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  • Sara Johnson

The pleasure and possibility of how we show up

My friend Rachael is having a baby next month. She is one of a handful of women I know who have chosen to embark on motherhood on their own, without a partner. I am one of a handful of women I know who have chosen not to become a parent, yet crave being a part of a supportive network for those who are.

With these two energies converging I asked Rachael if I could help her as she starts this journey of motherhood. Shared with permission, here’s a bit of how our first conversation on the topic played out over text:

Me: Rachael! I will be back in the Midwest in October and available if you need any help in the early days of motherhood!

Rachael: Yes! I’ve been meaning to ask when you’ll be back and if you want some baby time you’re welcome to come and visit :)

Me: Baby time is good, but helping you is even better (no offense). It would give me joy to know I could support you if that would be desired.

also Me: I do enjoy sniffing the heads of babies though and have very little baby experience.

Annotated author’s note: 🤣🙃🫣

Rachael: I would love to have your help. It’s always hard to accept when offered, but that is the truth!

Annotated author’s note: Rachael touches on something so true here. Accepting help does not come easy for many of us.

Me: Okay let me be very explicit with my offer: if there is a time you need help and don’t have it, I want to help. My work is mobile and I can be available on short notice. Please let me know.

Rachael: Thank you. I will.

A few weeks later, Rachael circled back with me over text and made a straightforward ask: could I be her on-call helper for if the baby came early? My role would be to help her so she could have more bandwidth to tend to the needs of the baby. I could do supportive tasks such as cooking, cleaning, running errands, holding the baby while she showers or rests, saying affirming things, being a sounding board to process all the huge life changes, etc.

I said a wholehearted and rapid YES to Rachael’s request. I felt excited realizing that I have built my life so that I now have the capacity AND ability to show up for my friend this way. Being able to say yes to this feels like I am living aligned with what I most value: that I am a part of building the “village” of community care, the village that challenges the idea of rugged individualism.

you believe in individualism? mycelium networks exist and you think rugged individualism is the path to success?

My friend Zoe told me that in this role I would be showing up as Rachael's “postpartum doula.” Zoe has received training to provide birth and postpartum doula care and I was at first taken aback by her framing my support of my friend this way. I’ve always thought of the doula role as incredibly sacred and hopeful. Could I really be stepping into something like that by showing up for my friend this way?!

Though the Greek work “doula” translates to “woman who serves” – and there is a lot to unpack there – the concept of doulaing is more generally, according to Zoe, supporting someone through a life transition. You may have heard of doulas for the transitions of pregnancy, postpartum and parenthood, but there are various types of doulas these days including death doulas and divorce doulas. I even recently read about a “bureaucracy doula” that supports people navigating the court system.

These concepts contribute to some thinking I have been doing about helping and what a collective shift in how we give, receive, ask for, and view help could change for all of us. What if all of us had experience giving and receiving doula-type-transitional support throughout our lives? Doulas for: job loss, breakups, illness, moving across the country, overwhelm, learning a new skill, figuring out “adulting,” recovery, bad bosses and so on.

What if we had the skills, bandwidth, time, and societal support to doula each other as needed?

What I'm really trying to understand is how we show up for each other in the most expansive and generative ways and what makes this type of showing up possible.

Meme from instagram account @savedbythebellhooks

It might come as no surprise then that I gravitated to the audio book of How We Show Up: Reclaiming Family, Friendship, and Community read by the author Mia Birdsong. (Thanks, Cassie, for the fab recommendation!) How We Show Up is a profound meditation on belonging and interdependence, connecting themes such as the “good life,” the “American Dream,” romantic love, queer family, platonic love, race, class & gender injustices, and more.

In one chapter of the book Birdsong pointedly talks about “toxic individualism” that cuts us off from the connection and intimacy so many of us crave. She writes: “When we are oriented toward doing it ourselves and getting ours, we cut ourselves off from the kinds of relationships that can only be built when we allow ourselves to be open and generous.”

I can't help but think about earlier versions of myself that felt a sense of pride and righteousness for never asking for help. Birdsong calls younger me in with this truth: “If we don’t ask for or accept help because of the independence we feel we must have, we don’t offer it because of the scarcity we feel.”

Okay, I'm listening!

While younger me did offer help, I was deeply resistant to asking for or accepting help. I believed that being completely independent and doing things on my own made me stronger, more likable, more successful: an A+ super good person. Because there was no reciprocity – by not accepting help I was blocking that reciprocal flow – my own giving was often tainted with a bit of resentment. Cringe. I believed in individualism for myself and caretaking of others to the detriment of everyone. My behavior was at odds with the reciprocity, mutuality, and generosity I longed for in community.

What if asking for help can be pleasurable and liberating? What if helping each other is the antidote to toxic individualism and the harm it inflicts on us all?

In How we Show Up, Mia Birdsong quotes Amoretta Morris who talks about “the divine circle of giving and receiving.” Morris says that asking can be “transformative for the helper” and that there is a flow we are blocking when we don’t ask for help when we need it.

A flow we are blocking.

There is something powerful in gravitating towards where we are called to give and where we are called to receive.

Doing it ourselves becomes an absolute myth from this perspective, and I’d go further to call it a huge tragedy! We are built to connect. We are meant to be in the flow of support!

As I soak up these visions of a world woven together by connection and interdependence, I realize there is something so seemingly obvious about coaching and that I love deeply but have never articulated. Coaching challenges the idea of “I have to [figure this out / solve this / overcome this / endure this] do this alone.
Coaching embraces the flow of asking for and receiving help wherever it is needed, without judgment, with love and confidence in the help-seeker. Coaching reaffirms that getting back-to-center can be supported by another: realigning with your inner-knowing can be done in relationship.

Coaching is a part of a radical vision of how we show up. I love being a part of that in my professional life. I love that showing up intentionally can expand and grow throughout my whole life in all sorts of ways.

We can be generous. We can be accountable to each other. We can orientate towards connection. How we show up is about co-creating the world we want in the everyday and ordinary as well as the fantastic and visionary.

At Rachael’s baby shower I was the only attendee who guessed her due date would be early. I smiled at my blatant desire to show up for my friend and postpartum doula her as she becomes a mom. From holding Rachael's feet while she holds her newborn, to coaching humans in various transitions, to excitedly chatting with friends about how to nurture collaborative futures: I want to be a part of the flow.

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