within a family. The midwife's scope of practice spans the pregnancy, birth, establishing breastfeeding and early parenting. We midwives often declare that, in the absence of complications these processes are normal, natural, physiological: that BIRTH IS NOT AN ILLNESS. We often point to the obvious similarities between the human mother and other mammalian mothers. No farmer would allow anyone to prod and poke the cows when they have separated themselves from the herd in preparation for giving birth. The farmer keeps a respectful distance, as do the other cows.

Lessons abound in nature.

As the simple drawing of trees suggest, today I am taking a lesson from trees.

Let's imagine the nuclear family unit, mother, father and children, as a tree. Some trees grow up in close proximity to others of their kind, while some are isolated. There is no one pattern that is right for all.

Families exist within communities, some are close and others more spread out.

A seedling tree - a new family - takes time to become strong. It sends down roots, and puts out branches and leaves.

Let's think about the roots of a tree/family. A young tree can be vulnerable to natural forces, as well as unnatural. It takes time and support for that tree to establish. In a garden we may put a stake next to a young tree, and possibly even a protective barrier around it. The tree will not thrive just by being propped up or protected. It has a lot of work to do itself, doing the work of a tree: its roots taking nourishment and water from the soil, and its green leaves photosynthesing light into plant energy.

A young family, similarly, has work of its own to do. The young family will not become strong merely by being placed in a supportive community with protection from difficulties.

Often after a storm we see trees that have been uprooted - destroyed in an instant. The huge canopy, and the system of limbs coming from the trunk can no longer be sustained. On the other hand a tree that has a tap root that penetrates deep into the soil is more able to withstand wind, storm, and drought.

In the tree/family analogy, that deep tap root could stand for strong values and standards that give resillience and a continuous supply of nourishment. A family that is secure in its beliefs, with clear principles to follow is able to stay whole in difficult times. Life's storms take many different forms; they may include illness or financial hardship or psychological threats. The family with good foundations, like the tree with strong, deep roots, comes through unharmed.

So, the question is, how does a new family establish roots in their community?

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