Advice on what to expect from Cape Town Embrace Connectors and mothers/caregivers

By: A mom who wanted to stay anonymous

I am driving the 30 odd kilometers home slowly, letting other cars pass me because I am trying to figure out the meaning of an experience I just had. This experience is my first ‘Embrace’ meeting with a new mom. Having done some community outreach before – with mixed experiences – by the time the mom I am supposed to meet with is 20 minutes late, I have already decided that she is not showing up and gone through the necessary psychological exercises to help me move on from disappointment. Yet, as I start thinking about what to do next, I see someone hurrying along the road coming into the small town with a bundle in her arms and I just know she has walked a long way to get here. Her baby, at 3. something kilograms (she told me later)- so very small for his almost three months – is peacefully asleep, lulled from the walk.

The mom has been briefed by the nurses at the clinic who referred her to our Embrace group, thus she knows why she is there, but I still need to give her a little orientation and explain the process. As much as I try to keep in mind all the things we have been talking about in our group – about being completely in the moment and moving beyond my own thoughts and views – I am feeling awkward and before I know it I skipped any notion of facilitating the conversation or asking her what her expectations are, and I launch into the safe space (for me) of educating. I start by telling her some of the facts that fascinate me, like that when babies are born every organ is perfectly developed except the brain, that babies are born with as many neurons (brain cells I tell her) as there are stars in our sky and that these brain cells must now connect with each other to allow us to do everything that we do – and that they do it at a rate of 700 connections per second. She seems intrigued, so encouraged I tell her how her baby’s interaction with her (especially) is making these connections happen. I realise it is preachy, but I cannot help myself – I tell her that her baby has so much potential, and yes, I even touch on the findings of resilience studies and the ingredients for ‘ordinary magic’ (which is a loving parent/caregiver, another adult standing by the child and connections to opportunity, even modest opportunity at crucial times in a child’s life).

I don’t know how meaningful it was for her, but she seemed to cope with my passionate monologue in good humour, and having it out of my system, I am finally saved from myself by the Embrace process. We thus talk a little bit about how hard it is to be parents and how nice it is to have support and about how we will be developing this supportive relationship for the next 4 months. She seems to intuitively understand everything and to find it meaningful (or perhaps the nurses did a very good job of explaining everything), she even tells me she has a pregnant friend that she would like to refer to our group. So next we start to each answer the biographical questions that are meant to help us to get to know each other. I am really thankful because we have already covered some ground talking about the baby and quite frankly I would not have known where to take the conversation next – I might have done some more ‘educating’ to fill the silences ;-).

For the next two hours we share our lives, how we grew up, how we were as children, what we remember about our parents (in her case the people that kindly took them in as orphans), how our lives turned out differently than we thought it would, difficult moments in our lives and our happiest memories. Finally, I move into a space where I am either just listening or just sharing and it is the content of this conversation that is keeping my mind busy on the way home.

Our stories are starkly different, but that is not what bothers me, I expected them to be. We showed each other the insides of two very different rooms. In both rooms where some joys and things we were grateful for, but also some deep sadnesses and experiences that shaped us in a hard way. Driving back home I can feel what she has shared working on me and I know that it has changed me in a small way. I am not sure how, perhaps it just gave me a little more perspective, like turning a nightlight on in a dark corner, or perhaps I am now just a little humbler than I was a few hours ago. Perhaps what I shared also changed her in some way.

Here is a link for more pictures, including a close-up of the artist drawing of the mom playing with her child in the sea

Click here for more pictures, including a close-up of the artist drawing of the mom playing with her child in the sea

In my case things shifted around the theme of physical hardship. I often look upon the physical hardship of people and of course I think it is hard. But for various reasons I try to avoid thinking about the details of it. Today, listening deeply, I got the smallest sense of how it feels to be on the street with your baby, not knowing where to go for shelter or food. Of how it is to make a little makeshift space on the ground for the night and putting up your jacket to give your child the sense of being in a cozy nest. Of how it feels never to be able to rely on love, even when you are very little, always to be thankful when people are merely kind to you. Having three children herself, perhaps in her case she now has a sense of how it feels when you desire to have your own child so deeply and utterly, but it looks as though this will not be in the cards for you.I drove her home after our meeting, she did indeed walk a very long way – something that on its own impacts me a lot. She did that for her baby, because she believed that coming all that way to speak to me will somehow make things better for him. I think of all the things that my mom has done for me and of the mountains that I will try to move for my children, and I know that on this point our rooms look exactly the same. I hope with all my heart that somehow this little seed for a relationship that we planted today will grow to smooth out some of the roads for him and help keep him on a path to have the future that his mom so very much wants for him. At the same time, I realise that if it grows, this relationship will continue to change me, rearranging my room in small ways, making me look in corners that I have been avoiding too long – but, the time is right – I am thankful for the opportunity.

In conclusion I share with you this picture taken in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan this year (photo © Pejac). It made me think about the mom I met with, trying to create the idea of a cozy space for her child even while sleeping on the street. Moms all over the world never stop trying to do the best they can to make things better for their children. Thank you Embrace for creating the opportunity for us to come together – to be stronger and to grow our shared humanity.