Community Care is Self-Care
By Audri Lu-Uhlken
I was born a mother during the summer of 2020 and everything changed. My past life of unbound freedom felt irrelevant. Friendships gradually dwindled; work felt intolerable; my health took a backseat to the consuming labor of motherhood. Isolated amid the pandemic, my body yearned for a maternal village I once heard stories about – a village that once raised me in childhood.
The stories of motherhood in my family hold humor, pain and joy, some ending in loss, others in near-loss, but all include a commanding presence of community care.
The birth story of my mother, as told by my grandmother, described laboring hours at her great aunt’s home, a moderate bamboo house built on stilts in the countryside of Laos in the mid-60s. Village women flocked to the home, supporting my grandmother in labor and delivery, and then nurturing her through postpartum for nearly a month. Women took shifts caring for my newborn mother and nursing my grandmother back to good health; keeping her in bed near a fire; and feeding her clear, warm broth and hot water to help “heal her insides.”
After I gave birth to my first child, I, too, was on bedrest for a month, but I did so alone while caring for an infant, mostly due to the pandemic, but also due to the individualistic culture woven into American society. I told lies to myself about enjoying the solitude that came with raising a child with little support. But my body held onto its own birth trauma that needed healing. Not knowing where to turn to for help, I resorted to seeking care from mommy groups online.
In this age of the Internet, everywhere you scroll, mothers are oversaturated with trendy messages from wellness brands and mom influencers to “Get fit,” “Eat healthy” and “Treat yourself.” Hashtag, self-care. Reducing the act of caring for oneself to the self-indulgence of detox teas and “must have” expensive beauty creams dilutes the true power of radical self-care championed by Black activists in the United States in the 50s and 60s, originally meant to serve the holistic needs of their communities. Black activist Audre Lorde wrote of self-care in her essay collection, A Burst of Light, while going through cancer in 1988:
“I had to examine, in my dreams as well as in my immune-function tests, the devastating effects of overextension. Overextending myself is not stretching myself. I had to accept how difficult it is to monitor the difference. Necessary for me as cutting down on sugar. Crucial. Physically. Psychically. Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
The overextension Lorde talks about comes from a capitalistic society that demands overproduction from its people as a standard. Collectively rebelling against that narrative by caring for oneself, while also caring for each other in community, is the foundation of radical care in a world that could be so cruel. There is no self-care without community care.
Yet, modern motherhood forums preached “care” as something wildly individualistic: buying products and toxic positivity to feel slightly better about yourself. In fact, mothers are at the forefront of the self-care social media era, soliciting individualized items to capitalize on our collective motherhood distress.
One of the largest local parenting communities on Facebook, Des Moines Moms, proposed charging a $2.99 per month subscription fee to access the resources posted freely by community members on the social media group page. If members did not pay to be in the new “club,” they were removed. There was so much backlash from several of the 15,000+ followers, that the idea was halted.
While some online mommy group posts and comments accurately reflected part of my motherhood experience, the connection I sought after was met with an unattainable pressure to keep up with Mrs. Jones. Wellness industries seemed more concerned about the optics of care (and profits) rather than the act of true care itself. And the act of self-care sustained by community wellness was nonexistent.
It is important to acknowledge that the ability to nourish our bodies and minds fully on our own is, in itself, a privilege. While working out and eating healthy is nice, most marginalized communities, such as those my mother was born into, have minimal access to proper maternal care and health care, food malnutrition, and inadequate resources to address its community populations needs in order to fulfill modern day’s definition of “self-care.”
Humans cannot do life alone. We need community, bound together in interdependence, to function and thrive. The loss of community care has left a gaping hole in my motherhood journey. I wonder how many others like me are out there, whose bones ache to be wrapped in authentic community connection — linking myself to the spirit of sisterhood — to one that my ancestral mothers, who came before me, also belonged.
Caring for oneself as an act of self-care can be done in isolation to temporarily feel better, but finding connection through self-care, and achieving sustainable healing through self-care, is impossible without community care. The two are intertwined; you cannot have one without the other.
Join Mothers of Monsoon, a support circle for parents of Asians and Pacific Islanders in Central Iowa, at their next event on “Nurturing the Nurturer.” Guests will re-pot a variety of household plants to take home, and hear from local birth doula Emily Alberhasky on ways to collectively care for new mothers, especially in the postpartum period. Register here: (include link)
Date: Saturday, March 25, 2023
Time: 9-10:30 am
Location: Monsoon Community Healing Space & Garden
Address: 1212 E. 17th Court, Des Moines, IA 50316
For more information, contact Monsoon Community Health Outreach Coordinator Audri Lu-Uhlken at firstname.lastname@example.org.