Recently, I saw a call for help on the women’s Facebook page for my church: “Any breastfeeding experts?” A woman had shown up at one of our services with her newborn baby, hoping to find community as she transitioned into motherhood. Her family lived in a different country, and she and her husband were stationed at the local base temporarily while he completed some training. She felt like she was drowning, and she needed loving hands to pull her up.
As fate would have it, I am a registered nurse and have taken quite a few classes in lactation education, as well as nursing my own three children with varying degrees of challenges. So I put my name and number at the bottom of the post. Only minutes later, I received a phone call. Could I go visit this mother and answer her breastfeeding questions?
I felt a little nervous as I put her address into my GPS, stopping at Target on the way to grab her some gel pads (my favorite breastfeeding aid for soreness). Would it be awkward to come into her home? Would I know the right things to say?
I shouldn’t have worried. I immediately felt sisterhood between us as my new friend’s husband led me upstairs to where she and the baby were resting.
Eyes wide, she told me about her difficulties adjusting to newborn life and her loneliness in this new, isolated place. We fell into easy conversation over the next few hours as I showed her some strategies for nursing and cuddled her baby while she took a shower.
It was a simple visit, but it felt monumental to me. I found myself in tears more than once as I reflected on my own uneasy transition to motherhood and the women who buoyed me up along the way.
When I think about the past five years my husband has been active duty, I can’t help but tear up at the thought of the love and support I’ve received from the women who have passed in and out of my life. From my neighbors who brought me casseroles while my husband was at Officer Basic Training; the friends who sent me supportive text messages while I waited to hear back about deployments; the families that babysat my children while I was in labor; the friends that helped me scrub my floors in preparation for a PCS. All these people and experiences have bolstered me on a soul level.
It isn’t easy to be separated from your partner as they serve their country and you parent alone. It isn’t easy to be cut off from your network of family support or transplanted from communities as soon as you finally find your footing. But I have seen military spouses rise to the occasion again and again to support and love one another through the difficulties and celebrations of life.
Even if you are shy or uncomfortable in new situations, you can find small ways to be the village for those around you.
Look for opportunities. Long before I knew the military was going to be part of my life story, I received some very wise advice from a mentor. I was going through a difficult breakup of a long term relationship, I had just moved out of the apartment I’d shared with friends because of a toxic situation, and I felt totally alone. I asked this mentor for advice, and he told me to look for opportunities to help people.
At first, this seemed counterintuitive. I already felt uncomfortable and lonely, and I wasn’t sure how following people around and asking if I could help them was going to fix the situation. But he was absolutely right, and that summer I met lifelong friends (and my husband!) by reaching out to others and offering to help them out.
Of course, we have to be aware of our limitations. There are seasons where we can give more, where we can bring dinners and babysit kids and scrub floors, and there are seasons where maybe all we can do is smile or hold a door open. But often when we push just a little past our comfort zone, just a little beyond what we think our capabilities are, we find ourselves receiving even more than we give.
Share your unique skills. I had some lactation knowledge that I used to help another military mom. Another friend needed help giving herself injections while her husband was TDY, something I have experience with as a registered nurse. Maybe you’re really good at fixing cars, interior design, or crafts. Maybe you have a passion for thrifting or remodeling furniture. We all have unique abilities, and we can all help and support each other, often in unexpected ways, by using these abilities.
Share the gift of food. We all have to eat multiple times a day, and sometimes figuring out what to eat and how to make it appear on our dinner table feels like an insurmountable task. I know it can seem cliche to drop off a meal, but there’s a reason for that – because it really is helpful! If you love to cook, make something. If you don’t, drop off a gift card or pick up a pizza. Gourmet meals don’t matter, but not having to worry about a meal matters.
Another life hack I’ve recently enjoyed sharing with others is “crappy dinner parties.” Some nights, especially when my husband isn’t home, getting through dinner seems just about impossible. Sometimes on these nights, I get together with a friend and we serve really lame food. Think scrambled eggs, cheese quesadillas, or even cereal. We get those kids fed and support each other through the witching hour, and it doesn’t matter that we’re eating off paper plates or that our houses are crazy. Just having that support there makes it bearable and sometimes even enjoyable!
Borrow their kids. When I first had kids, I was so intimidated at the thought of watching someone else’s kids. I felt like I didn’t have the capacity to add another person to my house, even for a few hours. That has changed as my brood of children has expanded and moved out of the baby stage. Now it seems as though my stress is cut in half when we add a few kids to play with for the day. I feel good about giving another mom a break, and my kids have someone to play with rather than following me around asking me for snacks or complaining about each other. Win-win.
Offer your friendship. Perhaps the best gift you can give is simply a listening ear or your presence. Yes, even if you don’t know someone all that well. Become an inviter. It’s like exercising a muscle – the more you put yourself out there and reach out to others, the easier it gets. Ask that mom for her phone number, then follow through and invite her to a playdate (or even just send a funny meme). If you’re headed to Target, send a text to the people you know and ask if they need anything. Surprise someone with a $5 gift card to Starbucks or their favorite fast food place. Remember birthdays or special occasions.
Clean something. Two things you should know about me: cleaning my house is where I drop the ball every time, and sometimes I am too proud to accept help. Sometimes I feel like I’m going to throw up if someone offers to sweep my house after a birthday party or do my dishes. But the relief when someone takes care of one of those small tasks for me is so palpable.
I have a friend who always, always offers to clean something when she’s over. If we’re chatting in the kitchen, she starts unloading my dishwasher. If there’s a pile of laundry, she helps you fold it. Even when I am embarrassed that my house isn’t spotless (which, hello: it never is), it’s so nice to have that one thing done. I have a friend who has invited people over for a laundry folding party. I have another friend who came and scrubbed my floors when my husband was out of town (it’s my very least favorite chore). Sometimes that little nagging cleaning thing that feels like the straw that will break your back is really easy for someone to take care of, and sometimes you can be that person for somebody else.
This friend I mentioned who scrubbed my floors left me with some wise words that day. I was feeling so awkward that she was cleaning up for me, and she stopped me and said, “Right now I have the capacity to support you in this way. Next week, I might not, but today, my cup is full. Please let me help you and be there for you. I know I’ll need your help soon, too.”