Now that I have my second child, I’ve noticed, not surprisingly, that a lot of things are very different this time. One thing I remember from my first postpartum experience was that I wanted to do everything myself. If people came to visit the baby, I thought my job was to play hostess. I cried because I didn’t have any food for them, and I thought nobody was having fun with me whisking the baby away every hour to nurse. I didn’t want anyone else changing a diaper or washing a dish. They told me to sit down, I pretended I could do it all, stitches aching all the while. Everyone offered to help, whether it be changing a diaper or mowing the lawn. I deflected, time and time again.
Somewhere in the last 2.5 years, though, I’ve realized how absolutely ridiculous I was.
I remember the first time I said it. My son was 14 months old (why did I wait so long?), and we were in the middle of a three month long ear infection while we waited on his tube surgery the next week. We were both working full-time and I was in the midst of my work travel season. I was tired and probably had a cold myself and was still nursing.
I said it. Feelings of shame and embarrassment washed over me immediately.
I asked for help. My in-laws were coming for Thanksgiving and I asked my mother-in-law to come a week early. Because she’s awesome, she did, happily, cookies in tow.
She arrived and I found myself falling into the familiar hostess trap. “No,” I told myself. Instead of cleaning the kitchen and meal planning, I took a nap when my son did on the weekends. I ran solo errands with a hot cup of coffee while my son got doted on by his loving grandma. I relaxed and removed the stick from my butt. My son got his tubes put in without event, we all ate cranberry sauce from a can on Thanksgiving, there were dust bunnies on the floor, and it was totally fine.
Shame and embarrassment turned into relief and gratitude.
A year later, hugely pregnant and with a horrible sinus infection, my mom offered to come help us for a week. I said yes immediately. My son had a great time. I got some rest and she stocked my freezer for our second baby’s impending arrival.
After the birth of our second son, the phone rang with an unfamiliar number — our church’s meal delivery coordinator. I was tempted to say no, we could handle it, use your resources on someone more worthy — but I said yes. And we ate hot lasagna and cookies.
I have come to accept that I can’t do it all. There’s no reason to. When people offer to help, they usually mean it. When you ask for help, you are not weak and lazy — you are making the most of your resources. You are expanding your little village to help you raise your children. Be gracious and say “please” and “thank you,” and pay it forward.
I hope that one day I will be the helper. I do my best to, now, whether it’s through texting with a new mom friend about breastfeeding woes or providing feedback on a cover letter in the few spare moments I’m able to steal for others.
But for now, I’m not ashamed to admit that I need help sometimes.