The support of other Mothers through all of life’s transitions and struggles has been weighing on my heart heavily lately. I’ve just come through an extremely difficult pregnancy and postpartum period after my 4th child, and I have to admit, I had a really hard time asking for help even when it was a matter of life or death. I hemmoraghed after the birth, then after several weeks, I realized it really wasn’t actually normal to still be in excruciating pain every day. Unknowingly, I’d developed a life-threatening postpartum uterine infection. Yet when my Meal Train ran out and I secretly wished for another, and my husband went back to work, and my Mom went home, I braved four children alone and in pain…because the world taught me not to ask for help. The world taught me I’m only a strong Mother if I go it alone.
I called my husband day after day in tears, sobbing, “I can’t do this.” Soon enough, going it alone brought me to a new level of drowning. A slow and sinking numbness began to set in, called postpartum depression. It was a dark and ugly beast that took up camp in my body. No matter how hard I tried to fight it, my sleep deprivation and overwhelm only fed the beast. And you know what fed the beast best? It’s favorite meal was my, “I need to keep bearing this cross alone,” attitude.
One night, I finally broke. I sat my parents and my husband down in my living room and I shook their bodies with my eyes instead of my hands.
“I CAN’T DO THIS ALONE ANYMORE. PLEASE HELP ME,” I pleaded.
It wasn’t easy, but after that, we all found a way to fight the beast together. We did everything we could to make sure we weren’t feeding it. It was hard – I had to ask for help a LOT as illness after illness came. I spent a week in the hospital on hard-core IV antibiotics, then we all caught every flu bug, virus, cold known to man for 7 months straight. Dealing with so many illnesses and caretaking sick kids all while fighting “the beast” was a a monumental task, to say the least. I know one thing, without a doubt, I could not have done it alone.
Now, I’m sitting here, nearly 7 months postpartum, finally feeling like more like myself again, finally feeling joy again, writing this to you, able to say I’m ok now, and you want to know why?
Because I asked for help. And I let myself take it. Again, and again. And not just when it was dire, but when I just needed a smile or a friend, too.
I believe that if we want to change the state of our world, we have to start with the Mothers. We have to change the way we mother our mothers and we have to change the way we allow ourselves to BE mothered as mothers.
We know we need to take better care of each other when we look at the nightly news and hear the stories of Mamas who’ve left their babies in cars, driven them into lakes, drowned them in bathtubs, committed suicide in the midst of postpartum depression, or abandoned their babies because it was all too much – we KNOW something has to change, right?! We know this old paradigm is NOT WORKING ANYMORE. We have let those Mamas down, ladies! We have let them slip through OUR fingers – yes, yours and mine. We have forgotten to tell them somewhere along the way, that even though we are drowning, overwhelmed, and overdone ourselves, they are not alone, and it’s ok to ask for help!!!!!!!!!
We have to TAKE CARE OF EACH OTHER, AND OURSELVES.
We must be warriors, warriors of “Compassion In Action.” Compassion In Action is showing up in a Mama’s life because if you don’t, she will drown. It’s showing up in a Mama’s life even when she’s only kind of drowning, just to give her a hug or a hello because without this compassion, she will turn into a harried, overwhelmed, angry/sad/lost Mama, and that’s not good for anyone, because these Mamas can’t feed their baby’s souls. These Mamas can’t feed their own souls. And babies and Mamas who don’t get soul food grow up to be angry, sad, lonely, depressed, vengeful, or empty. Those are not the qualities we need to plant into our world. We have enough angry, sad, lonely, depressed, vengeful and empty in the world already, don’t we?
We were not put on this Earth to go it alone. When our culture shifted from villages to single family homes, we lost our sense of community – the sense of community we were designed to live and coexist within. We were designed to be an interdependent species. We depend on the land to feed our bodies, plants and animals to sustain our physical growth, and friends and family to sustain our physical, emotional and spiritual needs. This is why we get married. This is why we have babies. Because we need others. We were biologically designed to NEED OTHERS. But, here in America especially, somewhere along the way we got the idea that the image of a “good Mother” is one who doesn’t need help, who doesn’t need anything from others, who is “so strong” she can do it all. I call B.S. on that thinking. It takes courage to ask for help, to admit you can’t do it all and most importantly, SHOULDN’T do it all ALONE.
We have all at some point needed to know we were not alone. We have all at some point needed help. And because of that, we know how important it is now, to show up for others.
I think if we’re ever to shift the collective thinking, we have to start with ourselves, and then each other. Ask yourself right now, are you really willing to ask for help and receive it? Are you willing to ask for help even when things aren’t dire – when you’re just overwhelmed, overstressed or overburdened? Why or why not?
I think if you’re honest, you might reply something like one woman I know in a Postpartum Support Group who said, “I will avoid asking for help at all costs.” Wow.
I think her comment speaks to how so many of us feel. It is TERRIFYING vulnerability to admit we cannot be everything to our kids. But, here’s the thing, Mamas, we CANNOT BE EVERYTHING TO OUR KIDS. Do you get that? We send them to school because we know they can teach them something maybe we can’t. We send them to ballet, to soccer, to summer camp, because we know they can give them something we can’t. We send them to Grandma’s house for a weekend, on a playdate with Daddy and the Uncles, because we know they can give them something we can’t.
We cannot be the village. We can only be part of it.
Our children benefit by us NOT going it alone. They benefit from every single person we bring into the village. They benefit from every weight lifted off our shoulders that gives us more strength to carry them with now. They benefit from every hour we give ourselves without them to just BREATHE and remember what it feels like to be ourselves, not just somebody’s Mother.
And we can’t just ask for help when we are desperate, Mommas, because then we think then it’s justified. We can’t only ask for the Meal Trains, rides for the kids, carpool exchanges, and playdate swaps when someone has DIED or been born. We have to do it all the time. Want to know why?
Because then…we are helping others as much as we are helping ourselves. Everyone wins! Everyone wins! Our kids get happier Mommies. Our friends gets relief. We get relief. The people who help us feel joy, we feel joy. We ALL breathe a little easier every single day because we know someone’s got our backs – and not just someone, but a bunch of someone’s.
We have to be warriors, Mamas. We have to Mother other Mothers. We have to earn their trust, let them know it’s ok to let us into their lives and their homes to help them. We’re not judging them. We’re just giving what we know we will one day need and receive ourselves.
TAKE WHAT YOU NEED. That’s what it comes down to. Don’t worry about if, when, or how you’ll get what you need. Just take what you need. Just ask, then say thank you, and take what you need. It’s a back and forth dance that makes us all equally vulnerable and courageous when we do it together, NOT ALONE.
It is time to abandon the old paradigm. But the question is how? Each of our hearts has in it a special place for supporting other Mothers and that’s why we’re here, right? But the question is how? How do we show up for others and help them when we aren’t willing to ask for help ourselves? Or when others aren’t willing to receive it, or both? How do we shift the paradigm?
Here’s how. I’m going to give you a road map with ACTIONABLE TOOLS. You will read this and when you finish you will know exactly HOW to start throwing out safety nets for the forgotten mothers who feel alone in their struggles right now. You know the ones, the ones who feel JUST LIKE YOU HAVE FELT AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER.
#1 TAKE THEM BY FORCE
We need to force our way into other women’s lives when they need us. I mean it! It may sound bad, but it’s true. Just like in my last post, we have to knock on the door and then keep knocking until they let us in. We have to be warriors of compassion who stand in the faces of other women going through transitions in their lives – be they deaths, divorces, births or babies, behavioral challenges, illnesses or just plain overwhelm! We have to stand in the faces of other Mothers, see them as ourselves, and gently, compassionately, boldly tell them, “We are here to help and we’re not leaving until you give us something to do.”
We have to take care of each other as much as we take care of our children. We have to take care of ourselves as much as we take care of our children.
This is the only way we can begin to shift the paradigm of this “strong woman = lone warrior” crap. We can be warriors of compassion. Like Glennon Doyle Melton says, WE CAN DO HARD THINGS.
The next thing we can do is ask for help, and let other Mothers SEE our willingness to do so. We can LIVE our belief that COMMUNITY is more important than INDEPENDENCE by willingly letting the world see us asking for, giving and receiving help. This grants other Mothers permission to do the same.
So, quit putting on your best face for Facebook and the rest of the world. Let them see the harried mess in all it’s beauty. Your courage gives other Mothers permission to be themselves, to own their messes and beauty. You showing your true face, not your best face, SCREAMS to other Mothers, “YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I FEEL THE SAME WAY YOU DO!!!”
This is terrifying, I know, because there are those “judgers” out there. So, you know what you do? UNFRIEND THE JUDGERS! Or, stand in the convictions of your courage for a new paradigm. Stand for what you know to be true. Think of Mothers like me, who literally would have DIED had they not asked for help, and STAND FOR ME, and all the other Mothers, the forgotten ones we let slip through our fingers.
#3 START TALKING (Well, that’s easy, talking is one thing we Mamas are really good at!)
We need to start dialogue like this, start asking ourselves and each other questions. How can we do something different now? How will it look? What do we, the collective we and the individual we’s formed between groups of friends and strangers in our communities, do when we hit a bump in the road? How do we adapt and make changes until we teach all of ourselves how to Mother the Mothers again? Start a conversation in your Mommy groups, on your blogs, in your churches, at your book clubs. Start talking about why we’re all so terrified of asking for help, and start telling – no SHOWING – every Mother you see, TO TAKE CARE.
Dear Mama, Mama, Mama, I know how hard it is to ask for help, and sometimes, even, to give it. I know you are overwhelmed, tired, busy, stressed, and burdened, too. But, Mama, I don’t want you to be alone anymore – whatever it is you’re doing, I don’t want you GOING IT ALONE anymore. Stand with me for our togetherness, now.
Now, I dare you to share this. I dare you to post in on all your social media pages and MAKE IT GO VIRAL. Not for me, for YOU, and all the other Mothers in the world we need to take better care of. I don’t want to stand alone anymore. Will you stand with me, too? (and now I’m crying. Love you, beautiful Mama.)