Meeting the Bruderhof community was somewhat by accident, really. Sometime after moving to DC, I began working in Northwest at a pregnancy center straddled between Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. Soon thereafter I came to notice oddly dressed women about Columbia Road. They ducked into homeless shelters, hospice homes, and Christian medical centers. Their drab floor-length skirts, clearly handmade, were paired with an equally modest standard button-down shirt, and a kerchief covering their hair.
It wasn’t long before two or three of the women came to our center to volunteer, just as they were doing all over the city. In the midst of piles of baby clothes to be folded and paperwork to be filed, I came to know them quite well.
Their simple Christian community was started in Germany in 1920 by a man named Eberhard Arnold and his wife. The Arnolds’ original desire was to embrace the Beatitudes and the call of Christian living described in Acts 2:44-45. This drastic commitment of faith meant owning nothing independently and having all things in common.
The Arnolds’ vision continues today and the women I met at the pregnancy center were living it. As I got to know their lifestyle, I found it quite amusing how the community members were so entirely unaware of the value of monetary things.
During those years, there were about 10 married and single community members living in a small house in DC, with a pastor and his wife.
Eventually, their center in Northwest folded and its members returned to the various communities scattered across Europe, the Americas and Australia, but the friendship I had made with them would prove lasting.
Five years later, now married and with two children, I found myself once again staring down an intimidating pregnancy. You see, after the birth of our second son, I experienced such a crushing postpartum depression that I was sure I could never face those demons again.
As fate would have it, around that time, the pastor and his wife from the DC community, my old friends, were passing through Virginia from their current community in upstate NY, and decided to pay us a visit.
As we talked, they asked me how our Catholic community supports mothers postpartum, particularly those who have suffered in the past. I just stared at them dumbfounded.
More to read: The most merciful gift you can give to a new mom
After I heard of their community’s practice — a young single woman lives with a postpartum mother and her family for at least a year after the baby’s birth — I think my jaw actually hit the floor. This Mary Poppins character they painted before me assists with childcare, housework, cooking, cleaning, and, by golly, is just plain good company.
Company, you say? Isn’t that what I needed the most!
I offered a halting defense of our life out here “in the world,” telling of meals dropped at your door and support groups with free babysitting. But the pastor and his wife looked at me as if I were a frontierswoman, left to hack out trails by myself in the wilderness, and with a baby strapped to my back!
My postpartum tales of woe weren’t for naught, however, as only a few days later, they called to say they were sending a single young lady to stay with us for the next month.
You can imagine our shock, our delight, our fear! The woman who was to stay with us had not left a Bruderhof community in all of her 28 years! When she moved in, I discovered that she had never been grocery shopping, wasn’t up to date on modern technology, had never driven a car … but boy, was she good company.
And yes, she cleaned like ever a Mary Poppins would, and the kids were entranced by her zillions of songs. Her greatest desires were to shine the light of Christ within our household, see the world outside her community, and bring support to mothers and families who were struggling.
When I first set eyes on those Old World German women in kerchiefs back in DC, I would have never imagined that my own home would one day be mission territory. But hey, postpartum hormones can do ugly things to a family, and I am so thankful that our answer came in the form of a constant companion and lifelong friend named Laurita.
[Editor’s Note: Take the Poll – Should the church do more for women postpartum?]