Editors note: this post stirred such a big (and emotional) discussion on the forum, that we decided it was worthwhile to share with the public. It was a inspired by this thread, “Why Are Men Not Expected to Cook?“. We hope by publishing this, there is greater awareness to help post-partum women – by both women and men.
The past two months have been a whirlwind of hospital visits, doctors appointments, specialists consultations, and lab drop-ins. Between my husband breaking his foot and subsequently developing (and discovering and treating thank G-d) blood clots, a severe allergic reaction resulting in the prescription of an epi-pen for my one year old son (as well as a dozen other minor reactions), some persistent abdominal pain (and treatment) for me, and a long string of coughs and colds for my three year old daughter, we have been very busy! Oh, and did I mention all of this occurring during the High Holidays? And I forgot one small detail, we’re moving cities to a new house. The closing details, renovations, packing, schlepping, unpacking, and more renovations have kept us on our toes.
I am lucky, or rather blessed, to be surrounded by dear family and friends. My mother was there to step in and help with driving my husband to his daily blood-work and injections appointments, my father joined me in putting back the blinds, light fixtures, and outlets following the painting of our new place, my younger brother babysat my children so my husband and I could go to some very important consultations, and my older brother assured us that he would be there with his pickup truck in tow to help with our move when we were ready (and he certainly kept his word). Our dear friends stepped in to fill in the gaps where I was struggling. My husband’s coworkers assisted in chauffeuring him to work, my friends were there to listen to me talk (and cry) about my struggles over the phone (sometimes over and over), and my children’s friends (and their parents) were readily available for my children to drop by for a play date.
But then when our move was postponed from August 1st to October 1st due to four hospital visits (and subsequent daily treatment), we were in a bit of a pickle. My parents had departed on a long ago planned three week vacation. And I couldn’t figure out how we would move from one community to the next with two kids three and under. But that’s where the word community came in. Our community was there for us. My dear pal cajoled me into organizing a meal train where our friends (and acquaintances) stepped in and signed up for 12 days of meals (you’ll find out why it took some convincing). On a daily basis, we received a variety of sumptuous piping hot meals including spaghetti and meatballs, marinated tofu salad and quinoa, creamy lasagna and spinach salad, chicken and rice. And of course desserts galore; cookies, cakes and bars.
This was especially helpful because everything from our kitchen was packed up in boxes (that unfortunately weren’t thoroughly labeled) at our new house, yet the stove and oven at our new house were not ready to be kashered (I don’t know if they ever will be, but that’s another story). Furthermore, our new house was laden with dozens of boxes, some piled four levels high. It was in no condition to bring active curious little explorers. And yet, we could only work on unpacking our house so fast. I am with the kids at home and the park, and the grocery store, and the library all day while my husband works, and after we would put the kids to sleep, we’d take turns heading to the new place to schlepp over more boxes or begin the daunting task of unpacking. We kept 8pm – 2am hours at Project New House for two weeks. I don’t know how we made it through. But here I am on the other side (albeit sitting on a box as a I type) to tell the story.
Around this time last year, my outlook on making meals for families in need (particularly post partum moms) changed dramatically. I had a wonderful pregnancy and labour thank G-d. Yet, at the very last second, it was discovered that I would need an emergency c-section, which resulted in my newborn son’s admittance in the NICU on nearly every machine possible, and an extended stay for me in the maternity ward for two weeks with two blood transfusions. This all happened around Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Succos time, so things were a tad hectic (definitely more hectic than our holidays this year, but I am not looking for any competition next year).
For two weeks, my husband stayed with dear friends of ours who live a 10 minute walk from the Children’s Hospital. They received a call from my husband Friday at 8am that went something like this, “Umm, can I come for Shabbos with my three year old for ummm I don’t know how long, because ummm Ettie is in the hospital with our son who’s umm in very critical condition.” With a miracle from the Almighty, we were joyously discharged Erev Yom Kippur and had an amazing end to the Yomin Tovim. However the challenges didn’t end there, things were really tough, on all of us.
From the day we came home from the hospital, literally, it was me and my two beautiful children. There I was with a super low iron level, borderline anemic, a newborn with a tongue tie that needed to be fixed and nursing was slow to come, and a very active, independent, and vivacious toddler to keep track of (sadly, she’s didn’t get much attention those first few months, and we all really felt it, but there was just nothing I could do). Meals were especially difficult. Although I am “Queen of Frozen Meals” and am best friends with my chest freezer, it was a very painful period; physically, mentally, and emotionally.
My friend who my husband was staying with made a ‘meal train’ invitation to nearly twenty women, and not one replied. When I had one particularly difficult day and previous night, I called my elementary school teacher nearly in tears saying that there was no way any of us were going to be eating that evening. She sent over a delicious meal our way (in addition to many while we were in the hospital, including the pre-fast Yom Kippur meal), and I have a feeling that she raised her eyebrows when I called thanking her profusely (and I mean profusely) the next day (and the day after that).
Several women had sent over meals to my good friend while I was stilled admitted in the hospital so that she would have what to feed two unexpected guests over Rosh Hashanah. Being the gracious friend that she was, she sent over some of the meals my way (as well as her Yom Tov meals) so that I wouldn’t have to eat hospital food over Rosh Hashanah and two Shabbosim, and she froze the rest so that my husband could bring it home once we were discharged. I made it through a three day Succos with that food; it was such a relief. I also had frozen challah, dips, and side dishes as well, so there was no shortage of food over Yom Tov. But I was so bleary eyed for the days and weeks to come. While in the hospital, my doctor also brought honey cakes and piping hot meals; besides being a knowledgeable and skilled obstetrician, what unbelievable bedside manner he had!
While it was difficult, I learned a very important lesson from that period in my life. I learned to never make assumptions. I live this close to my mother so maybe people thought she was helping. But my parents were on a long ago planned three week cruise and even missed my little guy’s bris (it seems all their vacations are planned just when I could use their assistance. What a coincidence, Mama. Just joking, sort of. My mother-in-law flew five hours just in time for the bris, but she arrived one hour before it began and had to leave two days later. So possibly people thought she was staying? Or perhaps people assumed that my husband who is the most amazing man on the planet was ‘stepping up to the plate.’ Putting my toddler in a playgroup or preschool or daycare wasn’t an option for several reasons. We are a 45 minute drive to the city so it would involve more schlepping than it was worth (three hours of daily driving, no thanks, especially since I was instructed by my doctor not to drive for the first six weeks). My daughter was too young for the preschool and the cost of the daycare was $700 per month (yeah, that’s doable for a stay at home mom and single-earning family. Cough cough.)
Speaking of my husband, he had taken a full two weeks off work to take care of our toddler while I was admitted in the hospital. And then he would be taking another week between for all the Yomin Tovim. My husband is amazing in the kitchen, in fact he is a much better cook and baker than me. Literally, he could open his own restaurant or café, hands down. But he was working 9-5. He would roll in at 5:45 pm to a scene of chaos. The house was a wreck from keeping my kids busy, active, and happy throughout the day (as the catchphrase goes, cleaning while the kids are home is like shoveling the side walk while it is still snowing). The kids were hungry. I was exhausted. So he wasn’t able to only start making meals when he came home.
And my husband couldn’t do any prep in the morning because he would be taking care of the kids so I could at least get a bit of uninterrupted sleep from 6am-7:30am. He was unable to work on the meals in the evening. Being that he was a full-time graduate student, he had his studies, as well as some work projects he had missed in the three weeks he was off that needed some attending to. And he would often spend 8pm to midnight holding my newborn son so I (who had just had a c-section) could sit a bit with my feet up and sleep a bit, because given our difficult nursing situation, sleep was something I was not getting much of.
I had several ready to go trays in our freezer, and we were sure to freeze any leftovers from the Bris which we had catered, Baruch Hashem to our energy level, not our wallet though. But I could never think clearly enough to ask my husband to defrost the meals the night before, and it was too deep of a bend for me to do on my own that morning. And the truth is, I was a bit embarrassed to ask him to go in the freezer, given its scrambled condition. But he persisted and found meals between the frozen chicken polkas and tubs of cottage cheese.
I didn’t expect to have such a difficult recovery period. Following my daughter’s birth, I was at the playground with her a couple days after we were discharged and whipping up meals the day we came home from the hospital was no problem at all. In fact, we had streams of visitors who wanted to meet our precious baby girl after our long awaited journey to her birth just a few months before we celebrated our five year anniversary. I served coffee, tea, desserts, and snacks effortlessly. We had Friday night and Shabbos day guests the Shabbos immediately following our discharge. Thank G-d, I have been blessed with an extra measure of energy, and thus I would have never thought I would have needed to prepare several weeks of meals in advance (now I know for next time, better be prepared than sorry).
I felt so isolated during the period following my son’s birth. One of my good friends was away for Succos but she called and emailed me to check in. She even offered to make a meal for me once she returned, but I couldn’t bring myself to accept a meal four weeks post partum (granted, it was only two weeks after being discharged). My other good friend who my husband and toddler stayed by offered to make some calls to ask (or rather nudge) some friends to help out with meals. I politely declined, she already sent our an invitation to a meal train. She tried to persuade me, saying that our friends probably missed her email during the Yomin Tovim or they couldn’t figure out how they would get the meal to my city, being that I am a 45 minute drive away. But I wasn’t going to beg. We both knew that emails don’t get lost, the world wide web is awake 24 hours a day. And a friend from my city offered to bring the meals to her house on her way home from the children’s elementary school.
I know it may sound dramatic but those were among the most difficult three months of my life. I feel bad thinking of the time my newborn was born as one of the hardest stages of my life and a time filled with tremendous pain. But at least I have grown from it. Or rather, I have chosen to grow from it. I could have been hurt, upset, insulted, angry, and frustrated. Or I could have used it as an opportunity to learn and grow. I chose the latter. I have learned many lessons from the post partum period following my son’s birth and I have used the experience as fuel for my passion of helping others, especially those in a vulnerable position. Anytime I hear someone had a baby, whether a close friend or not, I bring over a meal, offer to babysit, or volunteer to help around the house. And if I am too tired to make a meal, I encourage my husband to make doubles of whatever he is making for dinner that night. I make a little care package for the mom and try to call or email to see how things are going periodically.
I have also learned the importance of not just asking for helping, but also accepting it when others offer. During our recent two months of crisis, I normally would have smiled and said “no thank you” when asked if there was anything someone could do to help. But this time around, when a friend of mine offered to take my daughter for the afternoon, or another friend offered to pick up some snacks for me when she saw my depleted cabinet at my old house where we were still staying (and sleeping on the floor as all our furniture had already been moved), or when my husband’s friends offered to reassemble our furniture, we readily agreed. We didn’t need to be convinced. We couldn’t say “yes please” and “thank you” fast enough. Receiving help doesn’t make someone weak. Rather, it exudes strength as we recognize that we are not invincible by ourselves, and how we appreciate and recognize our friend’s roles in our lives.
I would hate for anyone to go through what I went through following my son’s birth. I no longer wait for a friend to call me in tears as she suffers through post partum depression. Instead, I proactively offer to take her children to the park so she can rest. Instead of waiting for a friend’s child to look longingly at my daughter’s snack, I offer to bring home groceries for my friend, after all, I’m going shopping anyways, what’s a few extra bags? I have the space in my trunk. Rather than waiting for my friend to vent to me at our toddler’s playgroup that she has no idea why she even came with her three year old and three week old, I offer to bring her three year old together with mine to the program so that she could stay and bond at home with her newborn. I’m going to the program regardless, so what’s an extra child?
During our recent move, being on the receiving end of endless kindness has emphasized the importance of being on the giving end. I have had the opportunity to compare and contrast two very challenging experiences in my life, the period following my son’s birth and our month of hospital emergencies and coinciding move. The meals that we received from our friends were delicious and nutritious (otherwise, we would have been rotating between cheese and salami sandwiches for three weeks, thank G-d we only did it for one week). But the biggest blessing in those warm delicious packages were the care, warmth, and friendship. The “I’m thinking of you,” the “I hear ya,” the “it must be tough,” the “you’re strong, you can get through this.” While the meals were digested within a couple hours, the love has stayed with me until now, and will probably stay with me forever.