It all started with a baby.
A baby that would take me on a journey I could never have imagined, dreamed, wished for, and definitely not a journey I thought I was capable of surviving. In the spring of 2017 I decided to write a book about this journey and as I approached the ending of the book and began my futile attempt at editing, a couple of themes continued to resonate. I noticed how many times I used the word “google” and “lonely” or “alone” and how much I relied on the internet and other people’s social media platforms to help me find answers, cope, and sometimes even make huge decisions. I also took time to reflect on the person I was at each step of the way and I tried to identify what was the actual thing I needed at that time. What would have really helped me in those life-changing and sometimes staggering moments?
The answer was obvious … elephants.
Once upon a time in my undergrad years, before love-handles and stretch marks became my most loyal companions, I faintly recalled a professor discussing matriarchal animals in the wild. I remember that day as I sat listening I felt so empowered and was moved practically to tears but now years later I couldn’t quite remember the details of the story or what animal was being described. So I googled matriarchal animals and got a short list of nine as the first hit.
Honeybees: Female is the ruler, the largest, lives the shortest life span and specialty is reproduction.
No, just no.
Killer Whales: The offspring stay with their mothers for life and after having babies of their own they all travel together and are very protective of all the babies.
Bonobos: Great apes that live in female-led groups are known as some of the most peaceful primates and use sex to settle conflicts.
Spotted Hyenas: Larger and more aggressive than the males, females dominate their social group and their genitals resemble the male genitals.
Sweet Jesus, please help me erase this mental image quick. Too late, the photo loaded crazy fast. Ugh!
Lions: Female lions do the hunting while male lions stay home BUT the males get to eat the kill first.
Oh come on!
Mole rats: The mole rat queen is the leader and chooses the biggest and baddest males to mate with then delivers up to seven offspring every two months.
Sign the petition…free birth control for the mole rats! They need our help.
Then after meerkats and ants was elephants. Yes. This is what I remembered from that biology lesson so many years ago. Elephants practice allomothering which means all of the females that comprise the herd help raise each little elephant baby. Great grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts and cousins all travel together. It is the epitome of “it takes a village” in the wild.
But here is the part that got me all teary-eyed years ago and still does to this day.
Through studies and research elephants have been found to be genuinely empathetic towards each other and even wince when seeing that another elephant is seconds from danger. There is an incredibly powerful phenomenon that occurs when one of the females is giving birth or when a female is injured. The internet has many descriptions and stories but basically as the female elephant lies on the ground with labor pains or in pain from injury, all the other female elephants of the herd back up into her forming a circle that completely surrounds her. They stand shoulder to shoulder so close and so tight that sometimes you can’t even see the elephant lying in the middle. They stand together as a massive, strong protective wall, a fortress of females kicking up dust and grass so predators will not catch the scent of the blood being shed. There are eyewitness accounts of these female elephants working together to lift the injured up to her feet. Sometimes this takes two or three of them with one lifting at her belly, one lifting her trunk and the other lifting her hind legs. Other eyewitness accounts confirm that as a laboring elephant gives birth the impenetrable circle of females begins to cover the baby with dust and dirt to protect its new skin from the elements. As the new mother stands to her feet, her new calf wraps its trunk around her tusk and she pulls it up to its feet for the first time. Then in victory and praise all of the female elephants raise their trunks high in the air and begin to trumpet. They celebrate. Literally. Can you hear it? As the air flows forcefully through their trunks loud and strong the wild is filled with trumpeting females congratulating their sister, welcoming her baby, encouraging healing and confirming to the world they are not a tribe to be messed with.
I needed elephants.
Gosh, I think it’s safe to say EVERY momma needs her elephants.
When I got the autism diagnosis for my daughter that January day it was terrifying, lonely, and I had never felt so helpless and vulnerable in my life. Although I did have many family elephants that loved and cared for me, not a single one had experienced autism in their own personal life. Yes, the internet was chock-full of resources, information, autism mommy blogs and studies but I lacked the human connection. It may sound cheesy to most but I really needed a good hug and to sit with someone that had gone through what I was going through for real, tangible one-on-one moral support.
As a Mom of a Child that has Autism, I created The M.o.C.h.A.™ Tribe, a nonprofit organization that would help build a tribe of women that will stand together, shoulder to shoulder, with other M.o.C.h.A.s as they get a new diagnosis, face a major setback, or deal with the cruelty of the stigma. What started as a monthly blog featuring M.o.C.h.A.s in my area that had walked or maybe even crawled through the lowest valley of their mommy lives and reached the other side blessed, strong, and changed, evolved into a one-day retreat called The Ultimate M.o.C.h.A. Session. This retreat would serve as one giant refresh every year, a way to help us all press the reset button on our lives and attitudes and outlooks once per year and meet and hug and share with 100 M.o.C.h.A.s at one time!
Creating and attending this event changed my life.
There is something so impactful and beautiful about a room full of women sharing their heart, making themselves vulnerable to complete strangers that have walked the same road and lightening each other’s load.
It was EXACTLY what I needed years ago.
A couple successful events and many more blog posts later, just when I thought my role as a “Mom helping a Mom” was doing great work, an even bigger opportunity presented itself.
Three women came into my life that had this same concept with the same heart and together, oh man, we are stronger together.
Together we created the Labeled and Loved Weekend Retreat for special needs mommas that will be the largest special needs mom-only conference/retreat the nation has ever seen.
You see, when our children receive a diagnosis everyone shows up for them. Doctors, good or bad… show up. Therapists, good or bad…show up. Teachers, good or bad… show up.
Everyone comes for the kids. No one comes for US. So, we will show up for each other. We will learn from each other. An event for us, by us.
This is not for your education. This is not for your information. This is not for your training. This is not for credit hours of learning from power points.
This is fellowship. This is networking. This is how we build a tribe. This is how we find our elephants. Sharing our stories. Leaning into feelings we are too embarrassed to feel most days and around most people. Understanding that nothing we feel should come with shame but instead validation. This is therapy. This is necessary. This is the EPITOME of MOMS HELPING MOMS.