A few days after my son was born, my husband and I needed to buy something from the drug store. I don’t remember what it was, I only remember that at first we assumed my husband would get it but then decided that he should watch the baby and I would walk the few blocks to the store. It was a beautiful August day. I let the warm sun soak into my skin and marveled at how nice it felt to do something so ordinary. Bringing home our son felt like all the pieces of our life were thrown into a bag, shaken up, and then scattered onto the ground. I felt completely changed and had no idea when normalcy would return. That walk felt amazing.
When I got to the store, I found what we needed and impulsively picked up a king-sized Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups pack while I waited in line. (It took a few days for me to remember it was in my bag and finally get to eat it.) When it was my turn at the register, the cashier and I exchanged pleasantries and remarked at how beautiful the day was. She lamented the fact that she had to work. “By the time I get off work, it’s supposed to change to rain,” she sighed. I felt a bubble of desire to explain what I had been doing before my trip to the store – the baby at home who was either crying, sucking desperately from my sore nipples, or sleeping on my chest – but it seemed too surreal to mention in the fluorescent-lit store. How could I explain the combination of joy and exhaustion to this young clerk? Could she possibly understand what it’s like to have another being depend solely on you for survival? Were there even words in the English language to express how hard it was for me to be just a few blocks away from my new son even though I desperately craved a break?
I ended up saying nothing – just smiled and nodded at her wish to be outside. When I got home, I learned that baby boy had slept all of 5 minutes after I left and screamed the rest of the time I was gone. This started the struggle I have continued to have with leaving him with not-Mom. And I still don’t know how to explain to people without children what it’s like to suddenly be a parent and carry so much weight.
All families are different and responsibilities settle themselves in various ways depending on the individuals. However, the majority of the time, there is one individual who becomes the “default parent” and it is usually the mom.
The day my son was born, I tried to determine the emotion I felt. I knew people often referred to that day as being “the happiest day of their life.” But that didn’t seem right. To me, it was like an eclipse occurred. I was no longer the center of my universe but now this new person shared the space with me. And while my life has settled down for the most part and I can go for a walk by myself without feeling torn, I still cannot do anything without first considering how the act will impact my son. My heart and soul have grown to include another being.
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending a Birth Without Fear conference in Burlington, VT. January Harshe started Birth Without Fear as a way “to let women know they have choices in childbirth.” It has grown into “an inspiration and support to women and their families through their trying to conceive, pregnancy, birth and post partum journeys.” January does an amazing job helping women feel beautiful and powerful just the way they are. She is a strong woman who uses her strength to bring other women up.
I have been very fortunate to have had many outlets to share my own birth story and to connect with other women who have given birth recently. However, that is rarely the case today. With the growing reliance on socializing through social media, we are missing out on real, face-to-face connections with our peers. The Birth Without Fear conference is a way for women to meet and hear first-hand that their stories are valid and that they have the right to want more out of the birthing industry.
My doula partner Rainbow Crabtree and I are a part of a group called the St. Lawrence County Birth Connection, which is working to make birth a more positive experience for women in St. Lawrence County. One of the ways we’re tackling this huge goal is by hosting an evening to share birth stories. On Wednesday, November 16th, Birth Story Share: Holding Space to Honor All Births will occur at the Presbyterian Church on the Park in Canton. Join us from 6:30 – 8:30 pm for a chance to share your stories and hear from other mothers. We will provide light snacks and childcare.
If we don’t talk to each other about what we’re experiencing, nothing will ever change. We don’t have to move mountains – we only need to be there for each other and provide the space for healing and growth. The more we share, the more the world will be forced to listen.
Few people today end up living in the same town where they grew up. We move states and countries away from our families for jobs, climates, and "livability". The distance from family can make holiday get-togethers logistically tricky and can be almost debilitating when a new baby enters into the picture.
We all know that new babies, while precious and heart-warming, bring a myriad of challenges from non-stop crying to exploding diapers to seemingly endless nursing. And with many spouses needing to go back to work after a week or two at home, the majority of newborn care falls on the mother's shoulders, regardless of how prepared she may feel for this new role.
Need I mention that our proud United States is tied with Papua New Guinea for the least supportive maternity leave laws? This leaves mom at home grappling with motherhood while knowing that she will likely have to go back to work soon if her household relies on her income to stay afloat.
Grandma, Grandpa, uncles, and aunts - what can you do to help when you are too far away to step in with laundry and meal preparation yourself?
Here are 5 ways a long-distance family member can help out:
1.) Send a care package with healthy snacks that can be eaten with one hand, light-hearted movies or tv series, lip balm and nipple cream, magazines, a HUGE reusable water bottle (preferably with a straw), assorted tea bags, and chocolate.
2.) Get a pizza delivered. No one ever says no to free pizza.
3.) Hire a postpartum doula. Many doulas (this one included!) offer gift certificates so loved ones can send a new family some support.
4.) Call, text, Skype, FaceTime, email, send a carrier pigeon - whatever your favorite way of checking in is, do it! If the new mom is stuck at home all day with a baby, she will welcome a friendly conversation. If you're concerned about waking a sleeping baby, send a text before calling.
5.) Check to see if they have a registry on Amazon or other websites for last-minute baby needs. Often accessories like a Moby Wrap or Sleep Sheep don't seem necessary until deep in the trenches.
Even if you can't be there in person, your thoughtfulness can go a long way in supporting the new family. And remember - thinking about it doesn't count in this case. Don't wait for them to have another sleepless night without help - do it now!
New Day Doula
Rainbow and Mary share thoughts on pregnancy, birth, and the parenting journey.