I remember the first time I asked my husband Nathan for help. It was sometimes after midnight, probably around 2am. Our daughter Milly was about 24 hours old. We were on the first floor of our house, camped out in the living room because I had just given birth and my midwife suggested I avoid stairs for about 48 hours. This was my first time giving birth and although my labor was speedy, it was also intense and a little bit traumatic. My body was sore and exhausted. I’d barely slept in the past 36 hours and now our teeny, tiny daughter was wide awake and screaming her face off.
I tried nursing her, but she was struggling with her latch. When I tried shifting her to my other breast, she couldn’t or wouldn’t latch there either. I got up and started walking around our dark living room. The only light was coming in through the window from the street lamp directly outside. Milly kept screaming while I cuddled her and bounced on an exercise ball. Nathan was soundly asleep on the floor next to the couch.
I sat back down and tried to nurse her again. Milly’s crying intensified and that’s when I lost it. I started crying, too.
I was terrified.
Unable to feed or calm my child just 24 hours after giving birth, I felt like I was already failing at motherhood. In my desperation, I whispered in the general direction of my husband, “Nathan, I need your help.”
He was up like a shot. Eyes bleary but ready to do whatever I was asking. I told him Milly wouldn’t stop crying and wouldn’t nurse and nothing was working. He took our tiny, 4lb daughter into his arms and snuggled her. Then he checked her diaper and discovered it was full of pee. How had I missed that? He changed her diaper and she calmed down and I was able to eventually nurse her to sleep.
In the 6 years since she was born, my track record for asking for help hasn’t really improved.
Asking for help has always felt synonymous with failure and weakness to me.
I don’t see it as weakness or failure in others. Just myself.
I’ve always been independent. I see myself as strong, capable, and in control. I don’t need help from anyone else. I am self-sufficient. I can do it myself.
Except when I can’t.
I hate those times.
Motherhood has a way of bringing all of my shadows into the light.
Fear of failure, feeling like I’m not enough, feeling weak, and self-doubt are some of those deep, dark shadows.
Asking for help feels like I’m proving that those shadows are greater than the light.
There are so many ways over the years I have resisted asking for help.
Unsurprisingly, this didn’t start with motherhood. Becoming a mom just intensified it.
I remember even when I was in middle school and high school and college, I wanted to figure things out on my own. I felt like I had something to prove. Maybe it was because I felt like people didn’t believe I could do it and I wanted to show them I could. Maybe secretly I felt I couldn’t do it.
No matter what “it” was, I needed other people to know I was capable of accomplishing a task or achieving a goal or succeeding at something hard.
I felt like if I asked for help, it might show people that I wasn’t really good enough or smart enough or strong enough or whatever enough. So I often isolated myself. I refused help. I pushed people away.
I thought it made me seem tough and badass and maybe even a little mysterious.
Really, I think it made me seem unapproachable.
It was and still is, a lonely endeavor.
Feeling lonely as a young adult sucks. It’s even worse as a mom. It’s even worse when you’re a mom and an air force spouse and you lose the few friends you have every 2-3 years.
The one thing becoming a mom has taught me is the value of receiving help.
Over the years, I’ve had other moms offer to bring me meals or take my older kids on playdates while I spend time with my new baby. Amazing fellow mamas have come over to hold my baby while I got work done. Fellow moms have listened while I vent or cry. I’ve had mom friends send me clothes for my new baby or clothes for me for pregnancy as well as postpartum. Wonderful fellow mamas have sent me cards or emails or texts with love and encouragement.
All of this without me asking and instead saying yes to the offer.
Which is actually a good first step.
Still, I struggle with the asking.
I recently talked myself out of asking for help financially during my postpartum break from work because I didn’t want to burden anyone.
And to be honest, I was worried that no one would actually want to help.
Or that it would change their opinion of me.
Which is really interesting because one of the key things I teach my own children is to ask for help when they are struggling or frustrated. I even sing a song to them about it (thanks, Daniel Tiger).
I want my kids to grow up knowing that we are stronger together and that asking for help isn’t showing weakness, but strength.
And they can’t just see this on TV.
A few weeks ago, my husband went back to work and I was alone at night with all 3 kids. We had a few really rough nights in there of adjusting. It was hard. I handled some things well and other things badly.
One night in particular, I had a horrible headache and I felt sick. I could barely get off the couch and whenever I did, I immediately regretted it.
It took me 2 hours to eat a single piece of avocado toast.
I sent my husband a text at one point saying, “I wish you could come home. I know you can’t, but I wish you could.”
He responded, “You are not alone. No one can healthily do what you are doing alone. It is ok to ask for help.”
He was right.
And it shifted something in me.
My kids don’t need to see me trying to persevere through pain every time. They will also benefit from seeing me ask for help and receive it skillfully.
And I’ll benefit, too.
I’ve been asking for help more lately, in small ways and ways that also feel huge to me.
This morning, I taught a yoga class to my online yoga studio. While I taught my class, I watched through the glass doors of my back porch as a dear friend held and rocked my baby for me. She was there because I asked. I need help during the day when I’m teaching online and I can’t hold my baby, so I reached out to my local community of yoga teachers. This amazing woman, a mother of 2 and one of the studio owners, volunteered to help me.
Was it hard to ask?
Yes. I was afraid no one would respond.
Instead, I received more than one offer for support.
It’s not easy for me. I still feel vulnerable and uncomfortable.
What I don’t feel is failure. Or weakness.
I feel supported and cared for, which is also not easy for me.
But I am grateful for it and learning from it.