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When I first found out I was pregnant 3.5-years-ago, I was blown away. Sure, we had been trying for a few months but seeing that faint line on a pregnancy test was still a shock. I had no idea what I was doing and there was no way I could possibly know what was in store for me in the months and years to come. As I look back now, I realize how important it is to have a support group to help you through the bad times and help you celebrate the little victories of parenthood.
My pregnancy was not an easy one. Morning sickness (which was almost all day sickness) was near constant the entire time, raging headaches came and went without warning, heartburn threatened to also make me sick nearly every single night after about six months, and the physical discomfort of carrying a child brought many sleepless nights (and insomnia). My child was also 9 pounds 7 ounces at birth which explains my near inability to breath at times as he shoved on my ribs and lungs, literally knocking the wind out of me when I least expected it. Thankfully, I have sisters that had gone through either “easy” pregnancies or had experiences far more severe than my own. In spite of having them to discuss or vent to about my own journey, there’s something about carrying a child that is very lonely and isolating. Nobody else can completely know what is happening to you physically, mentally and emotionally because, well, they are not you.
All of my family (and in-laws) live at least three hours away. Add to that my lack of a social life (I’m introverted), and I had a major lack of support. “It takes a village.” Everyone had been saying that. But, I was (and still am) a very independent person that never felt like I needed to ask for help from anyone unless there was some verifiable and legitimate reason to do so. My mother had raised 5 children (all born within 6 years of each other) with no real “village” so how hard could one child be? Since I had been working in increasingly stressful and demanding jobs for over 16 years, I figured being a stay-at-home-mom (SAHM) and raising a single child would be a cinch in comparison. Why would I need help with that?
Then my son was born. Between sleepless nights with a screaming baby, an ever-hungry and demanding child (as all babies are), unsuccessful breastfeeding (I was an under supplier and struggled with a latch – I ended up pumping exclusively for a year) and a marriage that was getting rockier by the day (spurred on by job scares, career changes and adjustment to parenthood), I sunk into what I now know was postpartum depression (PPD). Trust me when I say everything I just listed is merely a snapshot into my life as a first-time-mother, but I’ll stop there for the sake of brevity.
But, I was lucky. I had the opportunity to stay at home with my child rather than send him to daycare (though daycare offers many positive benefits). There was no reason I should be unhappy. Or so I kept telling myself. I had to. I had to get to the next day and the next and the next. Even if I had known what was happening to me, we would not have had the money for therapy (sure, we had insurance but couldn’t afford a babysitter). I felt truly and utterly alone in a way I had never felt before. I, who always craved alone time, was drowning in the solitude I used to crave but with a child that had no way to tell me what he needed (or how to get him to sleep without an hour long routine each time). I was exhausted, stumbling and lost.
Out of desperation, I searched for mom groups near me. I googled endlessly until I found a (free) group I wanted to try – a group on MeetUp.com specific to my area that welcomed mothers with children born within a couple years of each other. It was funny – as soon as I found a group to join, I became nervous. What if nobody liked me? What if getting together with other moms was overwhelming with a baby? Would I give up? Would other moms not have the same struggles and think I was a terrible mother? But although I had many questions and concerns, I went.
Going to that first MeetUp was beyond challenging. Since I had never been a socialite, I knew I struggled with getting to know other people and taking part in small talk. Following nearly 8 months of an almost non-existent connection to other adults, I bundled up my son and got in the car, and I just did it. I made it out of the car and into the coffee shop where the other mothers in the group were gathered. Thankfully, the first person I met was open, honest, genuinely interested in my life and encouraging of my efforts to make friends. I’ve never told her how much that hour-long meeting at a local coffee shop gave me the strength to go to another and another meeting, until I started to make real connections with other moms who, yes, struggled in some of the same ways that I did.
While isolation can still be a part of my life (especially when either my son or I get sick), the connections I have made with other moms has been amazing. And even though I know many power through the tough times just like me, some of the mothers are the most giving people I have ever known, pushing past their own exhaustion and struggles to help in any way they can. I may always have a hard time asking for help, it’s just a part of who I am. But, I’ve grown to love and trust the women in my life to be there if I truly need them.
Now, as I prepare for my second child to be born in January 2018, I know I am surrounded by a support network that I didn’t know I needed the first time around. I also realize that it will still be hard. With an amazingly active son, there are going to be times when I absolutely have to ask for help, force myself to see when I’m crumbling under the task of raising children. Instead of seeing a grey cloud of unknown ahead of me as I did with my first pregnancy, I know that as I prepare for another child I have a village that will be there with me through it all.