I just spent a month with my parents following the birth of my second child. After a not so pleasant experience with baby #1 I decided to take my mother up on her initial offer of caring for me full time while I recovered from the delivery and nine months of hellish pregnancy. It was one of the best life decisions I ever made.
The first time I became a mom I had this distorted perception of parenting that consisted of a quietly serene home, a couple cooing over their newborn daughter, sharing household responsibilities and providing each other with emotional support. Unfortunately, the image is more accurately described as me alone for 8 hours a day, baby napping on my chest for three of those hours and crying for the rest while I tried to consume cold coffee and dried toast.
This time I fully surrendered to maternity, allowing my mother to tend to me around the clock and without an ounce of guilt. I wasn’t going to pretend that missing meals because I was too busy cluster feeding or being unable to take a break because no one else was around to watch the baby was something I was willing to do again. Nope, this time my husband and daughter took somewhat of a backseat while my village, my mother, helped me through the first few weeks and, frankly, I can’t thank her enough. To be fair, I wasn’t completely absent from my family’s life. They’d spend evenings and weekends with me so it was, in all honesty, the best of both worlds.
Throughout the day my mother would bring me food and drinks infused with Indian spices intended on speeding up the healing process. She’d keep an eye on the baby while I slept and, on one particularly memorable occasion, gave me a full on back massage. It wasn’t, however, just the physical support that got me through the beginning, mom also provided me with much needed emotional and social support, the importance of which we often ignore. While we may be experiencing a cultural shift with the introduction of nationwide paternity leave, women are usually left to fend for themselves shortly after childbirth and the task can be fairly lonesome (cue the thousands of mommy blogs, mine included, and Facebook groups along with the ever so insightful baby websites). Seriously though, waking up in the morning to someone I could share the previous night’s experience with and who I could really talk to made a world of difference.
Not surprisingly, most women I spoke with were very supportive of the idea. Some said they could never do the same, that living with mommy would prove to be annoying. Frankly, I had a similar thought the first time around…ignorance isn’t always so blissful. I hadn’t anticipated the intensity of the physical and mental exhaustion nor had I realized the depth of loneliness that my new role would bring. Although three of my girlfriends had babies around the same time, we rarely saw each other, living in the confinement of our homes where social interactions consisted primarily of Facebook notifications. Personally, I was going through a very rough time and reluctant to be around people who couldn’t understand the challenges I was facing especially when it felt like no one else was struggling the way I was.
Looking back, I wonder who I could have I relied on if my mother wasn’t around. Not all women are lucky enough to have the support of family and it seems in this age of cyber supermoms where we’re constantly exposed to images promoting false realities of motherhood that seeking help from our counterparts goes beyond social norms. From bouncing back to your pre-baby bod to stories of infants sleeping through the night, it’s hard not to feel like sharing your personal experience will make you appear like a failure. The fact remains that having social and emotional support lessens the very real stress and anxiety that comes with becoming a parent so why not look to one another for assistance?
Recently a girlfriend of mine asked me to watch her kid for a few hours while she ran an errand. She was hesitant in her request, not wanting to inconvenience me but I gladly accepted. It occurred to me after the fact that in the four years since becoming a mother and being surrounded by friends who were now parents, that was the first time any of them had asked me for help with their kids. It’s definitely not for lack of need nor is it a testament to my capabilities (I hope). Nope, it seems that most of us feel we cannot count on each other for help and that, my mommy friends, is a problem. Our social networks shouldn’t just be a forum for posting meaningless photos of our perfect lives but rather a place where we can ask for support when we need it. Physical support that is, not just likes and comments. After all, if it takes a village and we’re lucky enough to have one, why do it alone? Girlfriend had no reason to be reluctant in asking me for help because one day, when I need a night out, it will be my turn to cash in.