Reader EssayChildbirth has always seemed to me a personal act. So early in our pregnancy I decided not to allow anyone in the delivery room except my husband, midwife, and, if necessary, a doctor. The idea of an audience seeing me so vulnerable—exposed skin, loud, guttural moans—sent my blood pressure soaring.
The response surprised me. "You may not let me in the delivery room, but you certainly can’t keep me out of the hospital," my sister-in-law told me. And my best friend—who held flowers at the altar on my wedding day—shouldn’t she hold my hand during the birth of my first child?
I have always found pride in "going it alone." As Nietzsche wrote, "the individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe."
And individualism is intertwined with the American spirit. Oprah poses alone in her magazine. Katie Couric left her morning team for the solo seat on the nightly news. My own mother raised me without a husband. I’ve grown up admiring women who do it all, seemingly on their own.
As an only child, I enjoyed piano solos, swimming and reading under a birch tree. Then one Christmas, my mother bought a ping-pong table. It became painfully obvious that for this game, I needed a playmate. And I began to question my ability to find joy without the company of others.
At age 24, this idea was solidified and I got married. Several seasons later, I became a mother. I started noticing little things like parents and kids hanging out at the park, sharing juice boxes and toys.
And I couldn’t help but stare at the empty seats placed by my delivery bed for a large cheering section. It was becoming clear that parents do not just arm themselves with pacifiers and extra diapers; they arm themselves with other people.
About six months after our son was born, I fainted while saying goodbye to my husband one morning. My doctor deduced I needed more sleep. But I sensed my body had responded to something more.
Until then, our small family had been pioneers, living in a neighborhood void of many strollers, far from relatives. None of our friends had children and we hesitated to ask for favors. At times, I even hesitated to let my husband help.
For six months, I had been trying to do it all myself. And one morning my body betrayed me by begging for help.
My mother-in-law swooped in to save me. She took the baby and I took naps. I took a shower. I read a book. My husband cooked. My best friend came over.
I allowed the world to see that I might need another set of hands—or two.
Becoming a parent is both empowering and humbling. And every day I am learning to loosen my grip and accept help. A neighbor offers a popsicle, a friend offers to baby-sit, my grandmother offers advice. I am grateful to this generous tribe.
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