“I had this idea,” she explained, her voice sounding far away, like it does when you’re mourning the loss of a hope unrealized. “This idea that I’d bring my baby home and my friends would come to visit, and some of them would bring us meals, or maybe some of them would just stop by to have coffee and hold the baby.” She shrugged and continued, “Nobody brought us a meal at all. My best friend came once.” She trailed off and shook her head gently. This mama, a casual friend whose path I crossed infrequently, wasn’t looking for a pity party. She wasn’t complaining. She was sharing from her heart and telling me something true when I asked her how motherhood had been so far.
“You know how they say, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’?” she asked. I nodded, I knew. “Well, it feels like the people I thought would be my village have disappeared,” she said. “It’s messy and hard, and I guess I just thought they would care more.”
I think about all the messages I frequently see on Instagram. Find your tribe. So thankful for my tribe! What would I do without my tribe? #ItTakesAVillage #blessed
But this sweet mother hadn’t found a tribe for her new stage of life, and she certainly wasn’t feeling blessed by friendship. She felt like the rest of the village had left for vacation while she stayed home alone with a new baby, a case of mastitis, and a desperate prayer for sleep.
“You know?” she asked, her eyebrows raised in a question above her lovely, weary eyes.
I did. I knew. I had mourned in similar ways during my 11 years as a mom to four kids.
I knew the loneliness of having a baby at a time when none of my friends did. I knew the disappointment of new motherhood which accompanied the eye-opening realization that this life’s work is not as blissful and pretty as I had hoped. I knew the distress of looking in the mirror after growing an entire human being inside me. I knew the painful desperation of sleepless night after sleepless night. I knew the discouragement of not being able to make it through the day without crying. I knew the shame and doubt and anger I sometimes felt toward motherhood. And I knew the longing for a girlfriend who understood, who cared, who was in this stage of life with me—not just a Park Chat Friend, but a friend of my heart.
And so I nodded. I did. I knew. I knew so deeply, hearing her words mined my memories and brought tears to my eyes.
But I knew something else, too.
The knowing started gurgling in my stomach as soon as she began answering my question: “How’s life as a mother—how are you doing?” The gurgling soon turned to a knot because … here’s the other thing I knew: I had thought about bringing her a dinner after her baby was born, but I had decided not to.
I didn’t just forget or run out of time. The dinner didn’t slip my mind. It wasn’t another example in my life as a busy mom with lots of littles which I could shrug off with, “It’s the thought that counts,” because I had thought about it, and my thought had landed on NO.
I felt a nudge in my heart to reach out to this mom who I didn’t know all that well, to honor her as a new mother, to celebrate her baby, to show up for her.. I felt the nudge, but I had decided to ignore it because I doubted myself.
I doubted myself because sometimes I wonder if I’m too much—if I go too deep too fast; if I let friendships become out of balance because I care too much. I prefer to skip the small talk and get into the meat of things. Maybe my personality isn’t too strong, but sometimes I worry my interest is.
Maybe this time I should hold back. Maybe I’m learning—after being hurt by unappreciated and unreciprocated love offerings—that sometimes I need to leave more space. And who am I to bring dinner, anyway? We don’t know each other very well. Who am I to ask for her address and bring a meal for her to eat with her husband, who I’ve never even met? Nope. Not this time. I don’t need to jump into everyone’s lives.
Even though I understood this brave and honest mama so deeply, I hadn’t experienced exactly what she was going through; I hadn’t lived without a village. During my hardest periods of first-time motherhood, I had a supportive network of family and friends. They helped me in tangible, practical, and emotional ways, even though they couldn’t fill—and shouldn’t have—the myriad vacancies (from crevices to canyons) I was sensing as I learned to navigate life as a mom. They put meals on the table and in the freezer. They provided moments of respite for my stinging eyes and tired rocking arms. They answered my questions about breastfeeding—latch? hold? duration? pain? burping? schedule? They saw me through.
If I had never experienced the highs and lows of having a baby, if I had never been on the receiving end of meals and lots of love offerings, I may not have thought to bring a dinner to this friend.
But I had, and I did, and then … I didn’t.
Months later, when I heard her voice her feelings of disappointment about community, and about support, and about her village, I no longer heard my own voice questioning, Who are you to ask for her address so you can deliver a dinner? Instead I heard God asking, Who are you to ignore the nudge I gave your heart?
So today, going on a year after I talked myself out of an act of kindness, I have a dinner for her family simmering on the stove because it’s not too late to cook up some love. It’s never too late for that. It’s never too late for tangible, practical, emotional support for a mom. It’s never too late for a card which says: you’re doing it; a meal which says: you deserve a break; a knock on the door which says: I see you and I care; a fellow mother who says: welcome to the tribe, Mama. I’m so glad you’re here
Guest post written by Molly Brumfield. Molly Brumfield is a wife, a mama of four, a used-to-be-teacher, a pacific northwest enthusiast, a lover of all things food and wine, an organized procrastinator, a social introvert, a children’s literature super-fan, a wannabe minimalist, and a family girl practicing resting in the love of our One Maker. She blogs about this wild and precious life at www.mollybrumfield.com.
P.S. If you enjoyed this essay, don’t miss our podcast episode on Motherhood + Loneliness