My first text to “the village” was riddled with subtle guilt and mild timidity and read something like this:
“Hiiii Anna. So I’m looking for someone good with babies to help out while I’m home next week. We’ve never used a babysitter before—only family. But it’s been a rough week. Any suggestions?”
At six months postpartum I had come down with a ‘unique and rare case of mastitis’ as one doctor so delicately described it. To be clear: no one wants to be a rare flower when it comes to the inflammation of their mammary glands. I swiftly lost my mind. After week one I woke up whimpering the phrase, “You can’t leave me,” over and over again to my husband as I wiped tears and snot all over his shirt. By week two, I could no longer hold my son because the pain was so severe.
Anna texted back: “The girls and I are around in the morning! I can just come get him and you can sleep!”
Anna is a friend I don’t see very often because our lives typically run on different orbits. She’s a busy mom of three, our neighborhoods aren’t especially close, and since becoming a mom, I had basically been living as a hermit. But I trusted her, and I knew she had access to some highly-coveted baby whisperers in town.
Me: “You are too kind. But don’t you have ... 100 better things to do?”
In my mind, this was a nice way of saying, Your girls are two and three years old. Aren’t your hands already full? Please just give me a good babysitter rec who can come sit on my couch while I hover five feet away.
Anna persisted: “The girls would lose their minds with joy. Honestly. He will come back spoiled.”
Me: “He HATES the car. Also, teething. You’ve been warned.”
Anna: “This is not my first rodeo. Viv is already making a plan. She’s asking whether or not he has solid foods, if he takes a bottle, and whether or not he likes to crawl. She said ‘We’re gonna have so much fun with baby Levi, but I know we can’t keep him because he has his own mommy.’”
Me: “She can keep him.”
Despite our rather individualistic society, the phrase It takes a village gets thrown around a lot. If you’re a parent, you no doubt hear it at least 27 times a week, whether in carpool line, during swim lessons or at daycare drop-off. These words usher in warm feelings of togetherness and helpful community, but I found I still had one tiny issue with this mantra.
What if I don’t trust the village yet?
A lot of my thought patterns as a new mom were created solely by utter exhaustion and hormonal paranoia surrounding the unknown. For example: My baby’s never been in the ocean before; ergo, he will definitely drown or get hypothermia. Or my personal favorite: My baby hasn’t slept through the night yet; therefore, HE WILL NEVER SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT EVER.
I didn’t yet trust the massive village of women who had gone before me, the ones who constantly offered their reassurances that everything will be just fine.
For me the exact moment I first experienced my deep need to start trusting this village was at 9 a.m. that Friday morning in September. My right boob was on fire as I opened the door to a minivan pulling into our carport. The three-year-old jumped out in her “best baby-watching clothes” (a tutu, of course), and I simply stared at the vehicle prepared to take my firstborn child away from me. For the very first time. In a car driven by someone else. This world is a deathtrap!
Is it too much to ask if she’s had her brakes checked recently?
Against every synapse in my brain firing panic mode, I buckled my six-month-old into his car seat, tugged on the straps one extra time, and handed him to Anna. As she crawled between the van’s middle row of bucket seats with my baby in tow, it dawned on me that she didn’t magically have the base of my son’s car seat pre-installed in her car. We’d never done a seat belt install before. It’s got to be at least 45% less safe than the LATCH system. Should I say something?
I saw the excitement on her girls’ faces as a real live baby got loaded into their car, and I handed her our Ergo carrier instead of depositing my fears.
Within the hour I received the sweetest photo of a conked out babe nuzzled up against my friend’s chest, the park in the background.
I tried to rest. I thought about pumping. I pretended to sleep and kept my eyes shut firmly for at least three and a half minutes at a time. I watched a few minutes of a show on my phone. And a full hour after she sent the photo I couldn’t stop myself from checking in.
“You guys good?”
No response for 30. Whole. Minutes.
Whelp. Clearly I’m never seeing my son again. And clearly there were zero rational thoughts left streaming through my mind.
Shortly thereafter, Anna safely pulled into my carport, and nobody reading this is surprised.
As the door slid open and her daughters bounced out, their sweet joy radiated as they relayed to me the events of their morning with their own live baby doll (who, by the way, looked happier than he had all week).
And then I saw it. Not only had I allowed Anna to be part of my village, but I had let those little girls in too—and my son was better off for it. When I finally let go and began to trust other people with my most precious possession, everybody benefitted.
Maybe, just maybe, the village needed me, too.
Guest post written by Madeline Given. Madeline is a writer, introvert, and holistic nutritionist, who works alongside women, helping them find the freedom of health in their ever-changing bodies, from preconception through postpartum. She is the author of The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Cookbook and the recently launched The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Slow Cooker Cookbook. For wellness wisdom and real food ideas, say hi on Instagram or visit her website. She lives in Santa Barbara, California, with her husband and toddler son, and doesn't know how she would get through these early years without Jesus and salted dark chocolate.
Photo by Lottie Caiella.