Asking for Help: Me This Time

I’ve written before about asking for help: how hard it can be for a new mom to feel confident rather than inadequate when she asks; how hard it can be to ask friends and family while fearing rejection. I’ve encouraged women to seek support from postpartum doulas to ease this. In response, women have wished there was a “doula” for every purpose! For getting married, for when your children leave home, for when you retire, for menopause . . . and on and on. I agree! After many months of training and practicing how to give support as a doula,  I find myself now on the receiving end of needing support. I feel better equipped with new knowledge, but as scared as ever to ask.

It’s been more than a month since I’ve written here; this is why. I’m three months pregnant. Right away I knew I was pregnant, deep down, although I didn’t dare to get my hopes up openly. After only about three days, my body freaked and I got mastitis (mastitis, with a toddler?!?). I took my own advice, stayed in bed for 24 hours and asked my husband to do everything for me and for our family. That was my first practice at asking for help. It wasn’t easy but it totally paid off. I was back on my feet with no medication in two days.

Then, at around six weeks, the sickness hit. It’s not morning sickness. Whoever came up with that name never had it. It starts a little after lunchtime, my stomach feels a bit queasy and sour. By dinnertime I’m overwhelmed with nausea and dizziness. Eating every hour helps, but food is the most repulsive thing ever! When I cook for my poor family it’s like the chef has lost her taste buds. I can’t tell if it’s good because everything tastes gross to me! With my daughter this lasted until 15 weeks — which seems like an eternity from now. I feel like such a weirdo when other moms say, no, they didn’t feel anything those first months. Great, I am blessed, once again, with being extra sensitive to yet another aspect of pregnancy and birth.

The hormonally-intensified emotions have set in, too — you know, getting teary at the slightest thing. The silliest thing sets me off. My daughter is obsessed with Shakira’s anthem from the 2010 World Cup. This one line goes, “Y la pasíon se siente / espera en ti tu gente.” I can’t sing along without tearing up. What is it about those words? Your people’s hopes are on you. Your people. My people. And the next verse gets me, too: “Oye tu dios y no estarás solo / Llegaste aqui para brillar y lo tienes todo.” I feel like she’s cheering me on in my pregnancy and birth, forget the soccer nations! (Maybe I’m getting all this because she’s pregnant, too . . .)

Pregnancy, birth, and early motherhood are solitary in many ways. Birth especially. When a woman enters that trance, the altered state of labor, she goes to another place, another plane. A spiritual one, I believe. And no one goes there with her. She is alone. She goes on a journey alone, of physical and emotional strength and stamina. She has to look deep into herself to find that strength. No one can go there with her. I think, what I am craving so much, is to know that my people, mi gente, will be around me, seeing me off on the journey, holding me close one last time. And then that they will be there on the other side, waiting for me with open arms when I come back. Maybe not so far off from the World Cup 🙂

Like all the postpartum literature says, modern US life has made family life challenging, as we often move far from our communities of origin, finding ourselves miles away from the close friends and family who truly have our backs no matter what. In our busy lives with young children it’s harder and harder to feel connected even to friends who do live nearby.

While I’m going through my prego-mama drama, my husband has injured his knee and needs surgery. He won’t be walking at all for at least a couple of weeks. How will I handle child care, dinner, bath time and bedtime day after day on my own? I start to feel panicky. I think, it’s time to take my own advice and ask for help. How? and Who?? I think of local friends who I’ve barely seen since we each had kids. Do they hold a grudge? I think of childhood friends (with kids) who I can’t seem to even get on the phone because our family schedules don’t match up. I think of friends and family without kids who may think I’m a horrible friend for not being in touch or who may think this is minor stuff, why is it such a big deal? It’s not like it’s life threatening or anything. This is what goes on in my mind.

So, overwhelmed with panic, I go for the most public and least personal route: a Facebook status update. If no one responds, it wasn’t personal anyway. I don’t give details just say I could use some support and if anyone can help I’ll send more details. I nervously hit “Post.” I close the phone. I pace. I open it again. After four minutes, three people have already responded, one from each of the categories I worried about above. Tears come. I think, “people are so nice.” How could I have doubted them? People are concerned, thinking of me, wishing they could help. Over days, the responses build up, local ones too, and I think we’ll have enough visitors, hugs, warm meals to keep our spirits up after the surgery. Relief. But I still feel this kind of heartache. These are my gente, here they are reaching out to me when I ask them for help.

But I need them on a daily basis, too. How can I maintain this feeling of connection? The birth of a child brings this moment when time stops, when everything is out of the ordinary. People know it’s special, they show up, and they want to lend a hand. How can we keep that feeling of community and support going the rest of the time? We have blogs, email and Facebook. Those stories, photos and videos give us snippets, sometimes meaningful glimpses, into each other’s lives. We have those few stolen moments for phone calls or video chats when play times or nap times magically align across time zones. I focus my energy on relationships with neighbor-families who we see every week to play and connect, for example in our bilingual singing and play time. Maintaining these connections seems like a mission, a calling, that without constant attention may slip away.

I suppose this is my calling, as keeper and guardian of the household and family, to also nurture our community and connections to other families. Another reason why it’s such a demanding job. The meaningful roles of mother and partner, the real meat of the job, is to be cultivated even if it means letting some other parts slip . . . the tidying, the laundry, the to-do list of chores. Those can wait, at least until I make it to 15 weeks.

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