Somewhere near the end of my first pregnancy, my friends threw me a baby shower—a gesture I appreciated living away from my family and the pomp I may have been lavished by them. They wrote motivational messages on tiny baby diapers while I ate confetti cake from a plate balanced on my rounded belly. I unwrapped a soft organic cotton baby swaddle; a three-pack of glass (no BPA, here) baby bottles; and a couple of plant-dyed baby onesies.
I can’t tell you how many times I waddled down two flights of stairs, barking dog in tow, to meet the mail person outside our building with packages from home, ferociously taped at the seams to secure an endless supply of blankets, stuffies, and baby clothes that arrived on a weekly cadence. The corner in our loft we generously called ‘the nursery’ quickly became overstocked, and checking off ‘must-have’ baby items and ‘essential’ postpartum supplies felt validating and affirming. Consumerism has a funny way of making you feel like you’re just one purchase away from adulthood though.
While the baby gifts came freely, enlisting support from our family was a little harder to deliver. “You won’t want us there right after,” my partner’s family countered whenever I tried to rally postpartum backup. “Why don’t we wait and see when the baby arrives,” my parents would weigh while deliberating flights. Community was a word that meant cheaper yoga classes to me at the time, and devoid of any other help, in a sea of cardboard packaging and bubble mailers, we were alone.
Fast-forward a few weeks post baby shower and our baby was here, tongue tie and all. The motivational diapers were tucked into a drawer and during those late newborn nights that magically turn into the next day, I often picked them up and thought, “Oh, shut the fuck up.” At the time, most of my friends were not parents and lost in the depths of postpartum, I felt both alien and alienated. We had gleefully discussed baby names, astrological signs, and trendy baby strollers, but the friends and family who did have babies said nothing of how hard this would be. A mistrust that made asking for support feel impossible.
I’d find myself nursing, with one arm, and scrolling the internet for something – anything! – that would ease the scathing loneliness that permeated my soul with the other. Some of the things I bought during this time were: a wipe warmer that served no purpose other than to make me feel bad for never remembering to switch it on; anti-colic bottles; bottles shaped like boobs; bottles that transformed into cups; basically, all the bottles; baby clothes that asserted my style by proxy if nothing else. Less abundant than the bleary-eyed purchases, I left the occasional message on my midwife’s voicemail, barely comprehensible between giant sobs and big questions like, “what have I done??”
In the moment, I found it so perplexing that nobody could relate to my predicament. Our parents – who in the end all decided to visit at the same time (fun!) – were easily offended and sensitive to the fact I wanted to remain upstairs with the baby while I wrestled my ginormous boobs, spraying, leaking, and spilling milk up the walls like an unruly animal. One evening I remember lying upstairs listening to them eat dinner below me – laughing, cavorting, having fun (the audacity!) – and I crawled out of bed to seethe at them, “take your [expletive] pizza party somewhere else”.
I held a lot of guilt during that first, altering postpartum but by the time I careened into the next just 19 months later, I was unapologetic and assertive. I was now a practising postpartum doula and if nothing else, it would have been off-brand to journey through this time again unsupported. Unfortunately, just as I started getting my doulas in row, a series of unfortunate events happened during my pregnancy and boom! I found myself again with a newborn. Floating. Stranded. Alone.
This time there was no baby shower and the weekly packages chose a much less frequent cadence. I left work on a long weekend – desk drawer still full of snacks, shoes, and yoga gear – and thanks to the pandemic, I never returned. Friends and family came to visit me in hospital both before and after our second baby was born but despite the fact I was awaiting heart surgery, nobody asked me about my heart.
It’s easy to shy away from support—both receiving or offering. It can be awkward. It can be beautiful. It can make or break relationships. We live in an individualistic world that asks “what’s in it for me”, rather than living in community which instead offers, “if you’re well, we’re all well”. The plant-dyed baby onesie and beautifully branded belly oil is the path of least resistance: I see them and I raise you a frank conversation about the grief and loss of becoming a parent; a couple hours of supported rest; a nutritious meal that might not feel like much to the person who cooked it, but that illicit big, bulbous tears of validation and affirmation with each mouthful for the person eating it.
Parents have the one-handed scroll down. If we need something, trust us, we’ve got it. What we need is support. We need support now and we need it forever. We need it when babies join our families, and we need it when they go to kindergarten. We need it when our bodies, minds, and hearts are still reeling from birth, and we need it when those days are so distant it feels like you remember them from a movie. We need you to sit with us as we unravel without feeling the pressure to weave us back together. Babies outgrow onesies but parents never (ever) outgrow support.
Written By Ashley Jardine