Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Some random thoughts on being supported

Tomorrow, I will be exactly 18 weeks pregnant.  Almost halfway.  Sometimes it feels like I've been pregnant forever, other times I feel like the next time I blink I'll be in labor.  Even this far in, I still get nauseated at night if I don't take Diclegis(miracle drug!).  While this has physically been my hardest pregnancy, overall it's been my easiest.  I am so much better at asking for what I need, and Aaron is so much better at giving it.  Do you ever do that thing where some small thing happens or doesn't happen, and you immediately start telling yourself stories about it?  I am really, really good at telling myself stories, and a lot of the time they turn out not to be true.  I used to tell myself that I didn't need help while pregnant(or really, with most things), and if Aaron didn't help me in the exact right way that I wanted, I would tell myself stories about how he didn't love me and he was so insensitive.  I was so afraid of being seen as needy that I was constantly trying not to have any needs.  Then one day, my wise therapist asked me this question: how do you think Aaron would feel if you looked him in the eye and said "I don't need you for anything."  Whoa.  I don't want to be in a relationship like that.

That's not to say that the journey to getting in touch with my needs and allowing my husband to support me has been smooth sailing.  My therapist told me that sometimes, the thing that rocks the boat most in a relationship is when one person begins to have healthier standards for relationship.  Even though you are becoming a more whole person, you are suddenly totally changing things up on your partner.  The way you relate to each other has to change in order to accommodate the new, expanded definition of relationship, and change can be hard.

Aaron and I have had so many conversations about needs this pregnancy.  Some of those conversations have been inspiring and amazing, and a lot of them have been hard, confusing and uncomfortable.  One thing I have learned to trust about my husband is how committed he is to understanding me, and while that certainly doesn't guarantee that he's going to achieve that on the first try(or second or twentieth), I know that he will keep showing up until he does.  I love that about him.  One of the stories I used to tell myself was that if I was too needy, Aaron would quit showing up.  I don't even know what I would have to do to him to really get him to not show up.  He is the showing up-est husband I know.  I read some birth horror stories the other night about husbands going out to buy video games while their wives were dilated 9cm, or husbands who fell asleep while their laboring wives were out in the car waiting to be driven to the hospital.  I loathe the husband-bashing game and don't find it helpful, but I read things like that and I think "those couples have a lot to learn about how to support one another."  Someone would have to put a gun to Aaron's head to keep him away from me if I was in labor, and even then, Aaron would find a way to get to me.

Did you know that having continuous support from just one person(whether it's a doula, husband, mother, friend) reduces a laboring woman's chance of a c-section by 30%?  Think about that for a minute.  What that means is that there are non-medical reasons a woman might end up with a c-section.  Labor can be long and hard, but being well-supported can totally shift how a woman experiences it.  I'm not saying that all women who need c-sections do so because they didn't have good labor support, but I am saying that having good labor support drastically increases the chance that a woman won't need a c-section.

It's sometimes hard to practice what I preach, because leaning into support, trusting that it's there, takes a lot of vulnerability.  I do just fine in labor, because labor is so overtly and obviously work that I don't bother judging myself for needing support.  But being pregnant is work too, and mothering and married life and really, just being human; it all takes work.  My problem is that I get really self-critical and tell myself stories, like "What you're doing isn't so hard; you have two healthy kids and a nice husband, what could you possibly need support for?"  Well, all of it, really.  Just because life is good doesn't mean it isn't also incredibly hard sometimes.  Likewise, just because something requires a lot of hard work doesn't mean it isn't really, really good.  My experience of most of the best things in life is that they are both: marriage, sex, pregnancy, childbirth, parenting.  All a lot of work, all deeply good.

I still have a long ways to go in the self-compassion department, but I've made huge strides in being kinder to myself.  One of the big things that helped me move toward that shift was hearing someone say that children don't practice self-care based on how well their parents take care of them, they practice self-care based on how well they see their parents practice their own self-care.  Want your kids to be forgiving of themselves when they screw up?  Let them see you practice forgiving yourself when you screw up.  Want them to be strong advocates for themselves in relationship?  Let them see you be a strong advocate for yourself in relationship.  Want them to know they deserve to be really well taken care of?  Let them see you take really good care of yourself.  Want them to have healthy boundaries around toxic people?  Let them see you have healthy boundaries around toxic people.  Want them to be open to receiving support when they need it?  Let them see you practice receiving support when you need it.

I think part of this automatic suspicion/judgment of our own needs comes from the fear that if we get what we want, it will make turn us into selfish people.  Think of a laboring woman; does feeling respected, loved, heard, and supported turn her into a selfish person?  Not by a long shot; it enables her to get in touch with that which is best in her, and to do really, really hard work.  It's true of non-laboring women to, and not just women, but human beings in general.  I think my son Matteas put it best: looking out the window into the forest behind our house, he mused that people are a lot like trees.  When I asked what he meant, he said "When we get what we need, we grow."  Amen little teacher, amen.