Amidst all of the strife this year has brought regarding women’s health issues, it was refreshing to hear about one practical step I could take to help women who find themselves with an unexpected pregnancy. After all, that was once me.
I remember lying on the ultrasound table and hearing the tech hesitantly ask, “Um, do twins run in your family?”
An unexpected pregnancy and twins on top of that. The paper on the examination table rattled as my whole body trembled with the news and I wondered where I would sleep four children under the age of four, including three children under the age of two.
It could have been worse.
I can remember one woman I visited as a medical student. She knew she was pregnant. She was about 30 weeks along when we saw her. But she wasn’t just pregnant. We also had to inform her that she was pregnant with twins, that her umbilical cord was dangerously positioned such that she needed hospitalization and close monitoring, and on top of that, she had a sexually transmitted disease that indicated her partner had been unfaithful.
She didn’t tremble when we told her, but she slowly closed her eyes and stopped talking to us, her medical team, as if closing her eyes might shut out the world too.
When friends and neighbors asked what they could do to help me after my own twin delivery, I asked for three things: playdates for my two toddlers, dinners, and diapers. Sure, the latest toys and books and gadgets would have been fine. But first, we needed an abundance of the basics.
So when a representative from Caris* climbed the stage at church last month and asked for diapers, my first thought was, “There’s no way we can ever collect enough.” One baby needs thousands of diapers. Our church’s goal of collecting 10,000 diapers this season sounded like a lot, at first, but then again, not very much at all when we heard of how many women and families this organization sought to support.
I told myself that this was one of those times that doing something was better than sitting on your hands and worrying you wouldn’t ever solve the whole problem, so the next time I was at Target, I bought two boxes of diapers in the sizes Caris said they needed most.
I have purchased diapers from Target countless times over the years. I remember I got into a rhythm with it – watching the sales and making sure to get the bulk discount. On wipes too. Then I would approach the checkout and hope the cashier would ask me about my babies. I wanted someone to witness it. I wanted to explain how many babies I had at home, how I still had four children in diapers and training pull ups, how I still needed emotional support long after the post-partum flurry of gifted diapers and dinners had faded (though I still remain incredibly grateful for all of that – we didn’t cook dinner ourselves for three months after my twins were born).
I hadn’t thought about any of that in a long time, but buying diapers last month unearthed it all and made me uncomfortable about approaching the checkout. I didn’t want anyone to assume I had babies at home. I didn’t want to take undue sympathy. And if they asked, I didn’t want to have to explain that the diapers weren’t for me, that I shouldn’t need their sympathy. I didn’t want to explain that I was helping with a diaper drive. Because, wouldn’t that mean that I had it together enough with my own life to help? Wouldn’t that mean that I was claiming I knew best what was needed?
Clearly, I was overthinking it, but I still used the self-checkout.
Now I think maybe a short conversation with a cashier would have been nice.
“No, these aren’t for me, and they aren’t enough for anyone else. But maybe they’ll do a little good. No, my babies are older now, but I still have four of them. Mothering babies is hard, and mothering children is hard, and mothering preteens is hard.”
After all, the cashier was probably a mom too. She probably had her own story to tell.
We don’t have to hide our stories, though I understand the impulse. And if Caris can help make a difference in the lives of a few new mothers, then maybe they will understand that they don’t need to hide either. Maybe they will understand they are seen and loved, and that there are people out there who want to help come alongside them on their journey too.
*Caris is a faith-based nonprofit organization in Chicago that seeks to help women with unplanned pregnancies through counseling and practical support.
Here you will find a catalog of my writing and reflections.