It was the morning of my child’s four-month doctors appointment. I found myself irritable and overwhelmed by the smallest things, a sure tell sign for me that my anxiety was high and ever increasing. I knew why. With our first baby these appointments were so stressful and filled with tears, partly due to her feeding issues and partly due to my postpartum anxiety. And while I’m grateful my anxiety is not as bad this time around, these appointments often bring me back to those scary days with my first and my anxiety likes to creep in and try and tell me something will go wrong. Despite how irrational my fears were, I needed support that day. But my husband had a work commitment that he couldn’t get out of and he was the only person I wouldn’t feel guilty asking to be there for me.
It’s those moments in motherhood that feel the loneliest. The ones where I need support but it seems like too much to ask of someone. Instead of putting myself out there and being vulnerable, I try to do it all by myself even if it makes me miserable. It didn’t matter how bad my anxiety was that day, I was set to tackle the task alone.
Then I got a text from my friend Leanna. She knew Croix had his appointment and asked me how I was doing with it. Like many moms I know, I’m guilty of usually just saying “I’m great!” when people ask how I’m doing. But I’ve been trying to be more authentic with others so they feel comfortable enough to be open with me. So on this particular day I told my friend what I was actually feeling. What happened next was possibly one of the nicest things anyone has ever done: she asked if it would help if she came to the appointment with us to support me.
I never even thought of the option of having someone who was not my husband be there for me. After all, it’s much more the norm for us moms to feel like we need to be superheros and accomplish all of motherhood alone. But I didn’t want to be alone that day, and every inch of me wanted to say “yes please, please, these appointments are hard and I need someone there for me too”. But I didn’t want her to have to interrupt her day and drive to the office (with her baby in tow) just to sit next to me for the 20 minutes it took to get through Croix’s appointment. I didn’t want to be a burden. So I did what I feel so many other women do, I said I would be fine alone and declined the one thing that really could of helped me that day.
Then an hour passed, and the appointment was getting closer. My anxiety wasn’t magically disappearing with the minutes as I had hoped. I tried to focus in on my sweet baby smiling and rolling on the floor. My mind kept thinking about his weight or milestones or anything that could go wrong that day. I was totally dreading it.
That’s when I realized something. It was something I have talked about in therapy for years: If someone offers help or support when I need it, why do I choose to struggle alone instead of accepting that help? Short answer: I don’t want to be a burden. I don’t want to put you out by asking for something. I don’t want you to feel obligated or annoyed by me. I don’t want you to feel like you have to help me when you have other things to do. It doesn’t matter if you offer to help, I’ll feel guilty accepting it. I’m not sure when I created this internal dialog or how much of it is constructed by society, but it’s there. And I don’t think I’m the only one. I think the world expects us moms to do so much and to do it alone. It makes it hard to ask for help. We know everyone has a lot on their plates and we don’t want to burden others.
But I feel like we all could use a hand some days. As moms, we sacrifice so much of ourselves for our kids. We are there to help them 24/7. Often time their needs come way before our own. And that’s hard! We are humans and we can’t do it all alone. We shouldn’t do it all alone. One day I’ll need help and you’ll be there for me, and the next you may need help and I’ll be there for you. Having my friend at my sons appointment wasn’t going to take away the anxiety I was feeling, but it was going to make me stronger by having the support. She was going to be there to hold my hand while I held Croix. I’m sure she had other things to do, but she wanted to be there for me. Just like I would want to do the exact same for her.
So I did something I had never really done before. I decided to accept the help offered to me.
Maybe it doesn’t seem like a big deal. But for me it was. Letting people know whats going on inside of my head or my struggles makes me vulnerable. And I don’t like to be vulnerable. How many times has someone asked us how we are doing and we answer “I’m fine”, even if on the inside we are overwhelmed and tired and kind of want to just scream. But I know when I ask you, I want the truth. And if you need to vent or cry or scream then I will make the time to be there for you. Because you’d do the same for me. I understand how you’re feeling, I’ve been in your shoes, and I want to be there for you. It is not a burden.
So as I said thank you to my friend for the billionth time, she said something that I’ll never forget: I’m happy to do anything I literally can for you. We are pushing back against this tide of mothering alone. And she was right. Motherhood is lonely. Motherhood is scary. Motherhood is hard. Whether staying at home or going to work, we are mothering all the time. And it is inevitable that at some point we are going to need to ask for help. And when we do, we are not being a burden.
After my experience with postpartum anxiety, I learned that in order to thrive I would need to do things differently this second time around. As awkward and uncomfortable as it made me feel, I was going to have to ask for help and accept it when I needed it. I was going to have to push those thoughts of me being a burden aside and just put myself out there. Because I can’t do this alone. I tried that and I was miserable. I wasn’t the mom I wanted to be. I wasn’t the woman I wanted to be. But asking for help and accepting help when I need it has only made me stronger. Mothering with strong supports in place means that even when I am feeling weak, I have others to hold me up. Or when another mom is in need, I have the energy to be there for her. Our personal and emotional needs do not make us a burden. Maybe its a tough appointment, a fight with a spouse, or a profound loss. We can be there for each other and be real with each other in so many ways.
So, my friend offered to support and help me, and I accepted. Instead of spending those 20 minutes in the doctors office afraid, I had a friend by my side to support me. I laughed during those moments I usually would be anticipating the worst. My friend helped me stay grounded and present for my baby. Dare I say it, we actually had fun. I wasn’t a burden, she is my friend. And she was right, its time we push back against the tides of mothering alone.
I realize the only way to do that is by asking for help myself and accepting the help that is offered.
Even if it is uncomfortable.
Even if I feel like a burden.
Because those are the moments that motherhood is at its strongest- when we come together and drop everything to pick each other up. So, if you find yourself in need, this fellow mom is here for you. You are not a burden. Let’s push back. We don’t have to do it alone.