What is Social Support?

Social support. It get a lot of press these days. Pregnant people are often told how important it is to have support, particularly in the days after baby comes. Support can be your mother or mother-in-law who teels you stories of their pregnancies or comes to stay after the baby is born. It can be your best friends, your partner, a mothers' group from your neighborhood or place of worship, a post-partum doula or lactation educator who comes to help you when you ask them to. Most people know of all these options. 

What's not often discussed is what true support looks like. 

True support is not, "My cousin tried to have a natural birth and she said it was the most painful thing she'd ever felt!" It is not, "Oh, you haven't experienced labor/breastfeeding/parenthood yet, you'll see what it's like." It is not sitting on your sofa talking for three hours while you care for your baby (unless this is what you want). It is not even, "Give me that baby and you go take a nap" (again, unless this is what you're asking for).

True support looks more like this: 

"Do you feel ready for labor/birth/parenting?"

"You can do this."

"Is there anything you need?"

"What can I do to help?"

"Do what you need to do."

"I'm here if you need me."

Do you see the common thread here? Can you give it a name? 

Support is respect. It listens, acknowledges, and makes space for YOUR thoughts, hopes, fears, needs, and wishes, rather than imposing those of the speaker on you. It gives you the power to determine your own experience and their role in it. It makes you the subject rather than the object of the interaction. Support provides information rather than advice and trusts your instincts and decisions.

Support does not seek to influence or judge; it arrives with open arms and listening ears, willing to do whatever you need in the moment. It does not expect a reward (even to hold the baby), it gives freely and on your timetable. 

This kind of support is hard to find, but it does exist. Look for it from other parents of young children; from friends and family who have shown themselves willing to ask questions and listen more than talk; from professionals who acknowledge that no one approach or solution works for everyone; from one or two parents you've met at a class, the grocery store, or through a friend.

Above all, look for TRUST--trust in every person's right and ability to make the best decisions for them. Don't be surprised to find it in the most unexpected places. And once you find it, nurture it. It will grow into the rope that pulls you through when you need it the most.