My husband and I exchanged terrified glances as the nurse checked our car seat and told us we were, and I quote, “good to go.” I remember thinking how bizarre it was that I had to do more to get my learner’s permit when I was 16 than I had to do to take a baby home. I didn’t think there’d be anything scarier than that initial moment we realized we were solely responsible for this perfect little being.
And yet, there was something scarier. Much scarier.
The first day I was completely on my own with my squishy, non-communicative, maybe-colicky-maybe-gassy-maybe-tired-maybe-hungry bundle of love opened up a new world of uncertainty. This day is different for every new mom, I think. Maybe it’s the day the mother-in-law leaves. Maybe it’s the day Grandma has used up her vacation days and heads back to work. Maybe it’s the day the partner’s parental leave ends.
At some point, the support is gone. We’re there. Alone. Well, kind of.
Reality set in fast on that first day. I remember trying to hold my baby while simultaneously going to the bathroom, trying not to rip out my still-fresh stitches, covertly glancing down to make sure I wasn’t hemorrhaging, while also trying not to fall asleep. I knew I’d feel more up to the tasks of the day if I got myself showered and dressed, but exactly does one shower and watch a newborn at the same time? Even if I did manage to shower, where were the clothes to fit my still-swollen-but-no-longer-filled-with-baby belly?
We’ve all heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” and the common discourse today is that said village no longer exists. As a military wife six hours away from our nearest family member, I felt like a lone wolf figuring it out on my own for those first few weeks. I was scared to venture out of the house. What if there was a blowout? A meltdown? What if my boobs leaked all over the place, just like at home? I feared that the first time out of the house would be even harder than the first day alone.
Eventually, I had to prepare for the worst and go for it. It was so cold—just before Christmas in Ohio—and I had done my best to appropriately bundle my seemingly always sweaty baby so he’d be comfortable. It was a quick errand. A simple run to Target to pick up a biracial male Elf On The Shelf since I had originally picked up a biracial female Elf On The Shelf, and clearly my 8-week-old son would know the difference.
We made it into Target without issue, located the correct Elf, and proceeded to the self-checkout lane. I noticed my makeup-free, broken-out-from-hormones face in the security camera. Little man started to fuss. Not terribly, but enough that I felt a twinge of anxiety.
Please, I thought. Please, let’s get through this together, baby boy. We’re almost done.
At that moment, an older woman came up to me. I braced myself for unsolicited advice, attempts to touch my new baby, and other annoyances I’d heard about from the multitude of Facebook mom groups I joined (and subsequently quit).
“Hey mama,” she said softly as she approached me, “You have this beautiful baby dressed perfectly for the weather today. Look how comfortable he is. Great job, mom.”
I thanked her, my heart warmed by her kind words. As I juggled the Elf and the baby to the car, I began to wonder . . . was it possible that the village did, in fact, still exist? Had I caught a glimpse of it in Target?
Over the next weeks and months, I made a point to look for the support of others that have supposedly disappeared over recent decades.
I felt the village lift me up when I was out for a walk with my little boy on a bike path, half a mile from the car, and he refused to walk, run, be carried, or wear shoes. A woman walking her dog approached me and said, “I have four kids. I have been here. Don’t worry. I can help.” She proceeded to talk to my little guy, asking him if he has a doggie at home. She told him that her dog was a little boy just like him, still figuring out how the world works. She walked with us until he relaxed enough to make it back to the car.
I felt the village when a woman marveled at the fact that we’re still breastfeeding nearly two years in, rather than question our decision. “How amazing!” she said, giving me the boost of confidence I desperately needed that day.
I felt the village when two grandmas came to my aid at Trader Joe’s as I was struggling to get him to sit in the cart. “You can do it, beautiful boy!” they told him. They clapped for him as he happily settled into the seat, and he smiled with pride.
I felt the village when I had to make the eight hour round trip drive from Dayton to Pittsburgh, just baby and me, to renew my license (military life). We sat in the DMV waiting area for hours as I made desperate attempts to keep my little boy entertained. A woman pulled stickers out of her purse for him, telling us that they were her daughter’s favorite. A man left the waiting area and came back with bottles of water for us.
Most recently, I felt the village when I was standing in line at the ice cream shop with my 20-month-old. The man in front of us quietly paid for us, then turned to me and said, “You’re doing great, mom.” He doesn’t know how those four words had me walking on air for the next week.
The village may not look the way that it did hundreds of years ago, but if we look closely, it’s still there. It’s up to us to help it continue.
This means, mamas, that it’s time for us to get our heads out of our phones and support each other. Give mom a moment of relief by making a funny face at the toddler who is being carried out of Target screaming, surfboard style. Pay for the order of the exhausted mom in a full minivan in line behind you at the Starbucks drive-thru. Leave a basket of deliciousness on the doorstep of your neighbor with a newborn for a no-pressure way to provide a new mama with a little bit of relief.
We’re all in this thing together. Let’s all work toward making it feel that way more often.
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