A few months after I got pregnant my husband and I were at the home of a good friend-couple who had just had a baby of their own a year before. Over pizza and wine (yes, I drank wine during my pregnancy) we talked a lot about her labor and delivery experience, how he supported her, the first few months after the baby, their schedules now…etc. As a newly pregnant woman, I wasn’t just hungry for pizza, I was also hungry for birth stories and postpartum information. I didn’t understand at the time that I could ask a million moms about their stories and none of those stories would help me, each one is so unique and mine would be specific to me.
The conversation that night veered into childcare and we were asked what I would be doing for maternity leave. You have to take a break, they insisted. Maternity leave had never occurred to me at all, in fact my husband and I had never said the words to each other. Do people who own a business together take…leave? I told them we’d manage, how hard could it be? I would work from home, busting out emails and taking calls while the baby slept, I’d sling him up and take him to meetings with me, if I needed help we would figure it out as we go. Our friends shot each other a look, if they had stood, thrown their hands up and shouted “good luck!” it would have added up to the same gesture.
“Are we fucking ourselves?” I said to my husband on the way home, “I mean how hard can this be?”
“I have NO idea,” he said.
“Everyone says the first few months are really, really HARD!” I said.
“We will figure it out,” he said. “I mean, how hard can it be?”
“I now, right? We have to do what will work for us, I guess…”
As my pregnancy progressed my Mom who lives in the Detroit-ish area told me she would do whatever I wanted. She would come with my Dad and stay in a hotel near the hospital during the labor and delivery part, but if I wanted her to stay and help after she would stay with us for as long as I wanted her to stay. As always I thought of our two rambunctious dogs, the little one’s white fur shedding all over the house, and the way my Mom has always kept their home so immaculate; the most crisp clean sheets–even a mint on the guest room pillow. I declined her offer to stay knowing I’d naturally fall into a mode of wanting my home to be just as clean for her, there would be no way for me to attain that goal with or without a newborn in tow. It wasn’t just about my Mom, I could have hired a postpartum doula and I would still feel like I had to host.
I wanted to be completely alone, really. The idea of having anyone else in our space besides my husband and our newborn baby stressed me out so much. Having an audience while doing something completely new made me want to cry, I didn’t want (and still don’t want) suggestions, I knew I would fail hard at many aspects of this Mom-thing and I didn’t want anyone to witness it, I wanted a memory of these first moments to be totally about our immediate family and no one else.
Some people do things to numb out their thoughts, but I have always loved to luxuriate in mine. My interior life is rich and I enjoy a spiral, sometimes even a downward one. Having a baby would be such a karate chop to my waking life, it would have to be dissected and scheduled, and cleaned and wiped, surely my interior life would take a hit too, all my daydreaming, problem-solving and inner storytelling would topple like dominos unless I did this with as few people buzzing around me as possible. So I said no, no to all the help. Don’t send anything, don’t bring anything, stay AWAY, all of you.
And they did.
Just after our baby was born on Christmas Eve, our business exploded. We won four new deals on top of the one we had been working on for months before. My husband took Christmas Day off to get us out of the hospital, and the day after we all hung out at home together eating his lasagne and figuring out our new life. The days that came after that were a whirlwind, one that we did completely by ourselves; him going off to work so early in the morning, managing current projects, bidding on new ones, managing staff and payroll. Me up and down all night with our new creature, figuring out boobs, pump, spit-up, shooting off emails as the baby napped (which was for hours all day long) taking calls from clients, and at week three taking him to his first ever permit meeting, and lunch out with two of my sisters-in-law.
No one was there to see me gulping down every meal over the sink, pumping while on a conference call, formatting a bid sheet in bed, or cutting the head padding out of the car seat because I couldn’t imagine how his baby head would even fit between all those pads!
Some people need all the help they can get–and I did make good use of Task Rabbit, Postmates and Instacart–but the best help we gave ourselves during the first three months was the ability to be totally ourselves, in our own mess, on our own time. Saying no to any service help inside my home allowed me to make my rich interior life, our rich interior life.