Why I Want to Move to a Commune with My Baby

Community is severly underrated


There’s an idea out there that most women don’t remember the first weeks of motherhood because, if we did, no one would ever have another baby and the population of our species would slowly dwindle. I don’t remember a lot of the details of my first time with a newborn, but I remember sitting on the steps of the pediatrician’s parking garage and crying. The next minute I thought, “Okay, if I’ve done this for six weeks, I can do it for six weeks more,” standing up and continuing on down the stairs with Lily in my arms. I did it for six weeks, and then six weeks more, and again, and again. Enough weeks passed that I forgot the struggles altogether; twelve years later I started all over, and now I have an infant son.

I have always been curious about what my second pregnancy would be like because the first rodeo was unplanned and pretty stressful. Turns out, it wasn’t worrying that made me nauseous; that’s just how I grow babies. Also, my hair feels heavy when I’m pregnant; it wasn’t the dreadlocks after all! In utero kicks were as thrilling as ever. But there were differences too: every ache in my back and knees reminded me that it was twelve years between births. That’s twelve years of growing older, slower, maybe wiser, and definitely more tired. The similarities and differences were interesting and (sometimes) fun to observe, remedied with a Tylenol and warm bath if need be.

The intangible component that wove its way through both my experiences as the most important, though? The role community played in these huge life transitions.

Autonomy is king (and queen)

As a middle-class white lady, I live in a culture that celebrates autonomy and independence, survival and success. Technology has connected us and isolated us; we can help others by donating online instead of attending a fundraiser, and we can order groceries to be delivered instead of asking a neighbor for that one missing ingredient. There are more marathons on my Facebook feed than block-parties. Our economy is such that renting is more common than buying, so we don’t always see our neighbors as permanent parts of our lives, and there often isn’t time to gossip over the hedge. Our understanding of community is different than it used to be.

The modern community I know likes to focus on the positive side of life; rarely do people discuss life’s hardships on social media. In fact, there is so little space for struggle on our public profiles that we tend to stay quiet when things are hard. Childbirth is considered a private event—as it should be—but personal isn’t the same as isolated. The beauty and struggle of birth and postpartum survival has faded from societal conversation; new parents barely know how to ask for help, and the community around them barely knows how to provide it. This was especially true for me the first time around. Despite total exhaustion, it never occurred to me to reach out. I didn’t want to be a burden, and I was trying to prove that I could be a capable young mother. I think about how tired I was during those days, and I wonder if my determination wasn’t at least a little bit dangerous. (I should not, for example, have been driving a car after weeks of minimal sleep.) And while I’d like to think that friends would have helped if I had asked them to, they were enjoying a carefree early-twenties existence with which my new life and needs didn’t really mesh. I don’t blame them because we live in a society that mostly keeps people separated by life phases or experiences—like, how can you possibly fathom parenthood if no one talks about what it’s like, and it is always treated as something Out There in the Maybe Someday?

Then there came a point in my life when the need for help outweighed the need to prove my independence. When Lily was three, I moved us away from our entire support system. I learned quickly that it takes a village, and I learned how to create one. Asking for help is another way to survive, and babysitters don’t just appear out of thin air, FYI.

Come together, right now, over me

Turns out, there are two pieces to asking for help—trust and honesty. For me it works like this: I have to trust that people are honest with me about lending a hand. About wanting to help and having the resources to do so. I have to trust that the same people are honest with me when they cannot help. And I have to trust that we are not judging one another based on our needs. I offer the same to others; I am honest about when I am available and when I am not. I enjoy being of service, and I have to trust that it’s a reciprocal relationship between myself and those around me.

So this time, when I became pregnant and gave birth, my eyes were opened to the real power of community. I was never alone if I didn’t want to be. No one had to prove their strength or independence. We were comfortable asking for help, and we were grateful to receive it.

Facebook didn’t exist when my daughter was born. This time, I’m able to find solidarity with others in a parenting group that assures me I am not alone at three in the morning, it is not the end of the world if my son sees an iPhone screen, and it does get easier with time. When I was prescribed a brutal antibiotic for a breast infection, women I had never met delivered frozen breast milk to my house so my little guy could keep formula intake to a minimum. (Note: It is also not the end of the world to give a baby formula.) So yes, in some ways, technology has created distance between us, but it can be a part of connection, too.

At the same time, IRL, my community came together to bring my family meals in the first weeks of my son’s life. Community picked up my daughter from school and made sure she got to her Irish dance practice. Community held the baby while I showered, did laundry while my husband and I napped, brought me nipple cream and hemorrhoid spray when it felt like a drive to the drug store was impossible. This group was made up of friends, family, colleagues, and classmates. Some of them knew what to do because they’d experienced it themselves. Some of them did not but were able to ask, “How can I help?” There were still moments of exhausted desperation; that is impossible to escape, no matter how many casseroles are brought to the door. But assistance was never far away, and I had twelve years of learning how to ask for it. My mom came with me to the pediatrician when my husband had to work; it is so much easier to navigate a parking garage when you’re not alone.

The new normal

I feel like the luckiest person in the world to have experienced such love and support, but I also feel like it shouldn’t be an anomaly. Life works better when we’re all helping each other. I shouldn’t feel “lucky” have experienced it; it should be our normal.

One day, I may not remember how exactly how hard it was to have a newborn baby, but I’ll remember the community that helped us get through it. It’s an element of life that I think should be a larger part of the world, and I’m willing to try to figure out ways to be of service to others whether I understand their struggles or not. I’m not trying to save the world or create a mass movement, but I am trying to practice what I preach. I’ll start by saying thank you to everyone who was there for me, and ask “How can I help” in return. (And can anyone give my kiddo a ride home from school today?!)

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  • Kayjayoh

    For me, one to the best parts of deciding not to have children myself, even though I *love* them, is that I can be one of those community members, full of energy and and excitement, and with fewer demands on my own resource, so I can pour that energy outwards toward the wee young families in my circle.

    • I cannot even begin to express how grateful I’ve been for my like-minded friends who are Aunties to my LB. They will never have kids because they don’t want them for themselves but they adore our little darlings and are such amazing support and community. Even more so than parent friends because they don’t have a weird need to impose their parenting knowledge or try and validate their own parenting choices through us. I salute you for being willing to share your energies with young families, people like you are such a critical part of the parenting ecosystem!

      • DionneSLuke

        “my .friend’s mate Is getting 98$. HOURLY. on the internet.”….

        two days ago new Mc.Laren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Hereoi!105➤➤➤➤➤ http://GlobalSuperEmploymentVacanciesReportsCity/GetPaid/98$hourly…. .❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:::::oi!105….

    • Nancy Treiber

      “my .friend’s mate Is getting 98$. HOURLY. on the internet.”….

      two days ago new Mc.Laren. F1 bought after earning 18,512$,,,this was my previous month’s paycheck ,and-a little over, 17k$ Last month ..3-5 h/r of work a days ..with extra open doors & weekly. paychecks.. it’s realy the easiest work I have ever Do.. I Joined This 7 months ago and now making over 87$, p/h.Learn. More right Hereoi!653➤➤➤➤➤ http://GlobalSuperEmploymentVacanciesReportsZone/GetPaid/98$hourly…. .❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:❖:❦:::::oi!653….

  • Kayjayoh

    Confession time: in the moment between reading the headline “Why I Want to Move to a Commune with My Baby” and the actual content of the essay, my first, dorky thought was, “Oh, I wonder if she’s considered co-housing.” Which…really isn’t the point of the piece. ;)

    • Eve Sturges

      OK but I DO want to live in an “intentional community” so badly! I am dying for the house behind us to go up for sale (there is nothing to indicate that might happen in my lifetime) so friends can buy it and we can knock down the fence and grow a huge garden. SO, not the point of the article, but you get how real this could be!

      • really

        exactly – not the point of the article…

        • CJ

          I’d love to read an article by someone who does live in co-housing

          • Not a parent. MockMyInsights.

            I’m not sure if this counts, but my husband and I live with a good friend of ours. While it stared as simply a financially good idea, it’s quickly grown into “We love you, and as long as you still love us, let’s all live together, and who else can we find to grow our commune”. There’s always someone to unload the dishwasher, “hey I’m running to the store do you need something”, and someone to give you emergency rides to the airport. Communal living is not for everyone, to be sure, but it’s freaking awesome when it works.

      • Kayjayoh

        LOL. Within a short walk from our house is a co-housing community that two couples of my husband’s (and my) good friends live in. One couple moved there first, then the other a few years later. Then *both* couples had babies in the same month a couple of years ago. It works out really well for them. Small condos but with large common spaces to share. The whole place is within baby monitor range, so they can be at each other’s places or in the common areas while the wee ones are in bed, and a lot of babysitters close by, including me.

        It’s not a thing that is practical for…well, most people. And not the point of the article. But man, it works.

        (This is not to say there aren’t drawbacks, such as community committees and meetings and whatnot and the usual stuff that happens with neighbors and in small communities.)

  • really

    this article mentions nothing about a commune or actually moving to a commune with a baby – as the title suggests. the title seems misleading.

    • KM

      I’ve been confused by several titles of essays recently – they seem to be much more in the style of click-bait / Buzzfeed headlines instead of actually representing content or essence of the essay.

      • z

        I agree. Please, AWP, you’re better than that.

      • Meg Keene

        Yup! They are. That’s the internet in 2016.

        • z

          You mean you’re doing it on purpose? I just think it’s tacky and slowly undermines your relationship with the reader.

          • Jess

            agreed… It may be the internet in 2016, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing. I generally do *not* click on things with clickbait titles because it’s almost always misleading and bad content.

          • Sarah E

            They’re making business decisions the best way they can. Historically, Meg and team have proven themselves to be rather savvy internet-media women, so I trust them to do what’s necessary to make sure APW remains financially viable, which includes drawing traffic in a way that’s up to date with current trends. The way internet media works, in a year the strategy will be totally different anyways.

          • emmers

            Yup. APW is a great online community, but at the end of the day, it’s a business. Here to pay salaries, and make money! If click-baity headlines get it done now, fine by me. I think the content is still great.

          • Hello?

            Yet here is their readership telling them they don’t appreciate the bait and switch method. Oh well. Ignore feedback at your peril, I say.

        • Bee

          Yikes. Bad approach. Bad attitude.

      • JE

        Me too! Would have been more interesting to read an article by someone who actually lives in a group housing type situation

      • Kim

        Yes, agreed. If the headline says that the article will be about pulling off a feminist or body-positive wedding, I expect that to be an actual focus of the writing in a real way.

        Internet writing in 2016 may not be easy, but I know that I’m not the only person who avoids opening articles that seem like they have clickbait titles specifically because I don’t want to encourage that kind of writing with my clicks.

      • toomanybooks

        I can see why this is good for like, page views, but honestly? I’ll read pretty much anything on this site that I could relate to even a little bit (which, being engaged, is most of the content). Something about needing community when you have a baby or whatever that’s closer to the article content would’ve had me more interested (I actually got here by clicking on this comment in a “recent comments” section on another page, not by clicking on this article).

    • Rachel

      Yeah – I love you APW – but the headlines are getting really confusing! This is a lovely essay on its own, it doesn’t need a click-bait headline to sell it. I also thought I was coming to read an article about actually moving to a commune (which would be awesome too!).

    • It’s a concept of commune: “a group of people living together and sharing possessions and responsibilities.” A community. Which, I mean, she totally talks about. I wish I could have a commune in my apartment building but I barely know my neighbors names…

      • Eenie

        Introduce yourself! We have an awesome neighbor across the street that will watch our place when we’re away. It started with a conversation!

        I’m in the south in a house now, but I’ve lived in apartments in the midwest too and had success. “Hey, I’m Eenie, I live above you so if I’m ever to loud don’t be afraid to knock on my door!” And then the people will wave to you when you pass (maybe) and it feels more like home.

      • Claire

        Having grown up in an actual commune, I feel qualified to declare that a commune and a community (as discussed in this essay) are two very different things. This essay is about normal levels of support from friends. Communes are something entirely different. I’ll leave it at that. But, clearly, the click bait title worked on me. Tricky.

        • gonzalesbeach

          Yeah it baited me too….I’ve been wistfully dreaming of a farm/homestead. not seriously (yet). so It sounded like it was going to be more on ‘leaving the city for the simpe life/commune/homestead’ instead of having a community around you after childbirth. interesting article but not what I expected!

      • z

        Funny how she managed to write an essay about wanting a commune without ever using the word “commune”, isn’t it?

        My parents briefly lived in a commune and they remember it not-so-fondly. It ain’t all tofu casserole and unstinting emotional support. And it was nothing like what this essay describes.

        • tr

          No kidding! There’s a reason that community support is traditionally considered a great thing, while communes haven’t exactly caught on…they are definitely two VERY different things!

  • Mary Jo TC

    This is great, and it reminded me of this article I read this week:


    I like how Eve lays out the things she needs in order to ask for help, mostly trust. I think I have the same need for trust, and the hard part of that trust for me is trusting that I won’t be judged for needing help. And I put something on myself with it too: in order to ask for help, I need to have confidence in myself that somehow, someday, I’ll be able to reciprocate. And when you’re in the depths of desperation and loneliness, that confidence is sometimes hard to come by. Thanks for writing this! As I anticipate my second baby (full term tomorrow!) this is something I’m thinking about a lot lately.

    • emmers

      If folks are offering, or saying yes when you ask, it’s probably because they want to. Honestly, it’s a gift to me when friends accept my offers of meals (or whatever). It feels like I get to be a small part of a really special time in their life, and it makes me sooo happy. I’m probably oversensitive, but I feel sad when friends say no to this kind of thing. It’s like they don’t trust me to really be a good friend or something. I’ve offered to drop off meals in the past without coming in (cuz I don’t want you to have to tidy up!), and some folks just really aren’t into it. I’ve worked on just assuming that they must having a hard time, and trying not to take it personally. Just perspective from a help-er!

      • Mary Jo TC

        Oh, I’m not talking about turning down offers of help. I’m talking about soliciting help from people who have not yet offered, or who have said they’ll help in a very vague way. That’s definitely harder to do, and requires a lot more humility! I totally understand that turning down a sincere, specific offer of help can be hurtful or off-putting.

        • emmers

          I hope with this baby, you get lots of folks who offer to help, and also have a good sense of who you can ask even if they haven’t offered. I’m rooting for you!

    • Jess

      I have no idea what new parents need, but if somebody was like, “Hey, we super hardcore need some garbage bags over here” I would bring them garbage bags ASAP, with no intention of having that favor returned.

      I would much rather be asked for help than try to guess at what they need and constantly be wrong.

      I usually don’t help unless it’s asked for – what if I make that person feel bad for needing help even though I don’t care? what if I bring the wrong thing and should have known better? what if I’m more in the way than useful? what if offering to help sounds silly because they’re doing just fine?

      So in short, ask for the help.

    • emilyg25

      I had to do this. I normally hate asking for help, but when my son was born, all our family was sick and the nurse at the pediatrician told me I couldn’t bring my baby to the supermarket during flu season!!!!!!! So I had to call my friend and ask if he could please bring us some milk and bread and oranges. Of course he was happy to do it, but it about killed me to ask. Trust. Trust trust trust. How could he really be my friend if I couldn’t trust him to be honest.

      • It’s so easy to fear “no”. And it so rarely comes. I sometimes wonder if I actually do think the worst of my friends, but really, I just think it’s inconvenient to be my friend. And it is. I have a babe now. And even my friends with babes have schedules ruled by babes. It’s a very lonely sport, parenting.

  • This is such a helpful perspective, and so well thought-out. And it doesn’t apply ONLY to parenthood: When my husband and I moved to our new city, the first thing we did was start making friends… it’s exactly like dating! We joined groups, sports leagues, accepted invitations and extended them. When we get calls from our home town that friends-of-friends are moving to our new city, we set up coffee dates or happy hours right away. We do our best to show up for birthday parties, baby showers, and other Life Events. Recently, when we needed help with yardwork at our Little Hippie House, we put the call out, bought some beers, made some lunch, and half a dozen people showed up to pull weeds and get our spring gardens going… it was awesome! We do the same for them, whenever they ask, and whenever we can. Thank you for the reminder that community-building takes practice, and like anything else, it’s great to be good at it before you really “need” it!

  • emmers

    We don’t have kids, but I try to be helpful when friends become new parents. I LOVE it when people accept my offers of dropped off meals, errands, whatever. I’ve had a few friends say no (I guess they’re too overwhelmed?), which is disheartening when it happens, but it’s so great when I get to help support my other friends.

    • another lady

      meals could be touchy because they may have food issues or aversions or allergies that you are unaware of or they may feel uncomfortable eating other’s cooking not knowing what is in the food, etc.

      • Violet

        I mean, strangers, sure. But if my friend offered to cook me a meal because said friend knew I was stressed, why couldn’t I be all, “Yep, just no XXX please, cause I’m allergic!” I mean, these are friends we’re talking about. Presumably they have already navigated trickier things in their friendship than food allergies?

        • Carolyn S

          eh.. yes and no. I’m a celiac and gluten is really sneaky.

          • Violet

            I know, but if your friend offered to make you something, wouldn’t it be fine to say, “Thanks, but actually, gluten is really tricky. Thanks for offering, though!” I don’t see anything touchy about offering or refusing this kind of help, among two well-intentioned friends.

          • Carolyn S

            You could but a lot of times people say “oh no it’s fine I can totally handle it.” The whole point is it’s fine to say no to help and we should understand that people don’t always owe us a thorough explanation for not accepting it.

          • Violet

            I think we agree. This is not touchy. Offer, you might get a no, move on. Get an offer, say no, move on. It needn’t be some fraught subject. If it is, between friends, well, those just aren’t the kind of friendships I have, so I guess I can’t relate.

          • emmers

            It’s true. And I’ve been working on not taking it personally when people say no. It makes me a little reluctant to offer them help in the future, but sometimes i send a “thinking of you” gift instead.

          • Eenie

            Ugh yes with food. I have some friends who know I can’t eat gluten (going on three years) and they’ll still order a pizza for dinner and think I can eat it. Sometimes it’s ok to risk it, but a lot of the times if I’m tired and overwhelmed I don’t want to eat something that a well intentioned friend makes and then be miserable for days. I would then end up hating that friend for a while.

          • emmers

            I had a friend say no pretty recently in just this way, and I totally understood!

          • A.

            Oh god, yes. My sister-in-law once INSISTED that a dessert she brought was 100% gluten free. Since both she and my father-in-law had looked at the ingredient list beforehand and I’ve been GF since I’ve known them without any major issues, I happily ate away.

            …Several days of vomiting/fevers and my husband finally checking the ingredient label (only to find “wheat flour” as the SECOND listing) later, I don’t trust anyone. Ever. Definitely nothing personal, just good sense.

        • food is tricky. i’d have to be very familiar with my friend’s cooking to trust that it’s what I can handle if I’m on a particular diet. i can’t even trust my mom’s cooking to match what i need sometimes, and i grew up eating her food. with special diets you invest a lot of time into learning how to cook to meet your needs, it’s not as simple as avoiding certain ingredients that you can’t eat, but really making sure you can get a balanced meal with those limitations.

          • Violet

            Okay, I obviously was not clear. Let me try again. Sure, food can be tricky. My comment was in the very narrow context of a friend asking if they can help. In which case, I don’t see how saying “No thanks,” (with no reason provided) or “Yes, thanks, but with a modifier,” with that close friend is tricky. They already want to help. They already have good intentions. If they are friends with me, presumably I have them as a friend in part because they have shown themselves able to listen to me when I say either yes or no and respect what I say. That means whether I have an allergy, a sensitivity, an eating disorder, a craving, a medication/food interaction, WHATEVER, I can say just say “No thanks,” to a friend. If I want to give a reason, I can; if I don’t, I won’t. I personally would not experience that interaction as “touchy.” Not in the least. If I can’t say yes or no to a friend without feeling touchy, then they are not actually my friend. If my friend can’t hear a yes or no from me without having their feelings hurt, again, they probably won’t be too happy being my friend.

            Of course there will always be exceptions in life, but my basic operating framework is that “discussing my needs with a caring friend (food or otherwise) is not touchy.”

          • Amy March

            Agreed. “Can I bring you a meal?” “Actually food is really tricky for me because of my diet, but it would be so fantastic if you could pick me up a box of kale and a couple yogurts? If it’s not too much trouble?”

            Not touchy, not tricky, and you are letting your friend know that you need and value their help.

          • Violet

            Yes, this is what I meant. Thank you!!

        • Kelly

          Yeah, I mean…if we’re friends we’ve probably spent lots of time together and shared in many meals, potlucks and food-related festivities, so I probably know if you have allergies or at the very least if you’re a picky food person? If I know you have food issues I’ll be careful about offering to make you food for any occasion, and it’d be NBD because that’s how friendship works. Once you have a baby I’m not gonna show up with a mystery casserole and force you to eat it while I watch.

        • Katie

          I am 8 months pregnant right now, and I’m BARELY keeping my eyes open at work, let alone by the time I get home… and my baby isn’t here yet. If any of you offered to make me a casserole, I would not ask you ANY questions about it, I would say YES PLEASE MAKE ME A CASSEROLE and I would eat it.

          Back when I could stay awake, and I was in the position of helping new-parentals, I just didn’t ask anymore. I asked if I could visit, and then I just brought the casserole and bagged salad and frozen cookie dough. I seriously think the people who reject offers of help end up highly regretting it later when they realize that they need it, and then they’re too embarrassed to ask. So I just skip that whole part now. ;) It’s highly assumptive, of course, but whatever. It’s just food.

          But seriously. Make me some casseroles… delicious cheesy ones… mmm…

    • Amy March

      Yup. Really disheartening to offer and hear no. Again and again. I feel like this whole thread is part of the problem. Obviously if you have some particular reason to say no, you do. But when “I’m kinda bummed when my friends don’t let me help” is met by “what but highly specific particular reasons why all of this is terribly difficult” then yeah, people do see that and think may as well not bother. The world doesn’t end if you just say thanks for the casserole and give it to your partner to eat if you can’t. Sometimes it’s not about whether a particular offer is actually the perfect thing to help you right now. If you want a community you need to accept people into your life. That may not mean yes to food if that doesn’t work for you, but it does mean looking for ways to be positive and say yes to something, or people give up.

      • Violet

        Could not agree more. The conflicting advice goes as follows: “Don’t just say, ‘Let me know if you need help!’ That vague offer puts the onus on the exhausted/sick/depressed person to tell you their needs! Instead, offer something concrete, like, ‘How about I do some laundry for you?’ Other side: “No, don’t do that! They might have a skin allergy and react if you do it with the wrong detergent!” So basically we’re all supposed to be psychic in order to show our friends love and support. Even asking what they need is a burden. Saying no thank you is a burden. And sure, sometimes it is. But all the time? As a blanket policy? Whereby we should all strive to live? Maybe for some, but that doesn’t work for me.
        Aiyaiyai. No human is perfect. Therefore human interactions are rarely perfect. Sometimes I decide to risk making a mistake by an act of omission (like my comment last HH thread about not talking about coworkers’ pregnancies unless they bring it up to me). But with friends, I might choose to risk error by an act of commission. That is, try something. If it fails, it fails. But at least I tried, you know? I’d rather have my friends offer something that I decline than not offer at all because they’re too worried they’ll offend me or bother me.

        • Eh

          To some extent this is about knowing your people. You probably have some idea about your friends dietary restrictions or other quirks.

          I also want to comment that it’s great that all of these people are making offers. I got offers from a friend who ended up on vacation when I gave birth, one from a friend who moved the week I gave birth, and one from my MIL (to stay with us, which nearly gave me an anxiety attack when I was 8 months pregnant – and when I mentioned that in a HH people commented that I shouldn’t turn down the offer).

          • Violet

            Exactly, yes! It’s like people who make these recommendations think people can’t be trusted to know their own friends!
            (For what it’s worth, I feel like I know your MIL by now, and I would’ve said ‘no’ to her offer too. Anonymous internet recommendations and impressions are all well and good, but seriously, the person knows their people the best of anyone.)

          • Eh

            If her offer was to make us food then I would have been all over it. But for my sanity I could not have my MIL stay with us (and that’s about knowing what I need).

        • Anne

          I feel like the “specific offer” thing is mostly intended to help people with medical issues. I see it a lot in discussions about depression, because for people in a situation like that, having to come up with something they need AND having to communicate it can really be impossible. I think for “regular” situations, it’s all about being a good friend and making it easier for someone to say yes to your offer. Which means that, if you offered to help and didn’t get accepted and you can see your friend is still struggling, you might want to come up with a more specific offer.
          Another point is that you look at your offer from the other person’s point of view. My boyfriend’s mother is a good exmple of this. She regularly offers to help me/us and I regularly have to decline because her understanding of helping us is very different from mine. And obviously this is upsetting to her, but as she doesn’t listen when I try to explain to her why exactly her help is not what I need, it’s probably going to stay like that.

          • TeaforTwo

            I think a specific, concrete offer is helpful in lots of situations. I think it shows good faith that you really mean a helpful task.

            For someone who’s just had a baby, for example, lots of offers of “help” really just mean “I want to hold your baby”. Which some parents find helpful and others don’t. But saying “Let me come and clean your bathroom and run a load of your laundry while you nap, and also I brought you a pack of adult diapers” is another way of saying “I will do the stuff that you are probably feeling too embarrassed to ask for help with, and I really don’t mind.” So even if my bathroom was clean, I could ask THAT friend to take out the garbage without worrying she would think I was weird.

      • tr

        Oh my gosh yes! In general, part of being a community is accepting that people love and care about you, and will totally do what they can to help, but that their help may not always be *exactly* what you’d pick (and that for that matter, they may not always be *exactly* the people you’d like them to be)!
        I live in one of those tiny small towns that does still have a very real sense of community. That means that if you’re willing to accept offers of help, you will get TONS of help. However, some of the meals people bring over will be foods that you aren’t really into, and they’ll arrive on days when you already have way too many things in the refrigerator. Some of the gifts you receive will clash with your color scheme. Some of the babysitters will let Junior watch TV. Some of the people offering to help will have vastly different political stances, annoying habits, and will have made lifestyle choices that you don’t really agree with. In many ways, that’s part of the magic–after all, sometimes it’s the things I definitely WOULDN’T have picked out at the store that most remind that I’m surrounded by love.

  • Kara

    I’ll preface this with I don’t have kids, nor do I plan to have kids.

    I think part of the lack of “community” issue stems from the fact that in modern times people have to move for economic reasons (education, job location(s), changes in job locations, etc.). In the past, it might have been more common to have family (and several generations) near by to help new parents and care for other kids. I want to say I saw something about this in “All Joy and No Fun”.

    This doesn’t mean you can’t make your own community–it just might be more difficult, since it’s all on you.

    This then reinforces that since you don’t have a “built-in” community (i.e. family), then you have to do it all by yourself. Which sucks, and is wrong. However, when you’re overwhelmed and sleep deprived, it just may not compute.

    • Jess

      I fully agree that as we leave our home towns for jobs and education we leave our community, and will also add that as people become less religious, we also lose the community that religious organizations offer.

      I remember being a kid and having lots of parents around from church, people driving us places when my parents were at work, people dropping off casseroles and stuff.

      For my friends that are religious and not around their family, they still get that insta-community of baby showers and dropping off food and baby sitting and help with wedding planning because there are people who have been in every stage of life in their community.

      • NotMarried!

        This. My family of birth is shaky …. my religious community is who is there for me day in and day out.

      • tr

        ^This. There are plenty of valid criticisms of organized religion, but one of the really beautiful things about it is that, done right, it provides a wonderful sense of community in an increasingly isolated world! While I sometimes grumble about having to get dressed up on a rainy Sunday morning, I absolutely cherish the monthly potluck meals and impromptu dinner parties and the opportunity to talk with people who’ve already been through the fledgling career/wedding/baby thing and have successfully made it through to the other side!

        • Jess

          It is really the thing I miss about being religious. I still hang out with lots of people who have strong faiths, but I can’t claim it for myself.

          I feel a sense of loss about it, because it is such a great thing that is hard to come by these days.

    • As a whole, urban professionals also have less kids and less multi-generational friendships and there’s a lot of segregation between friends who have kids and friends who don’t. Until I got pregnant myself, I knew next to nothing about babies and would have no idea how to help a new mom out. I used to be super intimidated by my friends with kids, because I’ve had so little exposure to kids in recent years … the last time I was held a baby was when I was 13 years old. So I think it’s also hard to build a community because we live such segregated lives.

      • Eh

        This comment resonates a lot with me. I live 8 hours from my family and an hour from my in-laws. And we live in a city where we have few friends we are close enough to that we would feel comfortable to ask them to help us (one of our friends was going to help out and then our daughter was born while they were away on vacation, and another close friend who lived nearby and had offered to help earlier in my pregnancy ended up moving 6 hours away the week I gave birth). My MIL felt so bad for us because normally the mother of the wife would help out but my mom passed away when I was a teenager. My MIL had offered to stay with us and we honestly said that we didn’t know what type of help we would need but we told her that if we needed help we would ask her (that said, the idea of my MIL staying with us gave me anxiety). In the end we didn’t need the kind of help she could help with. My husband and I made a plan for food that involved the slow cooker and freezer meals so food was taken care of (but if someone had offered we would not have turned down food). For our daughters first month of life she had appointments at least twice a week so we were pretty busy with that. What I did need was to talk to moms who had gone through the same thing I was with our daughter. She had a tongue tie (and a lip tie) so we were struggling with breast feeding. She also has a heart murmur and a minor heart defect that is being monitored. My MIL was unable to help me with these issues (and actually made things worse when she compared clipping a tongue tie to surgery and was upset with us for not telling her that our daughter was having “surgery” beforehand). After putting a call out on FB I was able to find a few friends who have gone through similar things. So even though I don’t live near most of my friends they were able to be the community I needed at that moment. It’s definitely not how I imagined new motherhood would be.

      • Eve Sturges

        Yes, I totally agree! There is a separation that occurs between ages and phases in our society (broad use of “society”)– we’re all left unable to relate to people who aren’t right where we are. I used to babysit when I was growing up, but even that has faded for most adolescents. Many of us move far away from family, so we’re not around to witness different life moments. I was really lucky; when I moved to LA, I made friends who didn’t have children but who were open and loving about learning about my daughter and what our life was like. Now many of them are starting to create families of their own and I can give back to them!

      • tr

        I live in a small farming town, and while a part of me is so jealous of my friends who have nice cosmopolitan lives in the city, the whole multi-generational thing is wonderful! For better or worse, when there are only a handful of middle class professionals under 40 in the entire town, you end up with friends of every age and stage of life. The dinner parties might be easier to plan, and the Instagrams might look more stylish if all of my friends were 25-30 year olds with Pinterest-perfect outfits, but there is a lot to be gained by lunching with the over 50 crowd!

    • This is a great point. I have a strong community in my current location, and we banded together to support our friend who was the first to have a baby. But in the end, family support and growing those relationships between their family and the kids was more important for their family. For a lot of people, family support trumps friend support, especially when it comes to getting a lot of hands-on help. I think most people would feel more comfy asking family to babysit regularly, or help clean, than a friend.

  • I just got back from a prenatal breastfeeding class tonight (thanks to @TeaforTwo for mentioning them in a happy hour thread a while back) and we got to talking about how important a support community is in allowing the mom to focus on learning to breastfeed. One of the women mentioned that in Africa, where she was from, new moms are “treated like princesses for the first 40 days” with all the family and neighbours coming to help. Our perfect mom culture really does no one any favours… instead of support you get a lot of competition and mom policing, which I’m so not looking forward to.

    And this is neither here nor there, but several summers ago I was wooofing on a farm in an intentional community, and my roommate and I would talk about how it would actually be a great place to raise kids (if only we weren’t so tethered to a real world of professional jobs and such).

    • Eh

      I wish I had taken a prenatal breastfeeding class (I only found out about them after I gave birth). I took the prenatal class that our health unit offers and it wasn’t very useful. Half of it was about breastfeeding and the benefits of breastfeeding and it said to get help from a lactation consultant or a public health nurse if you have problems. It did not describe the problems or any potential solutions, so when my daughter had a tongue tie I had no clue what to do (at least it was diagnosed at the hospital, so at least I knew what the problem was when she couldn’t breastfeed). A few weeks ago the health unit called me and asked me to provide feed back on the prenatal class and I flat out said it needs to have information on breast feeding problems and options (e.g., expressing and tube feeding or supplementing, what to do in the middle of the night when you can’t feed your baby and she is constantly crying because she is hungry).

      From my experience with breastfeeding and my friends breastfeeding, the most challenging thing is that our mothers did not breastfeed so they are unable to help, and we did not grow up with women around us breastfeeding. Most of my friends tried to breastfeed but less than half switched to formula in the first month. While talking to one of my friends about all of the trouble I had (tongue tie and forceful letdown) she said “who knew something so natural could be so complicated”. She was unable to breastfeed either of her children (she expressed for a month with one, but it was not enough so she had to supplement with formula). I now have a community of friends who have breastfed their babies so I know who to ask questions to, but before I gave birth I had no clue.

      • This was what got me so excited at my breastfeeding class — we spent two hours talking about difficulties and managing expectations. The class was run by several la leche league leaders and a mom who was doing a breastfeeding demo with her 3 month old baby… now I totally plan on going to the la leche meetings after I give birth, it seems like it’ll be really helpful to meet with a group of women (and their partners) to talk about what works for them and what doesn’t. They also have a helpline you can call, and their volunteers will call you back. And where I am in Toronto, there are free breastfeeding clinics at hospitals and public health centres.

        • Eh

          That’s really what I needed. I live in Ottawa and we have tons of breast feeding drop ins run by LCs (and ones by LLL but I have never gone to those) – unfortunately there aren’t any in my area on the weekend and the issue I had was my daughter was crying all night the first weekend we were home. One of the things I liked about going to the breast feeding drop in was seeing moms who had overcome issues or were going through similar problems. (Telehealth and Motherrisk also gives breast feeding support – though Motherrisk is only open during the week and during normal business hours.) The first time seeing the LC was very useful because there are no LCs at the hospital I gave birth so breastfeeding and latching is taught and evaluated by nurses in the moms and babies unit (where my sister gave birth it was done by LCs and she had to have her son’s ability to transfer checked before leaving – this would have shown that my daughter wasn’t getting enough before we were discharged). The LC showed me a position (reclined) that allowed my daughter to latch properly even with her tongue tie (she had it revised but not for another week – so we needed something to get us to that point). (The LC said her tongue tie was so severe that we should not have been discharged without it being clipped since there was no way she could have been getting enough.) I had never seen anyone breast feed reclined before. It was not in anything public health or the hospital gave me on breast feeding. Over the last seven months I have talked to many LCs and tons of moms and I have found out that it’s a great position that unfortunately is not taught as much as it should be (it does not work for everyone, my sisters son was premature and had a hard time latching when reclined). One mom said her daughter naturally went to breast feed while doing skin to skin after birth (the mom did not put her on her breast, the baby crawled – there are videos on you tube of this and it’s amazing) and when the nurse saw how the baby was feeding (ie in the reclined position) she said ‘that’s an interesting way to feed your baby’. The mom said ‘she just did that on her own’. Then the nurse said ‘usually you hold them like this’ (and mimed the cradle or cross cradle hold). I’ve never gone to a LLL meeting but I did find going to the baby and me group at the Early Year Centre helpful because a lot of them moms there breast fed and the coordinator at my centre is an LC (and an ECE and has other qualifications) so she was really helpful.

          Maybe next time I will take a prenatal breast feeding class. I found taking a course on pumping really useful before I went back to work (I went to one through my LCs clinic and the EYC had a drop in on breast feeding and working both a couple weeks before I went back to work).

        • Eh

          I want to add that I was reading about the percent of women who tried breastfeeding vs the percent of women who breast fed exclusively for six months. About 90% of women in Canada try breastfeeding, and in 2012 only just over a quarter (26%) breastfed exclusively for six months. I think if more women took prenatal breastfeeding classes (or the prenatal classes had useful information) and women had better supports, then more women would exclusively breastfeed for six months. The study I was reading also said that breastfeeding rates have increased since the mat/parental leave was extended to a year (from six months). I actually think that idea is holding back women. When I said I was splitting my mat/parental leave with my husband, tons of mothers told me it would effect my ability to breastfeed my daughter, more or less telling me I would have to switch to formula when I went back to work (still, after returning to work, I get comments almost on a daily basis from coworkers saying that she wouldn’t have given up any of “her” leave). I only know a few couples who split leave and were breastfeeding (one actually had to delay her return to work because her daughter, like mine, would not take a bottle). In the US women go back and pump. I’m not saying it’s ideal/good/etc., but at least it’s talked about. (Don’t get me wrong, pumping at work sucks but it is doable and it’s what I need to do for my daughter and my family.) I have a room at work I pump in, and there is one other women who pumps (who has returned since I did a month ago). After returning, I found out that there was a women at work who did not know she could ask for a private, locked room to pump in and pumps at her cubicle desk (this also has to do with attitudes about breastfeeding children past a year). I find that there is a lot of attitudes in Canada that if you want to breastfeed you should only do it while you are on leave (and not more than a year).

  • anon

    Glad to know it’s “not the end of the world to give a baby formula.” *eyeroll* Both breast milk and formula (or some combination) are legitimate choices. I expect better from APW.

    • emmers

      I read that part as Eve explaining that she’s cool with formula, too. My guess is that she didn’t want people to view her ability to get frozen milk as judgment.

      • ItsyBit

        Same. In today’s world (/internet) if you ay something like “they delivered breast milk to me when I couldn’t produce,” lots of people immediately go with the UGH WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST FORMULA?? I read this as a nod to everyone’s choices being valid.

  • annabellekathryn

    Agree with other posters that I’m not seeing anything about a commune or co-housing …? This goes back and forth …technology is good. But it’s bad! But community is important. But birth is private. But my community needs to pick up my daughter! My takeaway: It’s imperative to figure out the support you need, regardless of parental status, and then go after it, whether it’s online or in real life. I don’t think the onus should be on others to help, a lot of people simply do not know what to do and don’t want to impose. And while I know every pregnancy and birth is different, I am always a little wary of the “newborns are so hard; we need endless help” story. I am not taking away from your personal experience, but, as a single parent who didn’t have very much help at all in the first few weeks (by choice!) I just don’t understand why you would need someone else to pick up stuff from the drugstore or wherever when you have a partner. Like I said, I am not trolling AT ALL, but I am just curious what the “hard” part is when you have another set of hands.

    • Eh

      I have seen tons of comments about how hard the newborn stage is, and that wasn’t really my experience. I had problems breastfeeding and my daughter has a couple (relatively small) medical problems and we managed to survive that period without extra help. All babies are different and some babies are needier than my daughter (my sister had a baby shortly after me and her son only naps if he is being held – my daughter is usually good with being set down in her crib). I don’t think that I could have anticipated the type of help I needed before I gave birth (e.g., emotional support about her health issues and help with breastfeeding a baby with a tongue tie, since we didn’t know about any of that before she was born). The only thing we prepared before I gave birth was a plan for food (e.g., freezer meals/slow cooker) and changing our expectations about how clean the house was. The hardest thing for me was when my daughter could not feed (because of her tongue tie) when she was a few days old and she was crying all night because she was hungry. It was heart breaking and exhausting but no one else could help me (we went to the doctor and a lactation consultant for help).

      On the other hand, I have had friends who had never taken care of a baby before having a baby and they had their mothers stay with them for a few days and teach them how to take care of their babies. It also gave them a chance to get some more sleep and recover from giving birth (my MIL was appalled by the fact that our hospital only keeps moms/babies for 24 hours after birth when she stayed in the hospital for a week when she had her sons). Many of my friends could not drive after having babies (e.g., C-sections or very bad tears) so they needed someone to drive them to appointments while their husbands were at work. So sometimes you do need another extra set of hands.

    • Eve Sturges

      Hi AnnabelleKathryn, I also didn’t have help with my first baby, and I mostly did a great job– sounds like you did too! My essay is about experiencing help the second time and having an A-HA moment of how lovely those second (and third and fourth) set of hands can be. OF COURSE if you don’t need help, no one is suggesting you should need it or must need it.

      That said, sleep deprivation is immensely debilitating — it literally can make a person go crazy (have a psychotic break), so at the very least, I would suggest that all parents, whether they are experiencing an easy newborn or not, be mindful of this stressor. Sometimes getting help is a part of privilege, and I want to be sensitive to that, but I would probably encourage all parents, including self-sufficient ones, to get assistance if they are able.

  • Maybe it’s because my Love languages are acts of service and quality time, but I’ve found the most oft accepted help from my parent friends is “let me know when I can come over and hold your baby.” Sometimes it manifests in watching a sleeping baby so they can take a shower or entertaining a toddler so they can cook dinner or take a quick nap. Granted, I’m good with kids and I like them, but it seems the easiest to just say, “i have hands and eyeballs, put them to use.”

    And most importantly, I know deep down in my soul that my friends are not assholes. Nor are they psychic. I trust they feel the same about me. Helping is an implicit part of the friendship contract.

  • Kelly

    I don’t have kids, but this is why I love listening to the Longest Shortest Time. It offers so much insight into different aspects and perspectives of parenthood, and I think it’s great for understanding how to be supportive of the new parents in my life. Some might appreciate showing up with food, doing the dishes, and holding the baby while they nap, and others might be relieved if someone quietly left a bag of groceries on the porch and sent a friendly text while they hid inside. I think if you know your people, you can have some intuition about what kind of help might be actually helpful and offer accordingly.

    Also a little bummed about all of the negativity in the comments for this lovely personal essay…

    • Another childless lover of the Longest Shortest Time. The parents guide to doing it with Jane Marie was so good.

  • Another Meg

    We’re getting really close to trying for kids, and we’re in a city where we know a mostly single folks/newly marrieds. All childless. And my sister, who has 3 kids. Trying to figure out how we will handle getting our troops rallied. We’re pretty close to our community here, but it’s unlikely they’re going to know how to help. I don’t even know how much they want to.
    I’m thinking about sending out an email to our local folks a month or so before the due date, just asking who we can call if we need rando groceries or someone to hang out with the kid while I take a shower or nap or something. This requires, of course, trusting our friends to either ignore the email if it’s not their cup of tea, or respond with either a “totally, just text me!” or “here’s how I’d love to help”.

    Both parents and friends of parents, is this a reasonable thing? Has anyone else done something like this (or completely different) to figure out who they can turn to? I think I’d be so much more likely to ask for help if I already knew who was willing.

  • My #1 goal in life is to buy a piece of land and build a family compound with my sister (or buy houses next to each other). Community feels best to me when there’s close proximity. Aging parents may have studio(s) out back. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of multi-generational living. Perhaps it’s because my parents both lived around zero family and I craved that type of connection, for their sake and mine. Luckily my sister and our groovy partners share similar values.

  • DionneSLuke

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