On Learning Curves, Help and Busy-ness, or What the Baby Expo Taught Me

Above:  my booth at the New Baby Expo

 

Have you ever done something new and been surprised at how much it exhausted you?

Maybe giving birth for the first time?

Maybe the first six weeks postpartum?

Maybe a phase your child is in right now?

I recently did something big: I had a booth at a New Baby Expo! I was totally excited about. I knew it would be a lot of work to prepare, but I thought I could handle it. Yet, slowly and surely tension built up in my back, neck and shoulders.

For all my skills at relaxation, I could not keep up with it. By the time my event was over, I was in such pain from the muscle tension that I went to the doctor for muscle relaxers.

Oh, the irony: I did not need pain medicine for childbirth, but I did need it for the Baby Expo! It was very humbling. I spent some time beating myself up about it. Eventually I recognized that it was the same feeling I had as a brand new mother: You wanted this, Allison, and now you can’t handle it? It shouldn’t be this hard.

Why had it been so hard for me? These are my answers. As you read them, I invite you to think about what is hard for you right now? What are you doing right now that is much harder than you think it should be?

Learning curves are hard. The first time you do anything is full of unknowns, and unknowns create stress for most humans.

Having a booth at the Baby Expo seemed like a fun idea. But as I prepared for it, my task list ballooned – every deliverable had to be broken down into smaller steps, and these usually took longer than I’d imagined. I was feeling my way in the dark, continually surprised to find more work – another design, another errand – for myself.

The first time you give birth, too, is a learning curve. New motherhood is a learning curve. Raising children seems like one learning curve after another!

It wasn’t until I had my second child that I really noticed this. All along with my daughter I felt on my back foot, fumbling along, disappointing my own fantasy expectations. But then my son was born, and I noticed that I actually knew what I was doing. I hadn’t been fumbling so much as learning.

The next time I do a booth, I’ll be a pro! You, too: give yourself credit for what you know how to do now that you didn’t before. Just because no one is patting you on the back for knowing how to soothe your teething baby does not make it less of an achievement.

You’re only alone if you choose to be. One of the thoughts I have about my practice is, “I work alone.” I love not having a boss, but in fact I’m a bit of a slave driver to myself! I feel the weight of responsibility keenly. (Namely in my shoulders!)

For this Baby Expo, I did plan ahead and asked for help from my friend Meloni, who designed the look of the booth, built part of it and helped me assemble it on the morning. My friend Jon helped me create the recording I gave away – I’d never have gotten to it if he hadn’t. My friend Nona took care of my son for much of the weekend. But as I got closer to the event, I realized I needed even more support! My friend Rebecca coached me. My tech assistant, Maryna, helped me with my communications plan. My daughter helped me at the booth on the first day. Not only did all these people help me in practical ways, just knowing I had a team supporting me was a huge boost to my morale.

Show of hands now: who wished they’d hired a doula for their birth? Who would have loved significantly more support – in the form of meals, errand running and companionship – postpartum? How many of you daydream about some kind of village for young families, where you share cooking and childcare responsibilities, where you’re not responsible all the time for everything?

Having been raised to be in the public sphere of paid work, the reality that birth and motherhood are also work takes most of us by surprise. If you are pregnant, set yourself up for success and plan for a lot of help and support for birth and postpartum, including moral support from a distance. If you are in the thick of mothering right now, what support do you need? Ask for it. Offer it to another mother. We are only alone if we choose to be.

There is a difference between busy days and full days. Planning for the Baby Expo was busy-ness. Being in my booth at the Expo, talking to mothers, was fullness.

Presence is the difference. Busy is when you are thinking five steps ahead – not in the present moment. Full is moments of presence strung together. Busy-ness is exhausting. Full-ness is energizing.

I know how much you have to do, but where are your moments of fullness in your busy lives as mothers? Mealtimes? Baths? Nursing? Reading? To what are you giving your full attention?

I honestly don’t know how to eliminate the busy-ness – the weight of a to-do list, the pressure of a deadline. But I have noticed that building in moments of presence in my day makes busy-ness less prominent: walking the dog; exercising; smiling at the children when they walk in the room; always saying yes to a hug; family dinners; 10 min spent laying beside them at bedtime, chatting or in silence. . . these are what I remember about the days, my to-do list less so.

I remember the mothers I talked to at the Baby Expo, and they are the reason I will do another one! Next time, I will not have such a learning curve. I will know what help I need and line it up, including moral support. I will ground myself in moments of presence amidst the busy-ness.

I’d love to know: What credit can you give yourself right now for learning? What help can you ask for, or offer? Where can you build in another moment of presence in your day? Please share in the comments below!

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