We often hear about how women had it so much more difficult in the past, without the help of vacuum cleaners, washing machines, dishwashers, or even running water in their homes. Also, they typically had many more children than the average mom has today - and naturally, more babies means more work.
Still, women in previous generations had a huge advantage over today's women in the following: one, they weren't expected to "be it all" and "do it all". Once a woman got married, no one expected her to combine her natural duties of wife, mother and homemaker with a full-time career outside the home. And two, people often lived in close-knit communities, and a woman typically had a supportive network of extended family and/or neighbours, who could offer help and advice to an often overwhelmed young, inexperienced wife and mom.
My grandmother tells me that her mother received help from neighbours after the birth of each child. Women sent her home-cooked meals, home-baked bread, and helped her clean her house and do her laundry (which wasn't easy work back then) while she recovered. In the meantime, she could focus on taking care of the new baby. Because there were many neighbours around, it didn't take that much effort: perhaps a meal and a bit of help around the house from each one.
Because so many people had large families, the special period with a new baby was better understood and treated as a natural part of life. The ones who extended help a couple of weeks ago might have a baby themselves a short time after that, and they knew they would not be left without support.
Today, many people don't know their neighbours; in packed, crowded apartment buildings, it seems as though we are divided more than ever. Also, with most women choosing to have only one or two children, and those children being in daycare from a very young age while their mothers go out to work, a young mother who stays home with her children often feels isolated - especially if her husband works long hours and her family is far away.
Bethany, a young mom, recently commented: "I am so jealous that you have a neighbor with a baby! (And that you actually know your neighbors). We only know a few of ours, as people are typically very private in this part of the US and also very busy (ie away from home ALL the time). Not the best atmosphere for a housewife. It can get sort of lonely. I would love to have other women around during the day with little ones!"
Things are a bit different where we live. It's a small place where people know each other, and where women typically have more than the average number of children. I've been told that there's a group of women around here who took it upon themselves to organize the delivery of home-cooked meals to new moms in the first few weeks when they are home with their baby. Also, it is noticeable that women are around much more. Our quiet street isn't deserted in the middle of the day; women who live nearby smile at me, ask how I am, and offer encouragement. One stay-at-home mom offered me to call her in case I go into labor while my husband is away, and I want some company and support while he's on his way to pick me up.
I think it could be so wonderful if networks for the support of new moms became more common once again. I'm not quite at that point yet, but I've heard that a hot meal is invaluable while you are recovering from birth and getting used to taking care of a newborn.
Speaking of new moms: Mrs. W, a mom of two young boys, recently announced that they are expecting another little one to join their family! How exciting. Wishing you a safe, uncomplicated, easy pregnancy, and a healthy baby in his or her due time.