It’s been 11 weeks since my fifth child entered the world. I am so glad he’s here, but some naive part of me thought that his arrival would somehow be easier than being pregnant.
After six solid weeks of family and friends helping with everything from meals to homeschooling, I thought our world would find some magical balance and we could carry on like normal people again, COVID-19 notwithstanding.
Barely a week later, I was on a video chat with my mother, on the verge of tears over nothing, and she could see I was drowning. She convinced me to stay with her for a week with the children so I could regroup and get a chance to breathe.
I told myself when I returned that I was rejuvenated, ready to go forward and build a new lifestyle with my little one and his four big sisters. And I told myself that after a cousin visited for a weekend to help and again when my mother came to help for a few days.
But that isn’t how it works. I tried and I failed. A day later, I’m a complete mess again.
With another COVID-19 lockdown looming, I remembered a friend had offered to come help with whatever I needed. All I had to do was ask, and the next day she was on my doorstep bearing coffee and spent all day cleaning my carpets while I sat and journaled and dreamed about what I want life to look like.
At first, I couldn’t relax. Here was one more person to help — I need to be busy with something so it doesn’t look like I’m lazy. Like get ahead on dinner prep or move laundry or sort baby clothes or do a project I never have time for because I can’t get the bare essentials done every day.
What dreadful lies we new mothers believe. What a hoard of insidious, corrosive lies — that life has to look fun. That a little self-care will fix it. That all we need is a little more sleep or water or exercise or a vacation. That things will be better when the baby finally sleeps through the night or weans or gets through teething.
Talk about piling pressure on some of the most vulnerable members of society! It’s no wonder that postpartum depression is so much higher than generations past.
Women didn’t used to have Pinterest showing them all the ways they are failing to be perfect. Or social media telling them how they should mother or they’re doing it wrong and messing up their kid. We get so much more input and feel so keenly the heavy burden of unreasonable cultural expectations, it’s no wonder our nerves are all to pieces and our souls are silently screaming.
I sit here with my eyes crossing, wondering how I made it through another day without disintegrating, hoping vainly that my children still know I love them when I’m sure my words and actions said otherwise. Even when I try to block out all the exterior expectations and just look at what I value, I’m still failing by my own standards.
Because deep down, I have still let that most destructive lie linger: that I should be able to do this myself.
In practically every culture in the history of humanity, women have borne each other’s burdens and nurtured those in distress, instinctively knowing that we must fill each other up or all drown in our empty buckets.
And guess what? We are currently drowning. We don’t know how to ask for help. We’re too worried about how much of a failure we will look like or how lazy or inadequate we will seem or how we’ll look like we haven’t managed our resources well enough to get through on our own.
This nonsense needs to stop. To survive, I have to be honest: I simply can’t do this on my own.
I can’t be all the things to all the people right now and still have a clean home and healthy food made on time for my people. Can’t be done. But I can ask a willing friend to come and help me with household management so I can relearn how to do this job I love with five kids instead of four. I can totally do that.
I’ve had moments between babies when I had enough to give to another mom trying to pour from an empty bucket into her babies and their constant needs. And I was so ready and willing to give whatever I could to make it just a little bit easier for her, if only she would ask.
So few of us ask. But we need to humble ourselves and let other women pour into us so that we have enough to pour out for our families. That’s how chocolate fountains work; I’ve seen it with my own eyes.