It is always surprising to me how often I seem to be in a state of revising my plans. I meant to grow up, meet my prince, get married and have kids. I really did. It just didn’t work out that way.
Instead, I worked, dated, and attended college for 10+ years, picking up three degrees along the way. In many ways, I was happy. I was happy, but not fulfilled. I realized that the one thing I really wanted was a family. and time was running out. I researched family building options and ultimately, decided on IUI with an open donor. My son was born one month shy of my 40th birthday.
I have realized many things over the years. For one, that there are great men, but no princes. That there are good and bad relationships, but most fall somewhere in between. That perfect situations are a fantasy. Things often don’t work out the way you think they ought to, but nonetheless, they turn out the way they were meant to. And so it is with motherhood.
I never thought I would be having and raising a child alone, yet here I am. Though am I really, truly alone? Granted I don’t have a partner and my closest family live 100 miles away. But since I had my son, my family comes out much more often than they used to. To say they have fallen head over heels in love with my son is an understatement. I have surprised myself by inviting more people into my life than I used to and by learning to ask for help when I need it. I believe in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child. It’s not something I am doing totally alone.
Obviously, it can be done alone, but that is not my preference and so I have had to go outside my comfort zone and do some things differently than I might otherwise. As a result, I have learned that help often comes from unexpected people and places.
For instance, nothing prepared me for the rush of emotion that would overtake and occasionally threaten to flatten me in the newborn days. When my family all left after the first month or so, I felt like an exhausted, wobbly colt. I felt vulnerable every moment of every day. I began to make phone calls and send emails to friends and family who had kids. I was surprised to find that every time I reached out for help, someone was there to give it to me or to reassure me that I was doing fine. I took people’s advice and adjusted my sleeping to match the baby’s, because if I didn’t, I don’t think I would have slept at all. I was hormonal and overwhelmed. I had a million questions.
I was fiercely in love with my child, but terrified that I was doing everything wrong. I was worried that he would stop breathing in his sleep, worried that he would rather sleep than eat, worried that I wasn’t half the mom I thought he deserved. I felt incompetent when I couldn’t get him into his car seat, but ya know, my boy is a trooper and he was so very patient with me while I learned.
Another thing that helped me was an online mothering chat board where any question I had — literally any question — was already posted and discussed there.
Other things I learned to do were to accept help from people when it was offered. Things like letting a neighbor help me in with my groceries…a kind stranger helping me fold and unfold the baby stroller at airport security.
I also started helping myself in ways I previously had not. I started setting boundaries at work that were not negotiable. No longer was I available at all times. I had certain time blocks in which I was unavailable, because my priorities had changed and my baby needed me. I began to do my paperwork at night after I had put him to bed because I understood on a very deep level that I would never have his babyhood to do over again and it was important to me to be present as much as possible in his waking moments.
I also found that by befriending people at work, and explaining my needs and wants to them, as well as my struggles, I have gotten not only needed advice, support, and hugs, but I even found my babysitters there as well, all reasonably priced. The first babysat for me 6 hours a day, five days a week from age 3 months to 15 months. The second and third were teenage sisters and daughters to a co-worker who filled in for me when my first sitter was unable to watch my child. My current sitter is yet another co-worker who decided to stay home with her own kids after having her last child and offered to watch mine when she heard I was in need. She has been watching him 9 hours a day, three days a week for the last eight months. Family tends to come in on the weekends, so I generally have free babysitting on Fridays and Saturdays, which has been a real blessing. If that isn’t possible, my first babysitter often steps in and helps me out.
So, my advice for all the new moms and moms to be out there is to look around you and try to gauge what support system you have in place. If you have family, you are very lucky. If you don’t, then you need to start building your village sooner rather than later. Prenatal classes, college, churches, single mother groups in your area, online chat boards are all great places to begin.
You don’t have to be alone. And you should not be alone. I have learned that there is no shame in asking for help and that most people are happy to help if given the opportunity. And from there, you “pay it forward.”
We all need help from time to time. No one expects you to be superwoman. Enjoy the journey!