H.E.L.P. Help, a four letter word that is so powerful, but yet difficult to ask for, let alone receive. When I became a mother for the first time, exactly four years ago and 10 months ago for the second time around (Happy Birthday Sons...Mama loves you) my experience with the word "Help" vastly differed between the births of both boys.
I have few regrets in life, one that comes to mind is not receiving all the help I could have when I had my first son. As I reflect, I felt inadequate as a mother if I couldn't do EVERYTHING myself for my baby. No one said that to me, but it's what I felt and not from any particular person either. Maybe it was the societal messages that celebrate mom's who are constantly exhausted from holding down the house, working, and being present for everybody but themselves.....and no, I'm not blaming social media either.
Growing up, I observed all of the women on both sides of my family, my mother, aunties and grandmother do it all. I mean, I witnessed them on a weekly basis scrub base boards on their hands and knees, shine windows with vinegar and newspaper, prepare home cooked meals and school lunches for multiple children, wash/hot comb their daughter's hair, complete their lesson plans and grade papers only to wake up and do it all over again. It was ingrained in me at an early age to push through all the household tasks and then some, even if it meant staying up to the wee hours of the morning. Naturally, when I became a mother, I followed suit and rejected "GREAT" help.
Here's my story. My mother and my-in-laws offered to watch our oldest son when he was an infant while my husband and I worked instead of enrolling him into daycare. My mother-in-law also offered to clean our home on a consistent basis to ease the stress of attempting to clean a dirty house after working all day . But, what did we do? Yup, you guessed it, we turned down the very help we could have used. We were sold on the fact that we didn't want to burden anyone else with caring for our child and cleaning our home. Personally, I didn't feel like I was rejecting help. I felt like I was a new mother trying to define my role and doing everything on my own was my way of navigating motherhood.
After the birth of my youngest son, I learned that asking and receiving help is not a sign of weakness, rather the exact opposite, STRENGTH. Words cannot express how relieved I felt not thinking about the mundane tasks of cleaning bathrooms and doing laundry while trying to get in synch with myself to care for my newborn. Instead, I experienced freedom and peace of mind simply because I learned that it's okay for me to ask for help. I became comfortable with asking my mama to prepare food and asking my mother-in-law to keep my oldest son on weekends in order for me to heal. By doing so, I was able to open up the dialogue on motherhood with both women as they shared their stories of how they managed the early stages of being a mom. The common theme I heard was that they had family members and sister friends assist them with whatever they needed and reassured me that they want to support me in the same way.
Women showing up for other women who have recently given birth is consistent with what I observed in my travels overseas to Zambia Africa and Antigua Guatemala. Women doing everything on their own post birth is not the norm, as is often practiced in our western culture. In fact, there is an expectation in eastern societies that if your sister or niece has a baby you will provide some assistance to she and her family. It may be in the form of cooking meals for the new mother in order for her to rest or aunties may care for older siblings so mama and baby can bond. I imagine the stressors mamas feel in western societies is higher compared to mamas in eastern cultures because of the incredible communal support that is automatically given to mothers. New mothers don't have an opportunity to reject help, which is what I discourage my clients from doing as well as myself.
However, if any of you are like me and have a sister that lives several hours away you may not be able to utilize her for regular help. I challenge new and seasoned mamas to look within your circle of support and consider who has said, "Hey, let me keep the baby for a little bit while you get some rest." If you cannot think of someone who has offered that type of help, then I encourage you to advocate for yourself and say, "Can you come over and help me cook or hold the baby so I can take a bath?" Don't be afraid to define what help looks like for you. Trust me, there are people who genuinely want to help you and will feel honored to assist you in this way. After all mama, you deserve to receive all the help in the world, you birthed a baby human which is no small feat.