The offer of a cup of tea and a muffin can be just what a new mom needs in the days after her child enters the world. When you are serving the needs of a baby 24 hours a day, the surprise of being served and welcomed is enough to bring on tears of joy.
I received this gift of hospitality when I attended the Afterglow New Mom’s group at the Diaper Fairy Cottage (a cloth diaper and natural parenting store) when my baby was seven weeks old. I went to Afterglow the first time because I needed to get out of the house. I kept going because the experience fed me. Being in that room of women quickly brought me into a community that promised to support me on this daunting journey. In just a few weeks, we were sharing intimate stories and asking deep questions about the physical and emotional challenges of mothering. Connected in person and then online, we became a little tribe.
Afterglow is an intentional community devoted to guiding and accompanying mothers through the joys and challenges of parenting. Emily McCay, owner of the Diaper Fairy Cottage and a postpartum doula, has created a safe space through Afterglow, which aims to “bring the challenges of new parenthood out of the shadows.” She opens each session by sharing hospitality — table fellowship, even — and discussing the group norms of openness, inclusivity and support. She invites each mother to participate in a simple examen by sharing a rose and a thorn: a celebration and a struggle.
The goal of the “cottage community” is to accompany one another on the way of parenting.
McCay says, “I have seen these small, intimate groups of mothers go on to support each other at very important times including the death of spouses, the end of marriages and the loss of pregnancies.” Advice is only offered when requested, but a network of resources stand at the ready. While nothing about Afterglow is overtly spiritual, the discussion is holy and the space feels sacred.
After attending the group a few times, I was excited to tell my husband, “Afterglow is a ministry!” The group is meeting a deep need in the wider community. Mothers are hungry for a space where we can be honest about our lives, where noisy babies are welcome and where we don’t have to use a pesky cover while nursing. A surprising result of Afterglow is also the way it teaches behavioral norms that are refreshing and unlike those of the humdrum world. Women are treated with grace and shown how to offer that
love to others freely. When we are at our best, the church does these same things. We meet real needs in our community. We demonstrate a new way of living and encourage one another in it. We treat one another as beautiful children of God.
Churches are called to cultivate this kind of support and encouragement for the journey of discipleship. Pastors dream of igniting such genuine connections that model generosity and grace. For me, Afterglow will stand as a model to strive for as I guide congregations toward the creation of new ministries. As moms graduate out of the group, they continually affirm that Afterglow empowered them to survive and thrive at mothering, something that is really hard and really worth it. Discipleship is like that, too: really hard, and yet really worth it. This is the kind of community I want accompanying me with support and guidance as I travel on the way of Jesus.
EMMA NICKEL serves as interim pastor at Beulah Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. She is passionate about congregational ministry, trying new recipes and keeping her baby’s naps on schedule. She lives in Louisville with her husband, Matt, and their young daughter.