The phone rang at 5:00 in the morning. Surely someone has died, I thought. Why else would I get a call at this hour? It was my cousin. His wife’s water had broken; they were on their way to the hospital. Could I meet them there to watch their three-year-old daughter Peyton for a bit, until grandmother arrived from a nearby town? Of course! I adore my cousin and his wife.
I scrambled to throw on clothes, find my purse and keys, thinking surely they know I don’t have a clue about kids? I was in my mid-twenties. Kids were nowhere on my radar screen, and my babysitting experience was practically nil. No matter—they knew I loved them and would do my best. It was a rush to be part of this special event.
Peyton and I? We did just fine, though she sized me up immediately as an amateur. Are you hungry? Thirsty? I took her to the cafeteria. If the gift shop had been open, I would have bought her a toy. We walked around and looked at stuff.
After a while, Peyton’s grandmother walked in and my little companion cried “Mimi!” I too cried, “Mimi!” My shift was over.
My name probably wasn’t even on the list under “potential childcare” that day. Close friends of my cousins—seasoned parents of young children—were at the top, but life takes unexpected turns. The A-team was tied up; they had to look down the bench for options. Despite being completely out of my element, I loved being part of the birth story of their second child.
Fast forward 12 years. This past weekend, my sweet neighbor went into labor and asked me to keep her daughter at my house. Of course, I would. I walked over with my two little girls, explaining what an honor it is to be a part of the story of how another human being enters the world.
At times like these, we need each other. I didn’t tell my girls how important it is to minimize anxiety during labor. Worry and distraction about the care and wellbeing of existing children can slow down labor, making a physical-emotional-spiritual challenge even greater. When you already have children is when you need help the most.
Birth stories are treasured throughout life; what an opportunity to help create a good memory.
I reassured my friend that we’d take good care of her little girl and she was welcome to stay as long as needed. Just focus on having that baby, and we’ll bring her back as soon as you are ready. Her eyes welled up with tears. Thank you, she said, that means so much to me. I felt her gratitude.
I’ve been in her position. I wasn’t able to call on family when I went into labor with my second child. At the time, it was a source of sadness, shame, and comparison in my life. My heart longed to lean upon the people I was “supposed” to lean upon, to gather comfort and peace from them in order to rise to the challenge before me. It was a gigantic hole in my heart.
I chose to be authentic about it with a small group of friends and neighbors, and while that wasn’t easy, it was also a relief. I admitted I needed help, and they responded with a grace that still makes my eyes water. A friend picked up my daughter and cared for her when I went into labor. Neighbors brought meals and drove my oldest to preschool. Their practical love and support during those early days meant the world to me. They were mothers of young children themselves, whose days were already filled to capacity. Still, they were flexible. They shuffled and sacrificed for me, and because of them, I didn’t feel alone. I was a part of a community when I needed it most. It was enough to keep me going during those early days of healing, nursing, and transitioning to a family of four.
I’m hardly alone in this imperfect world. For a variety of reasons—geography, death, illness, family estrangement, boundaries—women can’t always call upon the people their hearts long to call during big life moments. And yet, the practical love of friends and neighbors goes a long way to patch and mend, lift, and encourage. We receive it as grace; we can lend it as grace.
I’m not going to suggest ways to build a support system; I’m not sure there’s a formula for that. I mostly want to say thank you to those who helped me when it mattered, and thank you to those who trust me to help you—it is a privilege.
Sometimes, there is such beauty and kindness in this imperfect world.