Accepting Limits

This is the second post in a series. If you missed the first one, be sure to read it here.

I stared at the various stations at the once-a-month neighborhood clinic for women and children where I’d volunteered for two years. One volunteer was measuring the heads of the children. Another recorded the information. One lady passed out bowls of rice porridge to the kids. My job was to weigh the babies and toddlers in a rudimentary sling that hung from a tree.

Or at least it was my job. I’d taken a few weeks off to have my first baby.  Now—my own month-old baby tucked into my sling—I was back, ready to help.

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Rebecca weighing a baby at the neighborhood clinic.

I hovered awkwardly beside my “old job,”—next to the new volunteer who’d taken over in my absence. I tried to chip in, but the space was tight, the hands too many. My own baby needed to be fed.

The volunteer motioned to my baby. “His turn.”

That’s when I realized I’d become less of a “helper” and more of a frazzled mom. I watched while the volunteer nudged the weight until she got an accurate read. Then she shouted out the kilograms to the volunteer recording the information.

I sat down on the bench next to the other women with babies, feeling useless. But then I remembered. My questions. I asked about middle-of-the-night feedings and birth stories. And for the first time, I really felt their answers—the pain of labor, the vulnerability of those postpartum months, the exhaustion. I was in it with them, wondering, too, when I’d ever get sleep again or finish a full meal.  A half hour later, I took my now-fussy baby home for a nap (and got one myself).

Photo by Tripp Flythe.

Motherhood, like nothing other, has taught me about my limitations. Sleep deprivation, crying kids, fits over someone pinching their cheeks—all showed me that my role in being part of the solutions that may be needed would be quite limited. I ended the English lessons I’d been teaching to university students. I had to cut visits to friends short (often due more to my own fatigue than a fussy child). I couldn’t take my baby to visit certain “infectious” parts of the hospital when Brad brought in a sick patient.

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Photo by Rebecca Hopkins.

But I learned to just sit next to other women with kids with my questions, my limits, the spit-up stain on my shoulders. I wasn’t “helping.” Instead I was setting aside my efforts and solutions, and sometimes, for a time, certain dreams in order to do life with other moms. And a new dream formed in my mind—connection.

More on those dreams (and their persistence) in my next blog post.

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