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We Got No Villages Anymore. Here’s How to Build One When You’re Pregnant

Birthing and raising a child without a community is not only crippling women’s mental health, it’s actually leading to postpartum deaths. Support isn’t a nice-to-have—it’s a necessity.
Jess Bailey/Unsplash

“Don’t you think you could use a little community right now?” Val knowingly asks Sloane on an episode from the final season of the Netflix show Workin’ Moms, having just signed her up for a mom friendship dating app called, somewhat tragically, Bundle. 

“Community,” in many ways, is the 2023 word for “village.” As in, “It takes a village.”

The old saying has garnered profound new weight for mothers these days, as we’re living more independently than ever. That proverbial village simply doesn’t exist for the vast majority of new American parents—and it’s inflicting a very clear toll.

Consider these stats: According to a new survey by The Skimm, over 70 percent of millennial moms feel overwhelmed by the demands of being a parent. And 63 percent of new moms say they struggle with mental health, per a report by Needed.

After spending years pre-parenthood cobbling together a solo life, it’s the very realization that you need help—raising your kids, and for yourself—that sends new mothers into a tailspin, says perinatal psychiatrist Pooja Lakshmin, M.D., who refers to it as a moment of reckoning. “For most of my patients, motherhood is the first time where they can’t go it alone.”

And yet, many are forced to, living far from family and—due to the moving-away phenomenon wrought by COVID—now friends, too. One survey found that nearly 42 percent of women ages 18-49 lost touch with a few friends between 2020 and 2021; 14.5 percent experienced this with most of their pals. 

That in itself is a recipe for loneliness and depression. Add in kids, plus a world still in transition, and it isn’t hard to see how much we need those villages today. 

A recent Instagram post from The Motherhood Center summed up the impossible situation. Accompanied by a requisite image of an exhausted mother, topless and bookended by babies, the post shared these sentiments of doula Catie Atkinson:

Never before have we parented in such isolation. There were always other hands stirring the soup pot, other aunties, and sisters, and uncles and grandmas, and cousins, and neighbors helping with the daily tasks and child rearing. Other arms carrying the weight of raising humanity. Together.

And now, it’s just you. Alone in the kitchen, trying to stir the soup and bounce the baby and play with the toddler and keep an eye on the big kid and answer the phone and sweep up the mess and tackle the laundry and….. no matter how magical your baby wrap is—it can’t take the place of a whole village. 

Sharing Really Is Caring

Birth is an individual, even intimate, experience. But for centuries, it was also a shared one. “Historically, and today in many cultures around the world, birth is very much a community event,” says certified nurse midwife Casey Selzer, CNM, the director of midwifery for Oula, a modern maternity center that combines midwifery care with obstetrics. 

“Alloparenting,” in which a community bolsters the rearing of children, dates back to hunter-gatherers, when it was a key means of survival. Birthing and raising a child not only benefits from community support, but requires it. “‘It takes a village’ speaks to the power and impact of shared information, resources, and joy,” says Selzer. 

But the way we live has upended that village. “With industrialization and changes in the home dynamics since the turn of the century, we’ve seen a massive shift away from this very natural, healthy approach to childcare,” says Alex Taylor, co-founder of pregnancy vitamin brand Perelel.

In 2023, most of us have increasingly fragmented social ties, says Dr. Lakshmin, author of Real Self-Care and co-founder of Gemma, a digital mental health care platform for women. And the messaging we get, particularly in the U.S., often reinforces the notion that relying on others for help is somehow a sign of weakness.

“My patients are often facing this internal conflict, because on one hand, we’re told that it takes a village to raise children, but American society is not interconnected,” says Dr. Lakshmin. “We’re based on this puritanical pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps-nuclear-family notion.” 

Throw in the ra-ra missive about having it all and doing it all, and it all feels that much more impossible. “Many of the woes of modern parenting are directly related to our lack of having a true village,” says Brandi Jordan, a doula and advisor for Swehl, a platform aimed at transforming the breastfeeding experience. “The truth is none of us were meant to parent alone.”

Shocking Side Effects

You must retain a job where you will be expected to have a fully functioning brain on a daily basis.

You must exercise and hydrate and get an adequate amount of sleep and eat a balanced diet (and also make sure your family does too).

You must maintain a healthy relationship with your partner, leaving time for intimacy. 

You must foster the friendships that matter to you. 

And, oh yes, you must also do the vast multitude of things—from wiping noses and other assorted body parts, to shepherding to sports and activities, to managing meltdowns, to sleep and potty training—required to properly raise your child, or children, while exhibiting patience and a sense of humor. 

No sweat, right? “Why do we all even have this expectation that we should be able to do all of this without any extra help?” asks Dr. Lakshmin. “It’s literally impossible to do it without any outside support.” 

And it’s becoming clearer than ever how critical support is. A recent study by the CDC found that the majority of maternal mortality deaths do not occur directly after delivery, but in the year after the baby is born. The leading cause of that mortality among new white and Hispanic mothers? Mental health conditions that lead to suicide or overdoses. 

And because mothers often shoulder more childcare and other responsibilities, their mental health is also first to suffer as compared to their partners, says Dr. Lakshmin. Many of her patients, she says, are stuck in a cycle of guilt and inadequacy, abiding by an internal narrative that’s telling them they’re terrible at their job and being a mom.

When they try to push through and make it all work, they end up having panic attacks and not sleeping well. Which can then reinforce feelings of shame and fear.

Build Your Pregnancy Village

Consider how much time you spent, or are spending, researching infant car seats, cribs, and bottles. What if you siloed that mental energy into building a postpartum support system? “Instead of framing parenthood around all these baby products and stuff, what we should actually be doing is setting aside the time to reflect and think on our relationships,” says Dr. Lakshmin. 

The experience of birth has a colossal impact on pretty much every area of your life: your mental and physical and financial health, your relationship to your partner and your own parents, how you relate to your extended family and community, your work, and, most importantly, your identity. “Given the enormity of this reality, we need interconnectedness as much as possible to anchor us,” says Selzer. 

But…how? A recent article in the New York Times declared the dawn of the “mommune”: single mothers living communally to help each other with expenses and other parenting duties. If that’s not an option for you, there are other ways to share the load.

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First, says Jordan, embrace being a joiner, even if you historically haven’t. Groups can be an essential resource for information and a place to connect with other parents, which can be truly cathartic. 

Here are just a few groups to consider:

  • Perelel’s Village, as it is legit (and appropriately) called, is a free digital community space, set up like a Facebook-style group. You can ask questions of other members as well as the brand’s panel of experts, including reproductive psychiatrists, postnatal dietitians, herbalists, and ob/gyns.
  • Swehl has Talk Circles, which are small, curated groups conducted via Zoom and led by doulas, lactation consultants, ob/gyns, and mental health experts. (They also bring in guest host moms, like Jane Helpern of Ritual Health vitamins or beauty brand entrepreneur Sharmadean Reid.) The topics range from breastfeeding to how you look at time, and joining is free.
  • Gemma, the mental health platform co-founded by Dr. Lakshmin, creates connections through themed WhatsApp groups. Examples: “Hard Shit,” which focuses on parenting challenges, and “Mom Bombing,” about early parenthood. It’s $5 a month to get multiple classes and access to the WhatsApp groups, or you can pay individual fees for specific classes. Some are hosted on Zoom; others are taught via guided emails.
  • Oula has offerings centered around community building. There are free weekly group classes throughout the pregnancy journey, like the Birth Plan Workshop and Final Stretch, plus a dedicated space for BIPOC parents and baby reunions for Oula parents to meet and come together every summer. “Human beings are not meant to heal in fear or grow in solitude,” says Selzer. 

There are other ways to create a village, and yes, we’ll acknowledge it requires a little work. “Join a local expectant parents listserv, take a multi-day birth class, join a prenatal yoga series, work with a community-based doula, locate a postpartum support group before you give birth,” suggests Selzer. 

That final tip, especially, will pay off. Says Selzer, “Many parents report that their postpartum support circle became the foundation of a lifetime of parenting tips.” And a group of new friends to turn to.

When crafting a support system among your existing friends, think about who you can rely on for emotional support versus who can provide operational support; you’ll need both. “Emotional support are the nonjudgmental compassionate friends that are there for you and you can call and text in the middle of the night,” explains Dr. Lakshmin. “The operational is more tangible help, like the neighbor who can watch your kid when you need an hour, or the parent who can host a playdate when your daycare is closed.” 

Don’t limit yourself to just mom friends. “When you’re building your village, friends who aren’t in that life stage yet or have no plans to be can be a great source of support, because they also remember who you are outside of being a parent,” Dr. Lakshmin says. 

Though parenting means you’re rarely alone, it can be incredibly lonely, particularly when your life is overtaken by logistics. Just as crucial in your village-building is allotting time and space for yourself. “The work that we do for our kids, the labor of that care work, you have to give that to yourself, too,” says Dr. Lakshmin. 

This may mean setting a daily or weekly reminder in your calendar to take a break, or grabbing an hour for yourself when your partner is corralling the kids. Central to that, adds Dr. Lakshmin: “You have to believe that it’s worth it and not think it’s a luxury.”

Read More About Mental Health and Pregnancy

The Skimm Survey
The State of Women. The Skimm. March 9, 2023.

Needed Report
Maternal Mental Health and Wellness Report. Needed. 2023.

Survey on Americans and Friendship
Cox D. The State of American Friendship: Change, Challenges, and Loss. Survey Center on American Life. June 8, 2021.

Maternal Mortality Deaths
Trost S, Beauregard J, Chandra G, et al. Pregnancy-Related Deaths: Data from Maternal Mortality Review Committees in 36 US States, 2017–2019 [PDF]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2022.

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