Well, I popped a baby out on November 13th. A whole week and a half early. Thank goodness, too, because he was just shy of 9 pounds… and he was the smallest of my three boys. We can only make them big around here I guess. It’s been a whirlwind of a couple weeks with all the changes and transitions, though. Three is quite a bit different than two, at least for our clan. And can I just take a second here and talk about the genetic curse that is my children’s inability to latch properly while nursing? Even the lactation consultants, after various suggestions and hands-on efforts, have only ever been able to shrug their shoulders and offer sympathetic smiles as each successive child gnaws and bites and chomps the life and soul out of my nipples. Can I say that? Nipples. Yes. That is what they are. Or were, rather. I have already mourned their passing. Okay moving on…
It always seemed to me that, in general, after someone had one child, everyone tended to make lighter of all subsequent pregnancies and the family was mostly left to figure out their new normal without much help, unless they had family willing to step in for a time. People offer their words of support and often say, “Just call if you need anything!” The thing is, though, it’s not that simple. For someone like me who doesn’t like asking for help out of fear of inconveniencing someone else, calling someone for help of any kind seems impossible and unthinkable. Almost to the point of absurd. My thought process usually goes something like this: I know I need help. I am miserable. Who can I ask? Could I actually ask someone to watch my other kids for a while? Who does that, though?! Isn’t that rude? I can’t just ask people to watch my kids for free. Especially since they have kids of their own! That’s crazy! And I will go through the list of all the ladies in my life who have offered their support and scratch off each one as I make assumptions about all the reasons why they wouldn’t actually be able to help, so I can’t possibly dare burden them by asking. And so I don’t. And my family suffers as I try to do it all and be it all.
The result of trying to do it all and be it all after having my first two children was a downward spiral into postpartum depression. So not only was I trying to not need anyone’s help, I was stuck in a deep chasm of despair, floods of tears and feelings of hopelessness; believing that everyone would just be better off without me. Thank goodness for an innate sense of duty and responsibility and the moving, gracious hand of God that kept me from making terrible decisions. Also the control freak side of me that believed even though I wasn’t doing a good job, no one else would be able to raise my children right either. So better me than a stranger at least. Hah. Ahh… The things our mind can get us to receive and internalize… it’s unreal.
This time around I have had a mindset shift. I’m saying yes. Yes, I would love a diaper shower! Yes, I would appreciate you creating a meal schedule for us! Yes, you can take my kids for the morning! Yes, I will accept your coffee delivery offer! Yes, I WILL call you if I need help… so I sure hope you mean it! Because this time I am doing everything I can to avoid the darkness. My first thoughts when I wake up (or get up- because let’s be real- not much time is spent sleeping) are used in prayer. Prayer for more strength than exhaustion, more kindness than frustration, more gratefulness than discouragement, more patience than irritation, and more hope than despair.
Already I have discovered a village I didn’t know I had. The friend who offered to throw me a diaper shower and the ladies who made it happen, the offers to clean our house, babysit the older kids, provide meals, the promises of mental health inquiries by brave and dear friends, my mom taking on the full responsibility of my older kids and house for an entire week while we transitioned back home, donations of baby items and clothes that were desperately needed… the list continues. Even today, I am only able to write this essay because a precious mom friend took both my older boys, along with her own two children, for the entire morning. AND she brought me my favorite latte when she came to pick them up. I was floored. And all I had to do to receive her gift was say yes.
All these people were already friends. People I love. But the idea of the village is that everyone is working together to support one another, to pick up the slack, and ease the burdens of one another out of true compassion and kindness… not just getting together to have a good conversation or play date once in a while. The village does the hard things together, too. I can’t imagine my friend had the easiest of mornings today managing four preschoolers. I’m sure she wouldn’t call it “fun.” I’m going to guess she did it out of a pure and simple love. And also because her soul has been kissed by unicorns. She took four preschoolers to an indoor park, guys. I mean, really…
I am learning about a new kind of grateful through this- a grateful that breaks through the pride of a hard and willful heart; that sees genuine compassion in people’s offers to help. I know it brings me joy when someone allows me the opportunity to help them. Why can’t I allow that same joy to be someone else’s when they offer to help me?
We live in a culture filled with expectations and ulterior motives. We’ve been conditioned to assume there’s always a caveat; that it’s never just a simple act of kindness. Instead, it’s easier to presume that everyone, even when offering their help, has some sort of hidden agenda, desire for recognition, or expectations for a return on their “investment.” We have grown accustomed to this idea of “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” Why can’t we just scratch someone else’s back without requiring something in return? WHY CAN’T WE ALL JUST BE NICE, COMPASSIONATE, HELPFUL PEOPLE? Why do we have to waste time guessing if what’s being offered truly doesn’t have any strings attached?
I know I spend an awful lot of time driving around that circle and usually end up refusing help because I don’t want to feel like I owe anything to anyone. Gifts are meant for holidays and birthdays. So why do you want to give me this nice thing or do this wonderful thing for me right now? It’s not Christmas and there is no birthday cake on my table, so what is it you’re really hoping for? That’s how I tend to think. It’s so sad, isn’t it?
I’m starting to believe that the biggest hindrance to the village mentality is the lack of belief in genuine kindness- that people are beginning to doubt that it even still exists. Why do you think there are so many social media posts and links to videos that attempt to “restore your faith in humanity?” Because there is now this prevailing belief in the loss of the genuine goodness of people. Instead of automatically assuming the best about someone, we think the worst until proven otherwise. Compassionless until proven compassionate. Disingenuous until proven genuine. And the trial that we put people on to prove their authenticity is more often than not a self-made, arduous process that requires more effort than we have energy to give, and so we’d just rather say no than take a chance on accepting at face value what is being offered and the person doing the offering. But by doing so we lose a large piece of this beautiful life puzzle because we push away community. We can’t fully invest. We don’t fully trust. We live in the shallows because we think it’s easier and less painful, when in fact the loneliness and struggle of not having community is far more difficult.
Be the kind of person you want others to be. If you’re searching for kindness, be kind. If you desire compassion, be compassionate. If you seek love, be love. If you yourself are genuine in your own efforts, you will begin to recognize the genuineness in others. Good always finds a way to seek out other good. And when you start recognizing that authenticity in others you can then begin making connections and developing your own community.
It has taken me far too long to recognize the kind hearts of those that have surrounded me for years because I’ve wasted an exorbitant amount of time believing false assumptions. The village I didn’t know I had is only now emerging from the shadows because I’m allowing the light of their gracious hearts to shine brilliantly on these long, difficult days of sleep deprivation, newborn drama, and preschooler madness. I am finally choosing to believe in their genuine goodness.
I only regret not fully embracing them sooner. Thank you, friends, for your love and support.
Peace & Love, Amy