Allowing a community to support you

Those-We-Love-the-Most-by-Lee-Woodruff-194x300This month, the online book club From Left to Write read Those We Love Most, and this triggered a very personal memory for me:

The Nature vs Nurture question often comes to mind as I observe at how different my kids are (all three – the biologic, and the adopted), but occasionally, the idea applies to me personally.

I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) when I was in high school, and my result was INFP, which felt like it fit me well at the time, and still feels like a good fit. The MBTI has come up recently in conversations I’ve had with friends, and online, about the value of being either an Extrovert or an Introvert. In fact, I think the topic first came up for me in the context of reading one of my friend’s FL2W posts prompted by the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain (which, in full disclosure, I haven’t read, but it’s definitely on my list!). The I=Introvert and N=Intuitive definitely ring true for me. I remember initially taking some offence at the idea of the F=Feeling (shouldn’t I, the Scientist, be T=Thinking?) and the P=Perceptive (I knew at the time that I was highly judgemental of everyone and everything, so I was surprised not to be J=Judging). But now, even those categories feel right. (As I read the Wikipedia entry for INFP, it totally rang true, both for the me in the present, and the adolescent me of the past).

But, was I born an Introvert?

I think back to my earliest experiences in social settings. The earliest I really remember was when I was 4 years old and we had traveled to Sri Lanka for my father’s sisters weddings. I was the center of attention, as the only grandchild at that time, and I remember loving it! I started school there, and, as I recall, I had quite a few friends (one of whom I’ve reconnected with, through the wonders of Facebook!).

Then, when I was six, we moved to California. I do remember that the first day of school for me was terrifying, and maybe that’s an early sign of my introversion to come, but I do remember, in those days, on Via Mesa Grande in Torrance, CA, that I ran with some of the popular kids, and seemed to have quite a few friends.

A few years later, my parents’ marriage hit its rough patch, and we moved almost constantly for a period of three years, and I remember, by the end of that three year stretch, when I was entering sixth grade, I had grown completely fatigued with the whole “making new friends” business. Why bother, when your crazy family would move again in another 2-3 months, and you’d just have to start all over again?

I had one friend, from the age of 11 through my leaving for college, who remains my friend to this day. I did develop a couple of short-term friendships during that time with a couple of girls whose families were visiting Stanford from Israel, Ayelet and Dana, but they were on the move themselves, so my connection with them was temporary. (Again, thanks to social media, I’ve reconnected with them, and hope someday to meet again, face-to-face).

But, I never did develop a circle of friends, or a network that I felt I could trust with my personal confidences. I never cultivated a group of “girlfriends” to have coffee with, and share stories with. And, since I had my first child so early, and now have my two boys so late in my life, I’ve always felt out-of-sync with the parents of my kids’ friends, all of whom were much older than me the first time around, and, now, are so much younger!

I’ve always felt outside the circle. Peripheral. Disconnected, even though I was never disinterested.

And, all of this brings me to the memory that floated up in my mind as I was reading this powerful book about a family facing tragedy.

My daughter was about 5 years old. Her dad and I had moved around quite a bit ourselves, each of us finishing our degrees at universities of our choosing, but not necessarily in proximity. So, we had lived in the Washington DC area, and then moved back to California upon his graduation, and we were finally starting to feel settled. We bought a house in the suburbs, and we had invested in sending our daughter to private school, to benefit from a bilingual program. We joined a small church, Wesley UMC, and we quickly became involved in many aspects of the community – we both served on the board, and studied in bible study classes; I sang in the choir and taught sunday school, vacation bible school, and led a children’s choir. We were regular Sunday morning attendees.

We had tried to have a second child twice before, both times ending in late miscarriages (medically termed second-term spontaneous abortions). The first we had lost at 20 weeks EGA, and the second at 18 weeks. The losses were painful, and we suffered and survived them in relative isolation. We lived far from family, and although we tried to be connected, we were barely hanging on, both working multiple jobs, and trying to juggle the care of our small daughter.

Now we were settled, and, I hoped, we might be able to optimize our chances of having a second child. We found a high-risk obstetrician. At my first appointment with her, she came around her desk (we met in her well-appointed office for our initial interview, rather than in the exam room), and wrapped me in a hug, which was a bit off-putting to me! And she ran through the options for me, given my prior history. I can’t remember the exact recommendation, but we were operating under the assumption that the underlying problem was “incompetent cervix”, and the plan was to place a circlage after the pregnancy had passed the 18week mark, since I had made it that far before, and the hope was that any fetal abnormalities that would prompt a miscarriage would have triggered the event before 18 weeks. Great, I thought, we have a plan!

And, we conceived, and started down the path again, with some anxiety, but hope, also.

As it happened, in our small church community, two other couples became pregnant right around the same time as we did, and I’ll never forget a particularly inept, but well-meaning older woman in the congregation coming up to all three of us pregnant ladies at the coffee hour, saying “Well, it’s a race!”.

And my heart sank a little as I thought to myself how likely it was that this was a race that I wouldn’t make to the finish line (again).

And, at 16 weeks, I lost the race.

So, for another 24 weeks, give or take, I watched as the two remaining “competitors” finished the race I had so badly wanted to have a chance at completing. I would have been happy to make it to 30 weeks – I knew what a premature baby was like, and I knew I could handle that again. But to handle another loss, when I had tried so hard to “do it right” – it was heartbreaking.

I don’t know how many of the folks in my community of friends or family were aware of the pain I and my husband were suffering. He came from a large family, one of nine, and I know that he had hoped to be the patriarch of a brood of boisterous youngsters (he has since moved on, and expanded his fatherhood beyond our one daughter). I had always thought of myself, from my early years, as a natural mother-type, and I had envisioned having at least two children. I had been “cheated” – as I saw it – of experiencing the natural process of birthing and parenting, and it was hard to see others go through it so easily, without the complications and pain I had endured.

But, rather than reaching out to my community for help and support, I retreated. Turning inward had become habitual. I wouldn’t be surprised if people did try to reach out, but I’ve learned over time, observing myself, that I don’t cope well with the vulnerability of needing help from others, even those closest to me, and if any help was offered, I probably rebuffed it.

And, I’m envious of Maura in Lee Woodruff ‘s book Those We Love Most, who has a her network of friends and leans on them. They are there, and she accepts their help as readily as they give it.

I want to learn that skill – to accept vulnerability, and to accept support. It seems so much harder than giving support to others.

Those-We-Love-the-Most-by-Lee-Woodruff-194x300This post was inspired by the novel Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff. Every family has its secrets and deceptions, but they come to the surface when a tragic accident changes the family dynamic forever.

Join From Left to Write on June 6 as we discuss Those We Love the Most. You can also enter to win a live video chat with Lee Woodruff!

As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

11 thoughts on “Allowing a community to support you

  1. Nancy C. says:

    Oh, I really struggle with letting people know when I'm having a hard time. I prefer to put on a brave face and I hate the awkwardness of people trying to give me advice or make me feel better, even though it's well-intentioned! Thanks for sharing.

    1. janaki says:

      It seems that a lot of us struggle with this! Thanks for your comment.

  2. jodifur says:

    That nature vs. nurture question is such a tough one.

    1. Janaki says:

      Isn't it?? Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Char says:

    Thank you for sharing such a personal part of your life. I am an introvert that has learned to act like an extrovert to get through life. I truly belive that even having just one really great friend/family member to lean on makes all the difference.

    1. Janaki says:

      I'm the same way – I've learned the tricks to "playing" the role of extrovert, although some situations still render me the wallflower (I cannot go into a party where I don't know anyone!).

  4. mamawolfeto2 says:

    Beautiful post, Janaki. Have you read Brene Brown's book "Daring Greatly"? She's a researcher who writes so accurately on the issue of vulnerability-I bet you'd love it. Thank you for sharing such powerful emotions. Hugs! -Jennifer

    1. Janaki says:

      I need to read Brene Brown – I've heard her TED talk, and her interview with Krista Tippett on On Being. I love her ideas about vulnerability!!! Much to learn there.


  5. Thien-Kim says:

    I'm the same way in times of challenge. I draw within myself. Thankfully my husband has learned how to draw me out and support me. I'm jealous of Maura's character too. I'm not sure if I'm the type to ever have close friends like Maura, but I know I have my husband.

    1. Janaki says:

      It's good to know that there's someone on your side, no matter what. Husbands can be great supports (although, sometimes it seems like the manly model of support is to offer solutions, and sometimes, there is no solution – just the need to be heard). Hugs are good, I find!

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