Five years ago, I was a brand new mother. I spent my days and nights taking care of my infant daughter, loving her immensely and at the same time, discovering how lonely motherhood could be.
Expressions I’d heard for years but never understood suddenly made sense: the days are long but the years are short; you never know how much you can love someone until you have a child; and perhaps the most poignant- it takes a village to raise a family.
My own mother worked full-time, but helped me with the baby when she could, taking pride in being a grandmother. But there were no other mothers with outstretched arms, running over the lighten my load. I simply didn’t know any. I’d been the first of my friends to have a child, a task that proved more difficult and more segregating than I could’ve imagined. But truth be told, I never would’ve asked for help unless it was practically forced upon me. It just wasn’t my style.
I only had one child, after all. I was only working part-time in the evenings, sometimes writing on the weekends. But my life was the same as any other mother’s, I reasoned. It was hard, but it was mine and I tried my best to own it and not to seem like I was in over my head. Of course, I didn’t realize then that everyone needs help sometimes, particularly new mothers, that we are all in a little over our heads, and the village might not just appear — you have to build it.
People said I should have parent friends but that seemed hard. Joining a moms group didn’t feel like me. In the past, making friends involved getting drinks, flirting with boys and nursing hangovers with bloody marys. Nursing babies in a circle and talking about how amazing it is to be a mom didn’t seem as fun or as easy. Making friends as a grown up, an insecure grown up in a brand new role, was terrifying.
“I’d like to see you have some friends that are also mothers. It will be good for you. And everyone needs a village,” a therapist told me when I really began to struggle. So approximately one time I tried to make a friend. I was at a park with my daughter on a cold day and a mother and her toddler approached us. The girls played together and the mother mostly looked at her phone while I struggled to make conversation with her. In the back of my head, I felt she was thinking I was too young, too scattered. Maybe she was, maybe she wasn’t. But I’m certain that single thought eroded any real chance we had at being friends.
I gave her my phone number so we could get the girls together and I was so proud of myself. Of course she never called and with that I gave up trying to make mom friends. I devised a new plan: wait until all of my current friends have babies and have friends effortlessly and minus the humiliation all over again.
But my plan failed, because friends found me. Once my daughter started preschool, I was suddenly immersed in a sea of parents. Conversations with mothers and fathers who had children the same age as mine made my life feel so much easier. Knowing there were other people in the world who were trying to navigate the terrible twos and threes, who were reading The Happiest Toddler on the Block like it was gospel, was like a breath of fresh air. It was a bit of long-awaited peace to my lonely soul. Friends did start to have babies, too. And though I had become less dependent on that hope, I felt like our friendships were refreshed. Other parents had become part of my world and I felt lucky. And for the first time, I felt like I was a part of something rather than on my own.
Having companionship also helped us decide to have another baby. I felt like I had mothers to lean on if I needed and it helped me believe I could do it. In those first colicky months of my baby boy’s life, our village grew and grew, perhaps out of necessity. There was no way to hide our son’s cries from the rest of the world. When we had tried everything to soothe him my husband would take him outside and rock him on the porch swing in the warm summer air until he fell asleep. When we struggled for months after to get even a few hours of sleep a night, we couldn’t hide our exhaustion, either.
The street we had moved to was suddenly populated with babies and mothers. Soon, they, along with the rest of my village, were knocking down my door, offering to help. The mom next door sent her middle school daughter over to babysit. The mom down the street brought lasagna and chocolate and babysat my daughter. My long-time friend (who now had her own toddler) brought me a nipple shield when the baby wouldn’t latch. My doula came over to give me company when I texted her my frustrations, and took my daughter to play with her girls so that I could let the baby sleep on me in a rare moment.
I found that the village was everywhere when I let it in. This time, I couldn’t help but need it, and needing it turned out not to be the worst thing in the world. Years ago, I might have pushed it away and pushed hard, not understanding that most mothers are happy to give their help. For whatever reason, it’s usually much harder to accept it.
Something in me still wants to be able to do it all flawlessly and I have to tell myself it’s okay when I can’t. The other night a very pregnant mother of three noticed me putting the baby into his carseat while he kicked and screamed. She quietly opened the door to the other side to let my daughter get in.
While I still often fight the feeling that I’m failing when someone offers their help, I told her “thank you so much,” and I meant it. “No problem,” she replied, no doubt having walked my same path. “It takes a village.”
Sarah Bregel is a writer, yoga teacher, feminist and deep-breather who lives with her husband, daughter and son. She blogs about the endlessly terrifying journey of motherhood at TheMediocreMama.com. Join her on Facebook and Twitter @SarahBregel.
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