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Photo courtesy of papaija2008 / freedigitalphotos.net

Physically, my pregnancy was easy. I felt, even at the time, that the baby was only giving me what I could handle, which, especially in the beginning, wasn’t a lot. Offered his dream job, my husband Brian had moved a five hour drive away to an idyllic rural community, while I stayed in the city, and shacked up with my sister to avoid hermitude. The time was right for a long-awaited baby, so we figured that I would figure out how to make the move when I got pregnant. Getting pregnant took only a few months, but during that time, my father in law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and he passed away the week we found out our happy news. I was able to work out a new job and a work-remotely deal, and after an initial training period moved to join Brian at the beginning of my third trimester, ready to leave the emotional strain of the last few months behind.

When I arrived, I was happily greeted by Brian’s new colleagues. But in his grief, he hadn’t managed to meet many friends over the year he had been there alone. When I moved in, working from my home office, we had a few friends, but were much more alone than I was used to. So although we had taken a full-day childbirth class in the city, we signed up for all of the classes our rural hospital offered—to get to know the staff and facilities as well as meet other new parents.

My labor was most notable for being unexpected and quick, about two weeks before my due date. When we arrived at the small rural hospital, we found that another baby had just been born, so the main labor and delivery room wasn’t available, and the staff was in a tizzy at having two babies coming at the same time. After a short, intense labor, the doctor gleefully exclaimed “it’s a girl” and put our new daughter, Laurie, on my chest. I knew, rather than felt, how much I loved her, or would.

Over the next few days, as I worked to learn how to feed Laurie and meet her needs, I also struggled to trust myself with her. I felt that my main job was to feed her, and couldn’t manage anything more. Brian became in charge of diaper changing—I was too afraid—as well as everything else. He even sat up with me at night when I fed her. Around day four, I woke up early one morning and snuggled her on my chest on the couch, realizing I hadn’t held her yet aside from nursing.

As my milk came in, she proved to be quite skilled at nursing, regaining her birth weight by the time of our follow up visit. While that meant I never had the stress of worrying about her growth, it meant that there was never enough food in the world to keep me from being hungry. I realized later how much that hunger affected me, that the shakiness I felt in that first month in particular was from constantly being hungry and not realizing it as I frantically sought to take care of Laurie, never myself. I cried every day, never trusting that she was thriving and that I would be able to provide for her. I went to her first doctor’s appointment with a list of ailments I was sure she had, and didn’t believe the doctor who told me I was wrong about everyone of them based on her healthy weight gain.

We were hours away from family, and the friends that visited were all new friends, not trusted ones I could cry to and admit my fears. And I seemed to have a bunker mentality—I didn’t want either of our families to come visit in the first few weeks, I wanted them to wait until I had my act together more. So I was alone, unsure of myself, and constantly, unconsciously hungry. I was afraid to leave the house, feeling that Laurie was a fragile flower who needed to be watched at all moments, waiting for a crisis that so luckily never came.

Brian is a teacher, and so was able to spend the first month home with us in August. Thankfully, as I really wasn’t trusting myself alone with Laurie yet. The first time I went out with her alone, a half hour drive to pick up our farm share, I was a basket case. I was nervous to be driving, nervous in case she would cry and I wouldn’t know what to do, unsure of how to deal with her and the world around me at the same time, afraid everyone would see what a poor mother I was. And so I nervously awaited the day Brian would have to go back to school and I would be trusted alone with her for hours at a time.

My salvation came a week before that, in an e-mail. The message came from the father of the baby born the same morning as Laurie. We had met that couple at a few pre-natal education classes, and had liked them, and had chatted with them a bit while we were all in the hospital together. His message said that his wife Sue was looking for new mom friends, would I be up for a walk. As I got to know her, I realized she was a still obviously dealing with the crisis of new motherhood but also up for the challenge, and seemed to be functional. She suggested we go for a walk with our girls. At that point, in week four, it had not occurred to me yet that it would be ok to take Laurie out for a walk by myself. Literally just getting out of the house and into the fresh air cleared my head, but I hadn’t realized it was ok to do that until she gave me permission. And not only was Sue dealing capably with the same issues I was, but she also had a four year old daughter. She gave me the confidence that it was ok to leave our home and interact with civilization again, and that it was ok to feel stressed without letting it overcome everything—after all, she was doing it with another child! I came to view her both as a friend that I enjoyed spending time with and a trusted resource that had already gotten one wonderfully charming daughter to preschool, so must know what she was doing.

We began trying to get together as often as we could, generally about once a week. Listening to how she had the same struggles, I gained confidence in myself, realized how much of my anxiety was caused by my constant hunger, and began living outside of my own head. I reached out to another new mom to go for a walk, hoping to pay the favor forward that Sue had done for me. At that point, I realized Laurie and I were going to make it. Which isn’t to say I haven’t still obsessed, worried and cried needlessly, but the totally enveloping fear had subsided. My lesson was that it really does take a village, or at least someone else to share powerful emotions with. As other friends have had their first babies, I have told them in plain language how rough the first weeks can be, that it’s ok to cry anytime, make sure to eat enough and try to take some care of themselves, and have friends on call for when things get dire, including me.

We have now, a year and half later, moved yet again. I love Laurie more than I could have imagined in those first dark days, as every day she becomes more of a person, more herself and farther away from baby. Her belly laugh chases clouds away, and even her new toddler tantrums are still charming. As I contemplate a sibling for Laurie, I am actively building a network of mom friends that I hope to be able to count on if I need help again, and offering my help to them. Writing this renews my commitment to give myself permission to struggle without despairing, to forgive myself for when I do despair, and to forge a community to help me through the crisis. New motherhood is scary enough, no one should ever go through it alone.

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