I sit alone in bed, pillows propped behind me and books, dishes, and pumping supplies piled on the nightstand to my left. My youngest isn’t yet a month old. I hear the doorbell ring, but I don’t move. I know it’s my sister. My husband walks upstairs to check on me and let me know she’s there, and I mumble something about getting out of bed eventually. Then again, maybe I won’t. She won’t be offended. I know she gets it, and she’ll end up making us dinner or cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry without me having to ask.
I hear a soft knock on the bedroom door as she peeks her head in. I try to hold it together and say I’m fine, and I’ll come down to visit. But that’s an empty promise. She sits on the edge of the bed and my eyes begin to water. I mutter something about how there’s nothing actually wrong. I really am okay.
“It’s nothing, but it’s everything, isn’t it?” she says.
I nod. It’s nothing major, no “real” reason to complain or be sad or not be able to get out of bed. But it’s also everything. It’s the sleeplessness, c-section incision, whining toddlers, hormones, grief over my late mom, anxiety, burden of parenting, and even the news headlines that seem a heavier weight to carry than normal. I turn her words over in my mind. Nothing, but everything. Yes.
I don’t have to justify my tears or explain away my emotions. I stay in bed, but the tightness in my heart releases, and I finally exhale.
The day seems filled with failure, and it’s not even 10 a.m. I yell at my twins and snap at my husband. Even during the few moments of quiet, shame and anxiety chase me like a relentless predators. I should know better. I should parent better. I should just be better. I whisper a desperate prayer and keep my tears in check long enough to put shoes and socks on the twins, strap everyone into their car seats, and drive to a friend’s house for a play date. I can’t shake feelings of guilt and grief, restlessness and frustration. I’ve been given a full life, one I prayed for and am grateful for. But I can’t handle it.
I plop down on the bench underneath the big window in my friend’s kitchen and vent about the chaos of the morning. I confess I’d considered canceling on her, but the thought of being home alone with all three kids seemed more daunting than packing everyone up in the car and letting my harried self be seen.
She knows what it’s like to feel like you can’t get your emotions in check, like you know all the right things to do and say and think, but you can’t reconcile your rational mind with your irrational behavior. I’m desperate to talk to someone who knows that feeling.
I hadn’t experienced any of this with my first pregnancy, or at least not to this extent, so the struggle catches me off guard. I sit on that bench while the twins play, and I rock the baby in his car seat. We talk about our kids and postpartum hormones and ideas on how to juggle it all. Mostly, we rest our feet, take a breath, and find comforting knowing we’re not the only one.
It’s so easy to feel alone. It’s easy to minimize our struggles as not worth sharing or hide them so no one else has to shoulder our burden. But while we may not always be able to understand each other’s worries, fears, and pain from personal experience, there’s an understanding only a mama can have.
We know what it means to weep over our children, what it means to want the best for them and struggle to deliver it. We get the questioning, the exhaustion, the sleepless nights, the waiting. We get that this is hard, holy work.
Whether we bring our heartaches up to the world or tell them to a quiet few, there’s something about listening and speaking, hearing stories and learning to tell our own that keeps loneliness from moving in.
There’s no place for loneliness in a village.
Lemon-Basil Whole Wheat Coffee Cake
Adapted from Food Network
¾ cup white whole wheat flour*
2/3 cup brown sugar
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
5 tablespoons room temperature butter
In a medium bowl, whisk all the ingredients together except butter. Cut butter into small pieces and add to the mixture. Mix with your fingers until the ingredients are incorporated and the texture is crumbly. Set aside.
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature (plus more for greasing the pan)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plain nonfat Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil, plus more for serving
½ cup prepared lemon curd (store bought or homemade)
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 9-inch square baking pan (or similar sized baking dish) with aluminum foil, letting some of the foil hang over the edge of the pan. Grease the foil with butter.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each one. Mix in the vanilla.
Turn mixer to low and add the flour mixture, little by little, alternating with the yogurt. Turn the mixer off and fold in the lemon zest and chopped basil with a spatula. Note that the batter will be thick.
Spread half the batter in the prepared baking dish. Spread the prepared lemon curd over it, then evenly spread the second half of the batter over the lemon curd.
Sprinkle with the prepared crumb topping.
Bake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Let cool 15-20 minutes in the pan and then lift it out by holding the edges of the foil.
Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack. Peel away the foil and top with a bit more fresh basil, if desired. Slice and serve with tea or coffee.
*Note: ”White” whole-wheat flour is still 100% whole wheat—it’s simply one particular type of wheat. It’s milder in flavor and lighter in color than some other whole-wheat flours. You can easily find it at many grocery stores (I most recently purchased a bag at Trader Joe’s)
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode on Motherhood + Loneliness