No strings attached

A gracious friend who received some devastating news recently did me the favor of accepting my help.

When I am the one having a hard time, I forget that allowing someone to help is a great gift to them. I also forget that a sincere, simple thank you is all the repayment the giver needs. I often fret and stew, consumed by the thought of How will I ever repay them? and How will I ever convey how much it meant to me? And that is the last thing the gift-giver wants, having their gift marred by a side dish of steamy guilt.

When I’m in the position of offering help, I also worry: Am I the proper person to be extending such a gesture? Will they think I’m weird? Will they think I’m being overly dramatic and self-centered, trying to make it all about me? I’m not giving up these questions so easily, because sometimes what sounds appropriate dissolves into over the top after a night’s sleep. But sometimes the right person to help isn’t who you’d expect it to be.

When Beatrice was born, like many new moms, I went through a hard time. Nursing was really rough (more on this later), and it made me feel like failure. Lactation consultants helped, and so did family and friends, but it wasn’t enough. The postpartum crying jags kept coming, heightened by the seemingly never-ending lack of sleep. Finally a coworker friend of Adam’s asked if she could stop by and help. I barely knew her, but I knew wasn’t in a position to turn down help, so one Saturday she came over.  She gave me a huge hug, looked at Beatrice, and said, “She looks just great! Look at what a good job you’re doing. She’s rosy and healthy and happy.” And I looked at Beatrice and realized she was right — I was doing a good job.

And then she said things like “You’re recovering from a major surgery” (I’d had a C-section) and “You’re getting an amount of sleep that’s been proven to drive people insane. You need to be taken care of.” And she proceeded to unpack two giant bags from the co-op, full of snacks (things like good chocolate, fruit, nuts, and coconut flakes) and juice for me so I’d remember to eat and drink. She’d also tucked in a bottle of gummy Vitamin D (“because they taste yummy,” she said, which was true, and they made me happy whenever I had one) and a bottle of baby massage oil. The oil, she said, was to give me something fun to do with the baby. “Don’t worry about technique – just play around massaging her legs and arms.”

That visit marked a turning point. I began asking for help and resting more. Advocating for what I needed instead of trying to be accommodating. (I was surprised at how used to me being accommodating many people were — I really had to work on this!) I had half of my maternity leave left so I made the most of it — getting outside for lots of walks, staying in when I felt like staying in — doing whatever sounded good to me that day and putting no pressure on myself.

My family and friends had showered me with support, food, and love, but sometimes it takes someone you barely know to help you see things in a different way.

P.S. One of the shower gifts I received for Bee came along with the extra gift of not having to write the giver a thank you note. I was surprised but quickly realized what a brilliant idea that was, and have “regifted” the gift of no thank you note a few times since.

P.S. from Jen

I don’t think there’s much I can add to this beautiful post, except for this memory it evinced for me. When my first son was born early, the amount of help we received was amazing — and overwhelming. Like Breanne writes, I remember tearfully lamenting to my mother how I’d never be able to repay everyone, or communicate how much it meant to me, and that I couldn’t think of just the right thing to do. My mom, always super-direct, said: “You can’t, and you won’t. All you can do is say ‘thank you.'” She was right and that’s all I did. I’ve never forgotten what she said, how she said it, or how it felt to just give in and be helped. Accepting help changed me. For good.

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