Naming Needs

Naming Needs

Leading up to my birthday, both of my sisters independently texted my spouse asking for ideas on gifts that would indulge me a bit. Not sure how to respond, one night on the couch he fished, “Ellie, if you were to pamper yourself, what would you choose to do?” Without making eye contact or breaking stride, I snorted, shook my head and said, “I have no idea.” He brought this up on my birthday, and I felt bad for blowing him, and thus my sisters, off. But upon further thought, I still had no idea. Part of being kind to yourself is coming to terms with your limitations. I don’t get massages or my nails done. I’m lucky if I get my hair cut once a year. I don’t have guilty pleasures. Or hobbies. I used to. Yikes. This isn’t great right? In the last two months, I have set aside time to do things like read or connect with friends, intentionally tending to the neglected parts of my being.

Of the nine personality types in the Enneagram, there is one that puts others’ needs before their own. They know they are doing it, and often choose to willingly to avoid conflict or build harmony through compromise. There is another type that puts others’ needs before their own, but does so unconsciously with no acknowledgment of one’s own needs. I’m the latter. I’m not good at having needs, naming them, voicing them, claiming them or getting them met. I could psychoanalyze for you why I cling to my tough girl complex and refuse to show weakness, but that’s another post altogether. The point is that at my level of intensity and success, it’s this denial of needs is super unhealthy. I know. I’m working on it. Part of this is becoming a person easy to shop for on her birthday. But that is just the beginning.

I am pregnant with my second child, and this pregnancy, like the last, comes with it a heightened sense of needs. I will be having a lovely, important, intimate conversation with someone and my body will scream to me, “If you don’t get some water right now you are going to fall over.” I will be playing with my son and my body will whine, “If you don’t get horizontal and unconscious in the next fifteen minutes I will cause a scene.” At any moment of the day, insatiable hunger will grab me by both cheeks and say frantically, “Stop what you are doing and eat. A lot. Now.” Having these overwhelming yet totally normal and human needs so present and urgent is new to me. It feels oddly selfish. It takes me by surprise every time.

At first, I was horribly annoyed at my heightened needs and a bit sheepish every time I had to put myself first. For the pregnant me, however, there is no will power. No mind over matter. No putting off things like fatigue, hunger and thirst. I initially tried to come to peace with it by naming it as the baby, and not me. “My baby is hungry” or “My baby needs to rest.” It felt like cheating even though it worked and everyone understood. Instead, I decided to use this gestation period to grow in this area of my life. What if my pregnant self could help me be more compassionate with my vulnerability? What if the momma in me could make me a more balance, full person? If having two small children can’t make you better at being okay with having needs and accepting help than I don’t know what can. This is my shot.

One thing I’m working on is accepting help from people even when I don’t need it. It is a subtle mind trick I can play on myself. Let’s say that my mother-in-law offers to watch Simon for an afternoon. In the past, I would say, “No thanks,” because I didn’t need her to. I’m fine. I don’t need help. I have it together. I can do it myself. Now, I am trying to say, “Yes, thanks,” knowing in my mind it’s not because I’m desperate for help, but because they both love time together and I’m trying this new thing on for size. In that afternoon alone, I can allow silent needs to surface and address them. I can do something for fun, or take more time doing something I normally rush through. My hope is that I’m getting more in touch with my needs and getting better at accepting help. And I consider it training for that day, maybe in four months when I have two small children, when my needs are dire and it will greatly behoove me to know who my village is. Claiming needs, becoming vulnerable, accepting help, admitting limitations– these things are deeply petrifying to me and far from second nature. But I’m working on it, and it is good, humbling work.