Asking for help: why is it so damn hard? The vulnerability scrapes and rubs like sloughing off skin and leaving new baby skin left tender and raw to the touch. I had to ask for help this week. I messed up my schedule and I needed three hours of childcare that I didn’t have. I have to tell you about my wonderful neighborhood. Within an hour of my tentative group post about needing childcare, I had four different offers for play dates. I am so lucky to have that kind of community in all the houses around me. I would gladly do the same for them, of course. It would make me so happy to do that for any of my neighbors in need. It is actually easier to watch my kids when they have friends over. Yet, I had to force myself to say yes. As soon as I did, I became instantly obsessed about how I could repay the kindness. I almost felt sick when it came time to leave. How could I allow my neighbor to help me, to feed my kids, to drive them around? I knew somewhere in the dormant logic side of my brain that she was happy to do this for me, just like she said when she offered. She would care for my babies, love them and make it possible for me to take a class. All these negative emotions, washing over me, paralyzing my hand as I tried to reach for the door handle came from my fear: my fear of being needy, of taking advantage of a friend, of being seen as vulnerable.
When I became a mom for the first time; I wanted to show that I could do it all. Not only did I want to show that I could manage everything without ever asking for help but I wanted to do it joyfully and stylishly: an instagram photo of cool, clean, effortless parenthood.
I had a long labor the first time. I bled more than expected and my daughter needed to go to the NICU for the first few days. My husband pushed me around the hospital hallways in a wheelchair for me to sleep a little in the windowless parent room and to go down the to our daughter’s room to nurse. I would lift my new little girl into my arms, my hands making tunnels under and through the tubes and wires connected to her body. I was shocked. Shocked to be in the hospital and not peacefully recovering at home like we had planned. Shocked by how my body felt so barely together like the universe had shone through me to light the way for my child had also taken apart my bones and muscles leaving me wobbly and drained. When I saw my mother in law, I cried. The walls came down for that moment. I felt so happy to see her and to know that someone was there to support us.
When we went home a few days later, I found it harder to accept the support and help that she offered. Her help in the environment of my own space started to feel to me in my shaky, exhausted, unsure state like criticism. When she asked if I wanted her to do something, I took it to be her telling me, “I notice you aren’t doing that.” That wasn’t her intention at all but in my vulnerability, I was insecure, embarrassed and raw. After the first two days home, wooden and dull with exhaustion, I still got up, showered, got dressed and sat on the couch. I did that everyday through the rest of their visit. I continued through my mom’s visit right after. I treated it all like a regular get together, even trying to get up to cook. I tried to be a good hostess and it was really fucking stupid. I didn’t heal very well.
After everyone left, trying to prove that I could handle everything, I tried to move furniture. I suffered from crippling postpartum anxiety. Looking back, I feel such a sad tenderness for myself. The girl I was, trying to prove to everyone around me that I was competent. All the while, my heart cried out for love, for support for nurturing. I wanted someone to wrap around me and say, “you are going to be ok.” I wanted them to clean my house, feed me warm and nutritious food and make me lie down. Yet, I wouldn’t allow anyone to actually do that.
When I had my second child, my dear friend came over and cleaned my toilet. She scrubbed my bathroom clean. She brought me tea and sat with me for the perfect amount of time. I made myself accept it through gritted teeth. I accepted it because after my first experience, I made a commitment to myself to start accepting all the help offered. It is a gift of time and service that I won’t ever forget. She came and offered me true support and love. I was able to accept and I felt so nurtured as she left.
I let my mother in law take care of my toddler. I stayed in bed with the baby. We slept together all day and I got up only to pee and to look out my bedroom window at a tree in the yard. Those are the moments most present in my memory: baby in my arms, the tree reaching out and up and down all at once. I would talk to my baby and describe what I was seeing. I would sleep and eat ice cream bars and do all I could to rest. My second recovery was so much better. For many reasons, different, shorter birth without complications, different baby but also because I accepted support.
Here I am now. My kids are 4 and 7. I have this urge, this rumbling inside of me to seek more work, more knowledge, more fulfillment for myself. I have this community around me like the net under a circus performer. If I fall, they are willing to be there. This is a gift that cannot be appreciated enough. Maybe instead of standing high above on my tight rope, trying to keep everything perfectly balanced and together, trying to demonstrate how I am not needy, how I can do it all. Maybe, just maybe, I could jump down and feel the relief and the buoyancy of the net. It will require trust. It will require a leap of faith and a commitment to the belief: that I am worthy enough to be caught.