My baby is 19 months old, and some of the memories have become softer as she’s moved into the bouncy toddler stage, but I still remember the rawness of the first year, especially those first months.
Tonight, as I was nursing my toddler to sleep, I got on Facebook. One of my former students, a senior in high school, if she is still attending, posted two pictures side by side. The first was of girls together at prom, smiling and having fun. The other showed the same girls in the delivery room, supporting their teenage friend and doting on her new baby. My former student posted this meme, these side-by-side photos, with these words, “that’s a real friendship, all mine was fake”. And I felt her pain. I did. Here she was showing what she had wanted for her own teen pregnancy and delivery.
Sadly, like her, I found that the hardest thing about becoming a mother was losing people. I had gone from being a high school teacher, surrounded by teenagers and colleagues, to a mother of a high-needs infant who wanted to nurse around the clock.
My husband worked out of town, and there was no one to help, no one to visit, no one to assist me in getting out of the funk I was in.
You see, motherhood can be lonely at first. When I decided to quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, I had no idea the withdraw symptoms I would have. I longed for communication, socialization. Instead, my baby nursed while I binged on Netflix and slept when I could.
Those people who were great friends at work did come see her once when she was first born, but after that, even after texting my fears of having postpartum depression, were too busy with their own lives. My husband even had family in the same town as us, two who put a lot into celebrating my pregnancy, but as women without children it was easy for them to not realize I needed someone to stop by once in a while. It was way too easy for everyone. It was way too easy for the old me, the one without a child, to not realize that I should have been there for new mothers. In retrospect, I wish I had done so much more for those friends of mine who had children before I did. I was simply remiss, and at the time never realized it.
For me the isolation was due to many factors out of my control. My father, three hours away, couldn’t come help because he’s legally blind and can’t drive. My mother, a little over two hours away, was dealing with my sister’s addiction; and my grandfather, also two hours, was busy day and night taking care of my grandmother with Alzheimer’s. I was alone.
Thankfully, I was able to talk on the phone to both my dad and grandfather every day, and I sincerely believe this is what kept me sane during those sleep-deprived and socially-deprived days. That, and my bitterness. I held on to my bitterness for a long time. In a way, it is still with me. It is not something I condone or am proud of. But it’s there.
It is, unfortunately, hard to forget reaching out to people and then being reproached for it, being told you are weak or somehow defective, being told that other mothers handled it better with much less. Those are not easy things to forget.
It is not easy to let go of being told you shouldn’t feel lonely or shouldn’t need others.
But the days got easier, so much easier. I could actually put her down to cook a meal, do a load of laundry, clean the toilets. She began nursing less so I could actually take her out of the house.
And then, I began needing people less. I could stop hoping and praying for some help and friendship. And now, without the need and expectation, I can enjoy people when I see them.
But now, I wonder, why do we forget new mothers? How could people who had been mothers before not understand what I, alone in a city, would need?
As a mother of a toddler, I still remember, so now I reach out. I ask. I inquire. I offer to visit. I offer to help, as long as I can also bring my toddler along. I don’t want new parents to feel what I felt. But I may be one of the few like this, which I say only from my own experience. Anecdotal, for sure.
Yet, to me it seems that somewhere, somehow we’ve lost touch with our tribal past. We used to live with one another, depend on one another. Now, as my husband often expresses, we only show weakness when we ask for help, when we expect help. But how can this be healthy perception of those asking for help? Would fewer mothers be diagnosed with postpartum depression if we started supporting them more? Would these new mothers be better nurturers if they too could be nurtured? Can we allow women time to properly heal before abandoning them to the overwhelming new task of caring for babies?
And maybe my experience was a little more extreme, having a high-needs infant. I get that. But I definitely don’t think I’m alone. And I definitely don’t think I will ever fully get over being made to feel silly for asking for some postpartum help in those first few weeks, especially by the people I thought would support me and my child the most.
As I read my former-student’s post, I looked at the comments, at people both indignant that she would call them out and defensive. Like this 18 year-old woman, when I addressed these issues, I got the same response.
In all hopes of making the world slightly better, I implore you, if you find out that you were remiss, either purposely or ignorantly, don’t attack the person coming forward with their pain. Instead, tell them you’re sorry that you didn’t understand. Tell them you never realized they needed you, and offer something in the present. Do it with love if you can.
New mothers aren’t trying to hurt you; they are simply asking for help or trying to deal with new sleep-deprivation and new challenges. I know it’s easy to get defensive. But sometimes it’s best to shoulder that criticism so that you can focus on the other person for a moment and empathize.