When Meghan Markle bravely declared on international news that she was, “Not okay,” after the birth of her first child, I found myself nodding along to the clip, recalling those first few weeks and months as a new mom, when I wasn’t okay, either.
I recalled the feeling of loneliness and my desperate need for help that for some reason, I avoided or flat-out rejected. This prompted some soul searching, followed by this realization: People cannot be expected to help you if they aren’t aware that you need support. If they don’t know that you’re not okay, they can’t help make you okay.
The other night, as I sat on my couch after a long day of juggling working from home while parenting, early intervention appointments for my two-year-old, tired and sick from a cold, pregnant, and worn out from helping out a friend with an emotional crisis, I was feeling run down. I wasn’t okay either, Meghan. I needed help! Why wasn’t anyone rallying around me and supporting me? (Hello, entitled millennial buried deep inside me, there you are.)
After my deep thoughts, I spoke with a close friend who gave me some serious truth-talk. You know, the kind that leaves you simultaneously agreeing and feeling like you got punched in the metaphorical gut? She said, “Well Kate, people don’t help you because you never act like you need their help. And if they do offer, you say you’re all set.” I didn’t like hearing it, but she had a legitimate point.
In order to get help, you have to be comfortable with receiving it, or even admitting you need it in the first place.
In this era of social media perfection, where vulnerability can be viewed as weakness and women feel like they have to do it all while looking cute and tackling absolutely everything, we need to take a note from Meghan Markle and embrace that it’s okay to admit that we are not okay. We need more role models like Tiffany Jenkins, Bunmi Laditan, and others who share the realness of parenthood. The messy, everyday part that all of us go through but very few share.
And so I tackled my first issue: accepting help when it is offered.
I am fortunate. If you polled my close friends and family and asked how many of them offered assistance to us after our daughter was born, they would all say yes. So many people wanted to make us meals, do the laundry, or hold the baby so we could nap. But I declined their offers. Even when she wouldn’t sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time, I said I had it covered. Even when colic and reflux made my poor baby cry in pain all of the hours she was awake, I said everything was fine. I even started to shut out my sweet husband who wanted nothing more than to care for his child and partner.
It takes a village, yes. But the village is only as helpful as you allow them to be.
I should have accepted help and let my village support me. For some reason, though, I had the belief that going through things on my own would earn me some imaginary mothering merit badge.
Well, the merit badge didn’t come. What came instead was distancing from my friends and family, some nasty postpartum depression, and self-imposed resentment towards my partner that he definitely had not earned.
As I am now pregnant again, I reflect on that time, knowing that the last thing I need is more stress and anxiety. I do believe, though, that this time things will be different, thanks to some serious introspection and hindsight. Someone wants to start a meal train? Awesome! Mom wants to hold the baby while I take a bath? Please do! Husband offers to take both kids so I can go to a yoga class alone? You betcha! I plan to accept all of the support and help offered to me from here on out because as I learned, there are no awards for doing it all. Even more important, I think I care for my child better when I let others care for me.
My second issue: appearing strong doesn’t equal strength.
Whether through miscarriages, a colicky newborn, parenting a child with disabilities, or just everyday life, I’ll admit it – I like to appear like I have my act together. The truth, however, is that I am just as much of a mess as every other mom out there.
While I don’t believe that a constantly negative outlook is productive for me, I think there is great benefit in being honest about your struggles in parenthood, especially with other moms. I recently spoke with a group of friends about my daughter’s support team, which includes 12 individuals. They had no idea that we were managing so much on a daily basis, and these are people I would consider myself very close to. They didn’t know because I’d never told them. I thought that by not saying anything about the challenges I was facing I was being strong, but what I was really doing was trying to make it seem like the struggles don’t exist.
Here’s what I’ve learned: being strong and appearing strong are not one and the same. And sometimes the courage to be vulnerable is where real strength is found. Over the past few weeks, since making the change to be honest and vulnerable, I have noticed that I feel stronger in motherhood than ever before.
I am finding a certain strength in vulnerability, and my discovery has been contagious, resulting in a profound shift among my close mom friends: it’s opened up the opportunity for them to be vulnerable with me as well.
As author Brene Brown has said, “Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.” By choosing to be vulnerable and share our motherhood challenges with each other, we’re actually being very strong.
“Check in on your strong friends” is one of my favorite sayings floating around the internet right now. While I couldn’t trace its exact origins, there are multiple articles titled that way. Its meaning is that if you have that “strong friend,” or the one who is always okay and everything is always fine, check in on her. By asking if she is okay, you can make space for your strong friend to find strength in sharing her challenges with you. But know that sharing takes time.
She might not share at first, but if you keep asking, your friend will eventually start telling. I now have a new sense of gratitude for my friends who didn’t stop checking on me and didn’t let my brushing things off push them away. They are the reason I made it through those early weeks of motherhood. So, keep checking in on your friend who’s “fine,” and hopefully one day your friend will open up.
If you find yourself without friends and family nearby who can provide help, try checking out a playgroup or storytime at your local library. In my self-imposed isolation, I found that having other moms to talk to about the highs and lows of parenthood really helped. Some of these moms have incredible tips. (Shout out to the woman in infant massage class who recommended combining skin-to-skin and babywearing, because it totally helped soothe my colicky newborn while keeping my hands relatively free for other things).
At the end of the day, I still find it wild that a real-life princess taught me that it’s okay for me to admit I’m not okay, too. Over the past few weeks of reflection, I learned that I can and should ask for help, and doing so doesn’t make me weak or a bad mom.