Second-time motherhood and saying yes to the village

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I’m treating myself different this time around. With my first baby, I was trying to retain so much of my pre-baby self. The girl who could do everything—by herself, thank you very much. The girl who appreciated the offers of help but would chirp back cheerily that she was “Fine!” without it.

And, I’m so many ways, I could. I could push myself and carry on and get through it. For weeks, maybe months, I could ignore the tiny cracks forming in my own sanity, my own confidence, my own sense of self. I could barrel forward because I did have support—even if I didn’t always accept the help regularly proffered.

And I did fine. We did fine. I even felt truly happy most of the time.

But when I look back on it, I also remember feeling lonely. Feeling bored. Feeling disconnected and not fully myself. FaceTiming my mom every morning the SECOND I knew she was awake. Texting friends about random things and living for responses to posts I made online because it meant I was kind of, sort of talking to someone for a while.

Because I was craving something without even realizing it. I was missing the village.

In my (albeit limited) experience as a mom and working for an incredible resource like Motherly, I spend a lot of time thinking about how our society views and treats and lives motherhood. And the more we progress in so many ways (and, truly, it’s a good time to be a mama), the more and more I realize that mama’s need the villages of old.

I firmly believe motherhood was intended to be a group activity. A shared load between a group of women (and, okay, we’ll let the occasional helpful man in too ), a perpetual support system of physical, emotional, and spiritual uplifting.

It’s something I feel in my bones when I look at the above photo from my labor, just minutes before I brought my second daughter into the world. I see how loved and supported I am, and every part of it rings powerful and right and exactly how it should be.

When I read essays and stories from women who struggled with new motherhood, the common denominator is that missing thread of community. Is that (often self-inflicted) pressure to do it all alone, to do it all perfectly. It’s just not how we were made to live and mother and thrive.

Other cultures get this. They impose “lying-ins” and incredible amounts of care for new mothers, requiring full months of rest where the mother’s only job is to recover and care for her newborn. The idea of “super mom” seems to be a distinctly American phenomenon, and I haven’t been immune to the pressure.

And the crazy thing is, I’m so incredibly fortunate that I have that village. I have incredibly helpful parents and in-laws who are practically begging to chip in. I have my two best friends living literal minutes from me, along with their family, all of whom regularly offer help from meals to massages to simply being there to listen and hold my baby and me whenever we need. I have a loving congregation who have looked forward to and prayed for my baby and me just as much as I have.

I had these things the first time I became a mother too. And it took me until now to fully appreciate what a gift that is.

So this time around, I made a rule for myself: I say yes.

I say yes to my own “lying in” — five days spent largely in bed, simply recovering and bonding with my baby while others care for me and my toddler. And not feeling any guilt about it.

I say yes to the offers to make food, whether it’s my mom making me eggs every morning so I don’t have to wait for everyone else to be ready for breakfast or my friends offering to bring me treats or meals I might be craving.

I say yes to offers to watch Vivi or hold the baby so I can sneak in a nap, without any guilt that I “should” be the one doing all the cuddling and caretaking—as if I’m helping my children by denying them another person’s equally unconditional love.

I say yes to the listening ears, to the offers to do grocery store runs, to the help with laundry and vacuuming and giving my toddler a bath so I can focus on resting, recovering, and bonding with this new tiny person who has changed my life so wholly (again).

I’m saying yes to offers to take both girls so I can just sit in bed with a hot cup of coffee and scroll through Instagram or Pinterest or—hey!—even tap out a blog post’s worth of feelings on my phone—completely and utterly guilt-free.

And while I may only be a few days in, I already feel a difference. I feel a lightening of the load, of the pressure. Because while I will always feel the most responsibility to make sure my children are well cared for and have more than they ever need, a tiny, primal part of me feels like it’s the whole village’s job to shoulder that Herculean task. That, on my own, I simply can’t do as good of a job as my whole crew can do together.

Because I feel that this is a time I should be thriving too, and I can only do that if I let all the love and help pour in without keeping any back. Because I truly believe with my whole heart that this love and support (for them AND me) is the greatest start I could give my children.

So, this time, I’m saying yes. I’m saying thank you. And we’re all better for it.

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