A Huffington Post piece, “The Day Someone Threw Me a Rope,” went viral this week. It’s blogger Alison Tate’s story of her struggles 11 years ago as a new mom with a fussy baby, and how a breastfeeding support group gave her some of the answers that she so desperately needed.
With tears in my eyes, and nodding away, all I could think was, “Me, too.”
We were blessed with an “easy” baby. But anyone who’s been there knows that there are hard days even with an easy baby. We had plenty of them, especially when Teddy seemed destined to set the all-time record for nap fights won by an infant. His nighttime sleep was good from the start, but the days? I spent more than I can count feeling glued to the couch by his long nursing sessions and short catnaps.
Of course, time has a way of sanding out the rough edges of memories, and I now look back on those days so fondly – endless snuggles on the couch, accompanied by plenty of trash tv and snacks. But at the time, I really wanted — needed — to get out.
There was one place where I knew I could always go. (No, not Target. OK, so I guess there were two.) Like Alison Tate, my weekly breastfeeding support group was my lifesaver. I didn’t have to worry if I hadn’t showered, if my well-worn yoga pants had spit up on them, if Teddy was a crankpot, because there would inevitably be other moms there going through the same stuff.
I went to my first meeting when Teddy was 8 days old. I couldn’t even lift his bucket seat on to the stroller at that point, but I went anyway. I was so glad that I did. I don’t remember what inane question I asked (I’m assuming it was inane, because what the hell did I know at that point?) but whatever answer it came with wasn’t nearly as important as the feeling I left the meeting with: I wasn’t alone. It turned out that no one else had been slipped some secret manual that they’d forgotten to give me in the hospital. All of this stuff — babies, breastfeeding, being a new mom — it was hard stuff.
(For the record, I think the biggest disservice to new moms is the idea that breastfeeding should just come easy. It does — for some people. For others, it can be a rough start and a long slog — worth it, but it is *not* necessarily the most natural thing in the world, and moms who have a hard time with it shouldn’t be left to feel like they’re the only ones. Hmmph. OK, rant over. Stepping off the soapbox.)
As the weeks passed, I got more confident. Not only could I lift Teddy’s bucket, I could even carry him in the Moby. I graduated to not needing the nursing pillow with me as a security blanket. I was even able to offer my advice to other moms, and to share my stories — along with laughs and a few tears. My questions moved from “how on earth do I do this for the next 12 months?” to “how on earth do I go back to work?” and “how do you pump in a moving vehicle, again?” (It’s easier than you think. Just don’t get pulled over, as one of my fellow group members did.)
I don’t go to the group meetings anymore — maternity leave ended, Teddy and I kind of aged out, and I don’t need it in the same way. But the moms I met there — and Susan, our wonderful lactation consultant who runs the group, and its companion working moms group — got me through the early days, the teary end of maternity leave, and all the way to Teddy’s first birthday and beyond. I still read the daily emails from the group listserve, and I often see shades of myself from more than a year ago in the newer moms posting there.
I hope that when I respond, however infrequently, I’m helping another mom out. After all, maybe she’s wondering if her kid will ever sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time and when her next shower might be. As Alison Tate said, “We all need to be ready to throw ropes to other moms when we see them struggling; we are, after all, the ones who know how long the rope needs to be to reach them, because we have been there.”
I’ve graduated now to the toddler listserve, where we exchange stories of tantrums and food flinging and potty training and tooth brushing. I don’t need it in quite the same way that I needed the breastfeeding group on that Wednesday in September, 2012 — but it’s a rope that I’m hanging on to, nonetheless.