This mother’s month, I have been reflecting on how exceptionally fortunate I am to be part of the Flourish community, a network of women committed to supporting, empowering and celebrating one another through the first thousand days of their children’s lives. In my role as a Flourish coach I am privileged not only to benefit from the stories of the women who raised me, my grandmothers, mother, aunts and sisters but also the stories of so many of South Africa’s incredible mothers.

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Some time last year, I came across this beautiful quote by South African writer & poet Lebo Mashile; “We all tell stories of our mothers as though they are virgins. Let’s tell big, sticky, filthy, uncomfortable, complex, treacherous, loud, smelly between the sheets, brave, stories that reflect the reality of the lives women live. Let our ancestors be not sterile virgins.” I paused for a few minutes after reading it. I thought of my own stories, myself a mother, and those of other mothers I have heard.

It made me proud of the community of Flourish sisters I belong to, a community of women, who create wonderfully safe spaces for uncomfortable, brave, painful and loud stories to be shared in communities across South Africa. Women, who themselves juggle the challenges of motherhood, but find it in their hearts to give of their time and host groups of pregnant & new moms, once a week, throughout the year for tears, for laughter, for learning, for fun, for whatever, just because it’s beautiful to be together.

As a Flourish coach, from time to time, I get the extraordinary privilege to sit in on some of these groups and marvel at the power of women coming together to support each other. It reminds me so much of my childhood, the loud laughs (and whispers!) my aunts had when they bathed on the rocks of Umzimkhulu River while we were playing with other children. Where I grew up there is a rock near the road, called itshe labafazi (rock of women). We are told that our grandmothers used to meet there when the sun set to chat, to laugh, to cry, to breastfeed their babies, and gossip about their husbands. As a child, all of this sounded like a whole lot of silliness to me, and my grandmother would laugh and say you will understand when you are older.

And now, I do understand.

So much of Flourish reminds me of my grandmother and all other women from our little village. What makes me happier is that social support, such as the kind Flourish provides, does not only allow women to unwind and connect with each other but also has been found to significantly improve women’s mental health, and help protect them from the perinatal depression and anxiety that is so prevalent in our communities but largely goes unseen. Evidence also suggests that when a woman is supported and empowered, they are more likely to be healthy, and so are their babies. When a woman flourishes, a nation also flourishes.

A lot is being said about women. On social media you see all sorts of memes, people telling women what to do with their lives, telling them perfect ways of mothering. I am not sure which irritate me the most. Is it sentences that start with “good women do…” or is it the dictating ones that start with “women must…”? Everyone is telling us what we must do and not do.

Flourish is one of the few spaces where shame and judgement have no place. At Flourish, we sit in a circle. We do this to create a sense of belonging and acceptance for all those who are in the “house”.  My greatest wish is that as we celebrate mothers this month, we celebrate them for who they really are, in all their beautiful complexity. May we this mother’s month share our loud, brave, painful, uncomfortable stories without shame. May we continue to learn from each other. May we find strength in knowing that the circle is getting bigger.