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The beauty I saw in watching my friend become a mother

There’s something really special in a friendship that has lasted almost as long as your lifetime. You both go through a lot of big life moments -- awkward middle and high school moments, family tragedies, college breakdowns, multiple relationships, marriage and everything in between.

Jessie and I grew up down the street from each other, our mothers becoming friends first. Jessie now lives in North Carolina while I still live in Michigan, but over the years we have always been there for each other. The bond we share is something every woman hopes for in a friendship.

Recently, I flew to North Carolina to meet the newest addition to Jessie’s family -- one-month-old Ada. Jessie and I have always this special connection where we can pick up right where we left off. But this … this was something different.

I watched my friend become a mother. While Jessie was drained and exhausted, I watched her look lovingly at her daughter, a love unlike any I had ever seen. It was beautiful.

What I loved the most during our recent time together was her honesty on being a new mom. She joked one day about how we should really start telling the “glamorous side” of being a mother, including the every-two-hour feedings, sometimes pumping in between feedings, and how modesty is completely out the window. New moms get little to no sleep at night. There is the constant walking, bouncing, and pacing to try and soothe their little ones.

Jessie saw a mess, but I saw a strong woman learning her new role as a mother.

I saw vulnerability while she was still healing from a C-section and learning how to navigate the busy day. Jessie did all this while still loving the moments she had with Ada.

Learning to ask for help

“I had no idea I would be this tired. I get maybe three broken up hours or four each night. On a really good night I would get five broken up hours,” Jessie told me. “She [Ada] makes random noises all night. They keep you awake even if she’s not awake. About 40 minutes to an hour I’m awake with her if she wakes up hungry and I feed her every two to three hours. And that’s from the time I start feeding her, not when I’m done.”

Jessie said she’s now basically a professional napper. I’m tired just thinking about all the changes and responsibilities with a newborn!

Jessie didn’t get any rest in the hospital. An emergency C-section was performed after Ada was found to be in distress. Immediately after she was born Ada was rushed to the NICU to get a chest tube placed in her side.

“We didn’t get to hold her. I didn’t get to breastfeed right away, which was my plan. I had to pump. Instead of connecting with her I was connecting with a machine.”

After a few days, Jessie and her husband Cody finally got to hold Ada, even if it was complicated with monitor chords and IV lines.

“It was awesome. She’s perfect.”

The first week at home was hard. Jessie and Cody were both exhausted. Cody only received two weeks off from work and the first week of that was spent in the hospital.

They came home to an entirely new world. The few days I was there I noticed Jessie wondering if she was a bad mom for needing to ask for help. During those hard moments Jessie shared with me a new lesson she had been learning.

“Every new mom needs help. But it doesn’t mean that you don’t feel like you should have to do it on your own,” she said. “A professional told us that we used to live in small communities or multi-generational houses where there was just an automatic supply of help. Now we live independently.

“Everybody’s independent. You have this mindset that you have to be independent. I can feel that. Sometimes I feel guilt for accepting help or for asking.”

Jessie said she also wished more employers realized the importance of having fathers home longer. She hopes that more women can talk about the struggles and difficult moments of motherhood.

For Jessie talking about those struggles also means talking about mental health and postpartum depression.

“I hadn’t slept in the hospital much at all. And I definitely didn’t sleep that first night home. Every sound made me anxious, like through the roof anxious. Not like normal mom ‘what’s she doing?’ It was a ‘Is she going to make it through the night?’ fear,” Jessie told me. “I think more women should talk about the fact that mental health is important. I recognized in myself pretty quickly that I needed some help and that I was having some anxiety that was not healthy.”

Jessie talked with her doctor and they created a plan to help her. Sometimes as women we don’t want to admit we need help. I’m thankful Jessie wants to talk about it. I’m also thankful she sees the importance of the conversation of mental health.

Jessie and Cody are still learning to be parents, but I loved watching them figure it out together. They are learning about the grunts and squeaks Ada makes in her sleep. They’re also learning to balance sleep schedules so that Cody can function at work after only having two weeks off. Sometimes that balance means having a few hours on the couch before getting ready for the day.

They are learning to laugh when Ada poops across a pile of diapers while she’s being changed. They are learning to embrace many moments that are filled with new and different emotions throughout the day.

Even when Jessie is exhausted, hasn’t showered in a few days, and has spit up or breast milk on her shirt, it’s all worth it to her.

“My favorite thing is when she [Ada] smiles at me a little bit. I also love when she locks eyes with me. It makes me happy.”

Learning to be there

Motherhood is hard work. I know even after spending time with Jessie I still can’t fully understand how hard. What I have learned over the years, especially when I spent time with Jessie and Ada, is that being there for my friends who are mothers is important.

I went to North Carolina prepared to help Jessie in any way I could. Yet, what I began to realize is that sometimes just being there was all she needed. At certain times that meant doing things like sitting on the floor or on the bed while she breastfed Ada. Sometimes that meant snuggling Ada while Jessie napped. It meant simply listening to her talk about how scary the emergency C-section was and how much of a whirlwind life was afterwards. Sometimes it even meant refilling her water bottle while she fed her daughter.

Jessie and I met each other before we were even in kindergarten. Weekends and evenings were spent riding our bikes down the street, playing in the park and driving our moms crazy. We watched each other grow up. This past April, I watched her turn into a mother.

I saw beauty. I saw honesty. I saw strength.

Jessie, thank you for showing me that even though you may not see it yourself.

Women, there is so much that can be done in the stillness. I didn’t know how I could help Jessie, but I quickly learned that I just needed to be there.

Be there for new moms. Be there for moms with kids of every age. Simply be there.

Written by: Sarah Elkins

Photos by: Sarah Elkins

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