Today I got a call from a young mother, and as soon as I heard her voice, I realized she was working hard to keep herself together. I was in the middle of cooking for Shabbos so I asked my kids to keep an eye on the things on the stove and in the oven and told them I’d need some time and privacy to speak to her. Then we started to talk.
She started to cry within a few seconds. It all spilled out – she’s due to give birth in two days, her doula just cancelled on her which means she’ll have to go to the hospital on her own to give birth since her husband will need to stay home with their two year old. Her oven isn’t working and the repair man wasn’t going to be arriving until later in the day, leaving her without time to cook for Shabbos. And her city is having some problem with the water quality so everyone needs to boil all their water or buy it; her husband doesn’t want to spend the money on bottled water so she needed to boil a large quantity of water to last for all of Shabbos. She’s very pregnant and very stressed and very overwhelmed.
The first thing I said was that the most important thing is to preserve her physical and emotional strength so she can go into labor feeling good. That means simplify everything as much as possible. I gave her some practical suggestions of how to cook a simple one pot meal so the oven not working wouldn’t be an issue and so she wouldn’t spend so much effort cooking a variety of dishes she didn’t have energy to prepare. She was like, really, you can do that? Really.
Next, the doula. We talked about options for this; she has a backup doula and can meet her at the hospital. (She lives in a different city and wouldn’t be able to come to her home on Shabbos to support her in early labor.) She said her friends had offered to watch their toddler when she went into labor so her husband go with her, but she thought it would be too hard for her child and it would be best if her husband stayed with their little boy. There’s a lot we moms give up for our kids and often it’s necessary, but as much as I value doing what we can to give our kids a feeling of security, this wasn’t the right time for that to be the issue of overriding importance. A laboring mother’s needs take priority.
But of course it’s important for her son to be in a safe and loving environment where he’ll feel good. We discussed which people in her life her son felt most comfortable with, and she decided on one friend who has a child the same age he’s very friendly and said she’d call as soon as we finished talking to make those arrangements.
Next – the water situation. We women put so many demands on ourselves and surprise, surprise, everyone around us assumes that’s okay and they make demands as well. The problem is even people who care can’t read our insides to realize when we’re overstretching to do all that we’re already doing. Husbands, especially young husbands like hers, don’t understand what’s involved in being pregnant and taking care of a young child and doing all she was responsible for. We’ve got to tell them and to do that we have to recognize our needs and feel they’re valuable. I’m sure he had no idea that his request that she boil the water would cause his wife so much stress. I suggested she ask for his help – let him know that it’s too much for her (without drama and accusation) and ask him to please take care of it. Maybe once he has to do it himself he’ll understand the work involved and decide it’s worth spending the money. Or maybe he’ll boil it all himself. Either way it will get done.
In all of these cases, the real issue was that she was giving priority to what others wanted and needed from her more than she was recognizing and validating her needs. Don’t we all do this sometimes? Or maybe more than sometimes?!
What I offered her was recognition that her needs were legitimate and important, and then helped her find practical solutions to address them. Inside our own heads we can lose perspective and sometimes things are obvious to someone outside of the situation. Once we get clarity on what we really need, it’s a lot easier to find solutions that work.