Community

Our daughter Saoirse entered our lives in the early hours of a December morning. We were surrounded by people: doctors, nurses, and a bleary-eyed med student roused from a couch somewhere to deliver our baby. The last thirty-nine weeks had all been in anticipation of this moment; her body mottled and slippery being placed on my chest. I watched my husband Andrew reach to touch the thick, dark fur that covered her head, felt her little heart beating fast against my warm skin. We had waited for her, and now she was here.

“So, what exactly do we do?” I asked Andrew later in our hospital room. We sat side by side on the edge of my bed, eyes fixed to our child sleeping in her bassinet.

“I’m not sure,” he said. “We’ll figure it out.”

It wasn’t much, but I felt reassured. In our ten years together we had managed distance, job changes, family health issues, and our own three-year struggle with infertility. He was right, we would figure it out. I moved closer to him on that hospital bed, our knees lightly touching. I saw our daughter sigh, and I was happy.

But while happiness was my prevailing emotion, there were other things I struggled to articulate beneath the surface. Together in that room, just the three of us, I felt the full weight of the twenty-two hour drive that separated us from our closest friends and family. We had been away for years, the distance wasn’t new. But sitting there, watching the rise and fall of Saoirse’s chest, I felt an almost primal need to be surrounded by the women in my life. Geography made it impossible however, and so I focused instead on how grateful I was for the supports I did have. I had a hospital of kind and attentive staff, local friends who would have been there in a second if asked, and of course, Andrew.

I didn’t think about it again until later, lying in my hospital bed, exhausted but unable to sleep. I picked up my phone and scrolled through the messages that had come in while I was in labour. There were hundreds. Some were direct texts wishing me well, while others were photos or memes to make me laugh. But what constituted the largest section of these messages was a group text in which some of my girlfriends and family members were participating. In it they talked back and forth about what they thought might be happening, interspersed with commentary from Andrew like, “nothing to report so far,” and “hey, she’s kind of busy right now.” I smiled as I scrolled through. Reading my mother’s concern for a potential 30 hour labour, following along as my sister told her to put down the phone if she was going to write things like that. It was all so funny, and beautiful, and so them. While I had been bringing Saoirse into the world, this group of women had been closing a circle around us. Their love and support wasn’t hampered by our complicated geography. By the time my daughter drew her first breath, these women, and the other women in our lives, had already begun the work of building us a community. A community of women that I have found myself relying on again and again during my first year of motherhood.

It is a year that has gone by quickly. I was always dismissive of people who told me that time moves faster once you have children, but it feels true to me now.  The last twelve months of my life feel like a memory I can’t place; a blur of discovery, and exhaustion, and joy. But within this cloudiness, there are moments of great clarity, and many of them involve the women closest to me.

Twenty-four hours after Saoirse was born my sister flew in to see us. She was the first person to give her a bath. She dressed her in blue and pink at the same time and whispered, “there, that will confuse the patriarchy.”

Both grandmas visited in those first few months. We built a repertoire of lullabies, and favorite books, and neither of them offered advice I didn’t ask for.

My sister-in-law (along with Andrew’s brother) flew out to see us at Christmas. I didn’t want to impose, but she took Saoirse eagerly. She dressed her, changed her diapers, and reassured me that I was doing just fine.

When Saoirse was six weeks old I hit a sort of hormonal precipice. Our guests had started to ebb, and the loneliness that often accompanies new motherhood was setting in. Right when I was feeling my lowest, two of my closest friends flew in from two different parts of the country to be with us. One was pregnant, while the other toted around her four-month-old baby. It was the dead of winter, they had other obligations no doubt, and yet here they were on my doorstep.

When Saoirse was four months old we took her overseas. We traveled to seven different countries, and at times it was stressful. In Portugal, Andrew’s older sister came to visit. In her company I felt relaxed and happy. We drank wine and chatted about life. I felt my old self returning.

In Scotland we visited my aunt and uncle. A skilled knitter, my aunt helped me make a sweater for Saoirse, bright red with grey buttons. She stayed up late knitting pieces so that we could complete it. I think of her whenever Saoirse wears it.

By the end of that first summer of Saoirse’s life we were done traveling, but we still had a month to stay with family before returning home. We spent quality time with Saoirse’s other aunties: Andrew’s sister and my brother’s wife. Both women were very much in the same stage of life as us. Mothers to babies and toddlers they still found time for Saoirse, and to chat with me about motherhood.

I could write pages about these women, and the other women in my life who I am grateful for. Women who are the type of mothers I want to be. Women who are child-free but have lovingly and ungrudgingly accepted and embraced Saoirse’s place in our lives. The past year has been amazing, and hard, and made infinitely easier by the love and support that has been given so freely.

It is this support that carried us over into fall, when we decided to undertake our second IVF cycle. Unlike our first cycle things didn’t come together as seamlessly as we had hoped. Andrew couldn’t take a large block of time off work and so he could only be with me for a few days. The process could still work, but it meant a loss of support for me. He wouldn’t be there to help me mix and administer the injections. He wouldn’t be there to hold my hand.

I was afraid.

But I shouldn’t have been. Because the women in my life, they banded around me. They drove me to appointments and watched Saoirse. They told me I was brave when at nine o’clock every night I had to inject two, sometimes three, needles into the soft skin of my belly. For almost a month I spent time in cars, waiting rooms, after appointment lunches with these women, and they never made me feel as if they minded. Each one of them missed work, or spent time away from their kids, or drove from different cities to help me.

Because of these women we have a second chance to be parents. Because of these women I have seen the tiniest of flickers on an ultrasound screen, and heard the sweet thump of my new baby’s heart. I am not yet twelve weeks, that enchanted time when everything begins to feel safer, but I want to greet this experience with the same honesty and openness we approached our last cycle with. So I’ll speak our truth, no matter what comes.

We made another baby. A being threaded together with science, and magic, and the beautiful intentions and love of the people around us. I don’t want to be wary, or guarded, or let the challenges of becoming a mother in the first place overwhelm my happiness. No matter what the coming weeks and months bring, I know I can withstand it.

We will figure it out.

Because how can we not?

I’ve got my village of women after all; the most beautiful expression of community that exists, and the most powerful arsenal there is against fear.

JOURNALIST: Beth McKinlay