When I first became a mom, to twins no less, I was as prepared as I could have been. I had the time to buy several sizes of nursing bras and clothing for after the babies were born. I kept the tags on in case something didn’t fit. I was ready, not knowing how my body would change after the delivery but knowing it definitely would.

Fast-forward to pregnancy number two. After rearing the babies and slowly putting my body back together, all the things I bought were either loaned to other expecting mommas or completely unwearable, so I was starting over. With two-year old twins, shopping for myself was a nightmare, and on top of normal mom stress, I was the caretaker for my husband who was in home-hospice, dying of cancer.

When I brought my new baby girl home, I forgot all about nursing bras, and underwear and that amazing magic spray that makes everything numb “down there.” I forgot all about leaking and bleeding all over my postpartum body, which was a total stranger to me. A foreign shell I couldn’t recognize and was forced to acquaint myself with. I forgot how often I’d be changing my clothing because of spit-up and diaper blow-outs and getting peed on and whatever other kinds of bodily fluids you can think of. But I could barely prepare a meal for myself let alone have the mental or physical energy to go shopping for myself. It was weird for me to even say what I really needed when people would ask, “Let us know if you need anything.” It was weird for me to say, “Please go buy my underwear and bras.”

I was desperate for some semblance of normalcy, to put myself together enough that I wasn’t a total mess when a crew of nurses, family members and visitors came into our home daily. They’d just sort of avoid me like I was some feral animal. And I was… a hurt, untouchable creature. People kept telling me how strong I was, but I wasn’t strong, I was super gross and weak to the point I couldn’t even say what I needed.

I wanted to scream, “Can anyone see me? Can anyone see that I just had a baby? That I just chased my two-year-olds who ran down the street two days after having a baby and all my stitches popped and my hips cracked and my breastmilk came in all on the same day? I’m not asking for much, just get me some underwear for God’s sake.”

But no one could see that, because I didn’t say anything. I didn’t take people up on their question, “Let us know if you need anything.” But after sleepless nights of wearing oversized, men’s t-shirts and wrapping towels around my chest in between feedings, and showerless days, it dawned on me, maybe I could ask someone to go shopping for me. Weird or not, they did say “anything.”

My beautiful friend whom I trusted and loved became the keeper of the task for finding me some clothing. She took time away from her own three children and husband to go shopping for me. She brought me bags of nice, new, clean things for me to wear and feel human again. I don’t think she ever knew how that one gesture saved me and gave me a little more fuel for what lay ahead. The casseroles went uneaten as I couldn’t eat anything, the gifts were added to a pile for me to later appreciate and love, but those bras, those bras were my life-line…

Two years after my husband died I got a text message from another friend out of the blue who wrote: I want to take you shopping for clothes!

When it seemed like most of my friends and acquaintances had since moved on from my tragic story and I felt so alone and forgotten, still reeling from the death and all that comes with death, I get a text message about new clothes. I thought for a second, “Well, that’s probably not necessary. I can just keep wearing belts with my pants that are two sizes too big. I can keep wearing the same two sweaters over and over. It’s not that big of a deal…” But then I remembered how I felt two years before when my friend showed up at my door with bags of new, not used, clothing. I remembered that when people say, “If you need anything,” it opens the door for you to at least ask, and sometimes, people want to bless you with things you don’t even know you need. I accepted her offer and my mom watched the kids while we went to try on clothing.

My friend made me feel like I was on some TLC show. I just hung out in the dressing room—avoiding mirrors at all costs—while she brought item after item for me to try on. It was weird, thinking of myself. Doing something just because it felt good, not because it was necessary for survival. Letting someone love me, not because they felt obligated to because I had a terrible, tragic story but because maybe she just loved me not my story.

After I had chosen the items that fit well, I was getting ready to gather my things and leave the dressing room when she flung lacy bras and underwear over the top of the dressing room stall. “Everyone needs some sexy underwear sometimes,” she said. I just looked at them, and then I looked at my body which felt used up and old, proof that I not only had three children, but also that I had neglected myself for so long. That I forgot to look in the mirror. That I forgot to praise my body not only for carrying life, but keeping me alive. I looked at the underwear again. I was still back in the past, two years ago when the underwear was necessary and now I didn’t feel like I deserved anything pretty or new because what’s the point. Why? I had no one to impress, no one to feel beautiful for, much less sexy.

I walked out of the store with my new outfit, but no new underwear, because I wasn’t ready to realize that her gesture wasn’t for me to feel beautiful for someone else, but for me. If I could go back, I would have just let my friend buy me underwear, because she wanted to and even though I didn’t know it at the time, I needed her to.

Nicole Hastings

Nicole is a is a widowed mom to three children. With a background in journalism and a sudden need to “figure out what to do,” she turned to writing about her experience with a husband with cancer, caregiving and widowed parenting and overcoming the aloneness of all of the above. She believes the art of storytelling brings people out of the dark into the light together to share in joy, humor, suffering and pain in life. She hopes that by sharing her story with transparency and heart will bring others hope and empower them to share their own stories.
Facebook: @JustAMomNicoleHastings