Posted by: emjb | September 23, 2007

Lone wolves howl the saddest songs

I read this post by a new mom, which I stumbled on while Googling midwife stuff.

This is the part that struck me;

Jonathon called my mom several times to come over and help with me. Not the baby, me. I didn’t even care. I felt like when she was there, I could go on. When I was alone, I couldn’t cope.

This panic feeling, for new moms and dads, is so, so common. We joke about it afterwards, even, but the sick feeling of falling, of doom hanging over your head, of even the simplest tasks looking impossible…I think most new parents must feel this. And every one of us want others around, to help us learn and cope, but we are mostly afraid to ask.

We are afraid because we are supposed to feel shame about wanting this help, as though we are trying to push off the responsibility of parenting on our own parents. And certainly that does happen. But is handing the baby over to the anxious couple and sending them home alone the best option? Is there some middle ground between dumping your baby on your parents and lying in bed with your heart pounding in complete terror, wishing there were someone, anyone, to help you learn how to keep this incredibly demanding fragile new life alive and healthy?

Tara had PPD, but even before she got any anti-depressants, she knew that she felt better with her own mom around. Was that part of her depression, or just a natural fear of the unknown, of overwhelming responsibility?

The nuclear family as an isolated unit is a strange way for humans to live; cut off from support, advice, and extra hands, two people are supposed to be everything to each other and sufficient to raise their own children without any help whatsoever.

This is not a slam at grandparents, by the way, or anyone else. Grandparents mostly have work of their own, or responsibiliies far away from their children, that don’t let them pitch in even as much as they’d like. And a better setup wouldn’t just be them, but a wider community of friends and extended family too. Yes, a village. I know. It’s a cliche. But oh, how I dreamed about that village when Nathan was tiny and I was desperately wishing for someone to talk to while I struggled with breastfeeding, someone I could swap babysitting with when one of us needed a nap, someone to help with dinner and housework, someone to tell me it was going to be ok. Our families did what they could, but we didn’t want to look like bad parents by asking too much (and we did ask a lot, anyway) and our support network was stretched too thin and far away to be there for us like that.

We got through, like most parents do, because it does get easier, and you do stop being terrified at some point. Because there was no alternative, and we just kept going on. And all the other parents that do the same, assume that this is the way it must be. But that just seems wrong to me. There’s going to be some suffering and fear and mistakes no matter what, as part of being a parent. But does it have to be so bad, does it have to push you so close to an edge that you’re afraid to look at directly, for fear you’ll fall over?

I think that’s a question worth asking.



  1. I know a couple who have a five month old, and the mother in law just moved in with them to help. I’m so jealous, I wish my Mom could do the same, but she works full time and my husband has serious reservations about that kind of living arrangement.

    In fact, about three years ago before we conceived, I suggested we all buy a bigger piece of property together that had two dwellings, so we could help each other out (I pictured us gardening together, watching pets, and raising my husband and I’s children together). When I told my husband’s family this idea, they all warned my husband strongly against it. The knee-jerk negative reaction was overwhelming. And then my husband’s brother said something negative like “the closest you ever want to live to any MIL is about 300 miles.” Ouch.

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