When my daughter was born, over 3 years ago, I was very much alone. I was new to one of the busiest and loneliest cities in the world, I was thousands of miles away from my family and closest friends, my marriage was still brand new, we were broke and my husband worked every hour available to him and was rarely home, and I was 26 and still under the illusion that I was invincible. The support that I did have on hand? I largely pushed it away, retreating ever further inward until I was invisible to myself.
Fast forward. Now I have a growing postpartum support and education business- its core aim? To elevate, advocate and normalize the need for support during the transition of a new baby (or in my case- babies!) in the hearts and homes of new parents. It is quite literally my JOB to get people comfortable with the idea of asking for support… and then allowing that support in. Even when people are paying me a considerable hourly sum they often struggle to tell me how they REALLY want me to help them. Sometimes I feel when I am working with a client that I am not only helping them latch their baby, use a sling or serve them a healthy meal, but I am actually doing deep energy work, de-programming blocked notions about self worth, “politeness” and what it means to receive.
Clearly I identify with the wounded healer archetype- I am always called to work that is a natural progression of my own inner journey. Close to the threshold of birthing my twins, today I began compiling a list of contacts for MY OWN postpartum doula to use to organize a meal train for my growing family. As I searched through my digital rolodex I found myself confronting excuses about why not to include certain people based on geography or time since last text/call- even some that have directly said “Let me know how I can help you!” or people I know in my heart I have given significantly to in one form or another over time. Erica reminded me that this was my own bullshit coming up and that I absolutely MUST get over asking for support- and allowing it to flow in. We laughed hard about all of the inappropriate people to put on your postpartum meal train list (past lovers, that mom you hung out with one time, your accountant)- but really… why are we so apologetic? What is going on with both sides of the equation that makes some of these asks so hilariously awkward? It points to the deeper truth of where we are culturally that it isn’t okay for someone to simply say “I need help right now- would you like to help me?”.
Some of the Reasons We Don’t Ask for Support
- Ego. I should be able to do it all. Asking for support might suggest I can’t.
- Cultural fetishization of depletion. Wow- look at that frazzled and exhausted human, they really work hard, what a good person. The myth that the only good mother is the martyr.
- It is awkward. Simple. We just aren’t used to asking.
- It is embarrassing. A play on ego- asking for support opens up the playing field for people to take more than a surface glimpse at you.
- It is vulnerable. We are exposed, we’ve potentially revealed cracks in our foundation (It’s all good! We all have ‘em!)
- It is scary. What if I ask…. And you say no?
- Control issues. I actually think control issues are kind of a combo of all of the above but sometimes we have a really super specific way of doing things and we feel like no support is better than imperfect support. Trust me- it’s not.
- Guilt. Maybe we feel we haven’t supported others enough, or that there are people in far harder circumstances and that asking for support is somehow us taking our situation for granted. Neither of these things are good reasons not to ask.
- Boundaries. We mix up asking for support and releasing total control of boundaries. In general we, and by we I mean most humans, suck at boundaries as much as we suck at giving and receiving support so this one can get sticky. We are afraid if someone brings us a meal and asks to hold the newborn right after telling us they just got tested for Ebola, that we won’t be able to say no because there is a free casserole in the freezer. Support and boundaries are equally important and also completely separate things.
- Politeness. I am British AND Canadian. So trust me, I FEEL YOU. But not asking for support when really you are struggling, isn’t polite. It is just fake. And doing nobody any good.
Some of the Reasons Why We Should
- Be the change! Everyone deserves support. Be the light. By asking for support you actually give others permission to ask when they need it.
- YOU JUST BROUGHT NEW LIFE INTO THE WORLD! Society places no value on pregnancy, birth and particularly postpartum and parenting. But the work you are doing- nurturing new life- is actually the guts of creation, holy work, and really freaking exhausting. The government, medical system, social circles and ads for stretch mark creams might treat you like an empty plastic bag but actually you are a fucking tornado in the body of a golden goddess. Own it.
- You do really need it. Welcoming home a new baby? Two new babies? Planning to breastfeed? Hope to continue living? Like to shower again at some point before your youngest kid graduates? Support makes these things possible.
- You deserve it. Yes, you may be able to survive on Luna Bars, gross take out, and coconut water for a while, but before long you are going to feel like a bag of shit. And you won’t really realize you’re feeling bad because you’ll be so focused on your baby. Until you pass out one day, or start getting really anxious, or your body stops producing milk or healing properly.
- Your relationship deserves it. Projecting all of your emotional, practical, nutritional and physical needs on to one person is a recipe for resentment and some gnarly late night fights. We were never supposed to live in tiny boxes alone, throwing expectations back and forth. Especially sleep deprived and navigating early parenthood.
- Your baby deserves it. So does your older kid(s). Who is born hoping to score the exhausted, strung out, crabby, depleted, over stretched Mom and Dad? No baby or older sibling ever.
- You’ll actually heal faster and more completely if you are supported and take proper care of your healing and re-nourishment. In the long run you will be less of a drain on others- and more fun to hang with!
- Didn’t you kind of intend to ENJOY your baby (or babies!)? This is so much easier to do when you are supported and filled up (on a multitude of levels).
- One day you might be a total jedi mind ninja and be able to practice telepathy with your nearest and dearest. But for now- use audible, or written words. This way people actually have a chance at knowing you need them. If you’re sitting there thinking “I wonder why no one has come by this week to say hello or offer some company or help?” Make sure you ask yourself “Did I use human words to voice this desire?” before unfriending people on the internet or crying into your Luna Bar.
- What goes around comes around- you are actively helping people rack up good karma!
- And also, you’ll be way more likely to help out a friend, neighbor or random on the subway if you have felt the delicious connection of receiving support. The Grinch story is kind of backwards- opening to receiving love is actually the thing that makes your heart grow. BAM! Paradigm FLIPPED!
- General growth. If you’re finding something difficult to do, it’s probably because that thing is forcing you to stretch yourself.
- Just because your mom or sister or great grandmother did it alone doesn’t make you less of a woman because you want more help than they had. If in response to you saying you’re getting a doula or organizing a meal train or encapsulating your placenta they throw back “Well I was able to do it without all this hullaballo! I don’t understand why you’re making such a big deal about this” It is a pretty good indication that you asking for support is triggering something deep in them. If it wasn’t, and they truly had a breezy time and feel great about all of their choices, they would be more likely to respond with “That is so awesome! Let me know how I can help with that!”. So don’t make their stuff your stuff.
- No one is obligated to help you. It is simply an invitation. And whether they do or not is less of a reflection on you, their love for you, or your worth as a person and more about where they are at in that moment in time. It’s all good! Sometimes we have more to give then others. Sometimes we forget. And sometimes we just don’t want to. Buddha says- don’t take anything that isn’t freely given. So put them on the fucking list and then let it go. If people say no, all the power to them. If they ignore your request and then later send you a message to help them fund their kickstarter, all the power to them. If they say they will and then they don’t… that’s a bummer but ultimately their bummer to live with.
- There are so many more reasons- but I am too pregnant with too many people that are arriving too soon to spend any more time on this. Also I’m hungry. Also I want to watch the finale of The Good Wife.
I teach my 3 year old daily that her ideas are awesome, to continue to be open, but that she needs to ask people if they want to be part of them and then give them space if they say no. She goes around the playground casting people in her imaginations most recent delight and then getting REALLY MAD if those people don’t immediately “yes, AND” her (there are 99 reasons why being an actor did NOT set me up for adulting/parenting but improv skillz ain’t one!). When this email goes out, people are simply invited to take part. They don’t have to. But they can choose to. When we start to make asking for support a huge deal, it is because we are putting issues about our own worth into the mix.
It shouldn’t be so hard. We should be a community, a globally interwoven web that breathes together effortlessly giving and receiving care and love and practical support during life’s great turnings. We’re not there yet. But slowly, one meal train at a time we’re getting there.
Also! Count us in your circles! Online is a valid place to find support (as long as its not googling scary stuff at 3am. Shut that shit down.)