Postpartum life can be rough on a relationship, to put it lightly. For some relationships, it can test the very limits of what two people are able to handle. I was a legitimate scary human being when I was postpartum, and my husband was basically on the receiving end of a whole lot of raw feelings (while dealing with a newborn himself). Which is why, at the time, it felt like strangers were the heroes of my postpartum hour. The people I loved more than my partner when I was postpartum were there for me in the real and immediate ways I needed at the time.
After a long day at work, my husband usually came home to find me sobbing hysterically by the door while holding our infant who never stopped crying. During the day, he would receive urgent calls from me in which I would describe the world as if it was a black hole, telling him that maybe this whole baby thing was a mistake. You know, the uplifting things one feels when they have postpartum depression.
As a result, I learned to rely on the small gestures of kindness that mostly strangers whom I am paying for their services can provide. In receiving those kindnesses, it was hard not to feel more than just passing gratitude. At times, the nice gestures were so overwhelming, I could have declared my love for these people right then and there, on bended knee and everything. Except for the minor problem of, you know, the newborn I was carrying possibly making me lose my balance.
My Postpartum Nurse
After a mildly traumatic labor ending in an emergency cesarean section, I needed all the TLC I could get. My husband had no idea what to do in order to support me, besides bring me water and call for the help of the hospital staff (and as it was, he was attending to our newborn). So I was insanely relieved when a sweet-as-sugar nurse named Cat walked into my room with an assortment of teas and every condiment under the sun, like this was a first class flight cabin and not a cramped hospital room. Just the simple act of bringing tea that I hadn't even asked for, and her insistence that I drink some to help me relax, let me know that this person was straight up there for me. I would have hugged her if my incision wasn't causing me searing pain with every breath. She was so freaking lovely, even my husband wondered aloud if we could ask if she would come home with us.
Since I didn't have anyone to watch my baby in those early days, and since it wouldn't have helped much anyway (he was literally glued to my breast) I had to improvise with the "me time." I took my baby to my favorite neighborhood manicure spot with the goal of just getting my pre-baby nail polish scraped off and my nails buffed. My son had fallen asleep on the way there, so things were looking up, but as soon as I settled into the manicure chair he woke up and screamed for the boob. It dawned on me that this was far too ambitious of a plan.
I began to cry, and apologize, and tell the salon that I had to go. That's when five of the manicurists assisted me in releasing my baby from his carrier, and assured me he could nurse right there while I got my nails done. They helped get him into breastfeeding position, and it worked. One woman patted him on the head to help calm him down while another kneaded my neck to help calm me down. When my son was finished nursing, one of the women burped him and walked him around until he fell asleep. Talk about a village, right? It has been almost six years since that day, and the women there still remember it and ask about my "baby."
Literally Anyone Who Sold Me Coffee
When you are a zombie mom caring for a newborn, coffee is your lifeblood. I became so grateful for anyone who sold coffee that I would almost break into tears as they handed it to me from across the counter. Never mind the fact that I would have just finished my previous cup an hour before. Each cup was like a gift bestowed upon me by an enchanted fairy who I happened upon in the deep woods, rather than any random bodega, deli, or overpriced coffee shop I happened to have passed within a few blocks of each other.
The Person At The Wine Store In Charge Of "Tastings"
My family lives in a building of about 400 units, and thousands of square footage of retail space in the bottom floor, but only three vendors exist here and offer some of life's essentials: expensive pet grooming services, French macaroons, and wine. I would say that the wine store has been the best part of living in this enormous building while trying to get through postpartum life.
Whenever I was feeling cooped up and alone in my apartment with a baby, I could just pick him up, put on my house shoes, and wander to our lobby to the wine store. On many late afternoons the employees offer tastings, which might just be one of the most fabulous things I could think of offering a postpartum mom. Ever. As I downed my glass of crisp Pinot, my baby silently judging me from inside his swaddle, I would gaze across the counter at my heroes. My heart would swell with love for these wonderful people who decided to offer free wine to the lonely moms in the building looking for a reason to take their hair out of a top knot, and to dull the pain of newborn life with the sweet, sweet salve of alcohol.
Everyone In My Mom Group
If we had only our babies in common, that would have been enough. However, and luckily, this group of women was full of kind, kickass, insanely smart and accomplished mamas. The trek to mom group meet ups filled me with anxiety (since walking anywhere with an infant is full of unexpected poop explosions and tantrums you can't tame) but the payoff was always worth it. These women and the intimacy they offered were integral to my postpartum survival. Going to mom group was like therapy I only had to pay for in the occasional offering of a dozen almond croissants.
There was a point, not too far into my new motherhood, when I hit a wall. I recognized that I needed help, and it wasn't enough to wait until my husband came home at night. As part of my self care to heal from my postpartum depression, I hired a babysitter to help me out for a couple hours a day, a few days a week. I was so desperate for help that as soon as she entered my house for the very first time, I basically did a quick "serial killer assessment," handed her the baby and the pumped milk I'd been saving up, and was like, "'bye."
Our very first babysitter had her faults, sure. However, since she was there to watch my baby so that I could go into the world as a free agent (or at least, find spaces to cry where I would be alone) I loved her with all my heart. It didn't matter that when I came home my baby was watching Fox News. Nor did I care that there were a lot of shopping bags from TJ Maxx and Target under our stroller at the end of the day. The baby was in good hands, or, in other words, not my hands.
The Woman Who Mistook Me For A Nanny
One day I was walking in tandem down the street with one of the nannies in the neighborhood and we were chatting for a second when I mentioned I had just had my son. She then transitioned into shocked mode, making it seem like she couldn't imagine a baby coming from little ol' me. "I thought you were a child yourself! Or the nanny!"
Nothing could have made me happier at the time, when all I could see in the mirror was how rapidly having had a baby was aging me, and the drastic effects that sleep deprivation has on one's skin.
My New Mom Friend
One of the friends that I had made in prenatal yoga ended up having her baby a day before me, so we hung out a lot in the early newborn days. Now, when I say "hung out," I mean my newborn and I would go to her house in the morning and nap and nurse on her couch and we wouldn't leave until it was basically dark. Sometimes I fantasized about just staying there permanently and living with her and her husband and baby, since walking home took so much effort.