Mamatefet’s first Mom and Babe Circle. (photo from Mamatefet)
Meirav Galili and her husband Itai moved to Vancouver with their two children from Israel five years ago. When their third child was born here, the family received lots of support from friends, something that helped make up for the fact that they have no extended family here.
When she heard about a plan to create a network of Israeli moms and moms-to-be, she was one of the first to sign up with Mamatefet.
Mamatefet, which has grown exponentially almost exclusively through word of mouth, is a mash-up of “mama” with the Hebrew word “maatefet,” which is a wraparound or embrace. The group welcomes those who want to be an otefet, an embracer, or a ne’etefet, an embracee. Except, the terms are not mutually exclusive.
“Sometimes it’s our turn to give and sometimes it’s our turn to get some help,” said Galili, adding that the success of the group surprised all involved.
“It was amazing because many, many people said, ‘me, me, me, me, me,’ and quickly we established something,” she said. Understanding the added burden of having and raising children without parents, aunts, sisters-in-law or other family around inspired many women to step forward.
Thanks to Mamatefet, one phone call or a WhatsApp message can put a team into action.
“The woman doesn’t need to ask even,” Galili said. “Everything is being done for her. She just needs to tell a friend, ‘My child is sick with me’ or ‘I have to stay at the hospital for tonight,’ and we’ll take it from there, and when they get home they have everything. It’s a very strong, warm feeling that we are not alone and we have this supportiveness.”
That is exactly what Rotem Regev had in mind when she and four friends conceived of Mamatefet in late 2016.
“It was one of those nights,” Regev recalled, “a few friends got together sitting around the coffee table chatting, recounting their individual – which we then realized were quite collective – stories of transition, to Vancouver, to motherhood, and how that intersected. What became really crystal clear to all of us is that we were feeling quite a bit of loneliness at that time, whenever that transition was, coming to Vancouver either pregnant or with a very little one, when there is not a school yet or any sort of structure to fit into…. To top that off, you would also be facing an extra challenge being away from your family and friends in a country that doesn’t yet quite feel like home and a language that doesn’t quite feel like home and a healthcare system that feels very, very different.
“We didn’t want any woman to feel the loneliness that we felt,” she said.
When they decided to share their idea, they thought maybe five more women would join, perhaps seven. A few months later, they had 70 embracers and more than 40 embracees.
“The word spread out like wildfire really, because I think the need was so great,” said Regev, who is a clinical psychologist. There are a couple of similar groups in Israel and something sort of like Mamatefet in San Francisco and another in New Jersey, but, considering the evident need, it is a surprisingly rare initiative.
Regev and her Mamatefet co-founders Tamara Halamish, Yael Pilo Raz, Yael Mayer and Matti Feigelstock, have now seen their project expand from Vancouver to teams in Richmond, Ladner, Surrey, North Vancouver and East Vancouver-Burnaby, with a new team gearing up in Langley and the Tri-Cities.
In general, Mamatefet volunteers will deliver food, often including a Shabbat meal. There are regular meet-up groups for pregnant women and another for new moms. They are also on call in case of a crisis, like a miscarriage or a stillbirth.
But it’s the informal friendships that organically develop that are as important, said Marina Ingel. Being able to arrange play dates, exchange kids’ clothes, have a coffee with other new moms – this is an important outcome too, she said.
One of the reassuring things is talking to other moms about how the medical system in Canada differs from that in Israel.
“Here it’s totally different. Everything,” said Ingel. “In Israel, every time you’re going to the doctor, you’re doing an ultrasound. Here, you have maybe two the whole pregnancy. A bunch of things that they’re checking in Israel, they’re not doing this at all. But then you realize it’s fine and, if you have any problem, they will check it. Everything is OK, but the thing is that you’re worried about it, because it’s new to you.”
For Galili, cooking is both a hobby and a way to support other new moms.
“They send a message saying there is a woman who is about to come home with a baby and [asking] who is willing to participate,” she said. “I thought, OK, I need to prepare something anyway so I’ll just prepare something extra.”
Baking, homemade granola and yogurt, soups and a main dish, comfort food like chicken and rice, are the sorts of things she preps for new moms.
“If her mother were here, this is what she would probably make for her,” said Galili.
Mamatefet can be reached via facebook.com/mamatefet.