I was three months pregnant when I moved back in with my mother. Even though I was twenty-four and married, I felt like a knocked-up teenager running home to mommy. Our living situation was so clearly “not normal” to American culture that it bordered on embarrassing. Eyebrows raise when a twenty-something moves back home after college. Multiply that times a hundred if she brings her husband and unborn child with her.
Initially, Sam and I had planned to stay a few months while we transitioned from Kosovo to France. We’d done this arrangement before, visiting family for a couple months before heading back to our own apartment abroad. But this time, we had no apartment, and my desire to give birth near home meant we’d be staying a lot longer.
We assured my mother that we’d start looking for jobs and our own apartment. Though we were exhausted from working abroad and re-adjusting to American life, we didn’t want to be a burden on her. To my surprise, rather than urge us out of the nest, my mom told us to stay as long as we needed. My family has always been the bootstrap-pulling type, but she knew just how tired we were, and she wanted to see us rest and enjoy being all together again.
My husband is a saint and had no qualms about living with his in-laws. I, on the other hand, had all sorts of reservations. My pride didn’t like the idea of being dependent on my mom, and I still remembered being an eager-to-leave teenager in her home.
But we were poor, I was pregnant (read: unemployable), and I couldn’t bear the thought of forcing my burnt-out husband into the job-search vortex. I agreed to try it for a few months. I cleared out and redecorated my old room, and we began negotiating grocery runs and cooking schedules.
Soon enough, we had a livable rhythm. Though we maintained our privacy, we still ended up doing a lot of life together. We ate together, had movie nights together, and shared everyday details we usually missed while living in different countries. When the baby kicked, everyone hurried over to feel my belly. When I had a craving, my two caretakers were all over it.
Life together was good, but when James came into our world, it became essential.
After his birth, my mother took the week off work to cook meals, hold him while I showered, and assure me I wasn’t going to break him. When I struggled to nurse him, I cried on her shoulder for days, and she arranged for a lactation consultant to help me. When Sam and I were desperate for sleep, she rocked our little boy in the early morning and sent us back to bed.
She was there for everything: James’ first bath, first coos, first smiles. She survived jaundice and the struggle to get him back to birthweight. She was both mom and grandma, sending me back to the couch to rest my healing body, while tenderly caring for her new grandson.
We emerged from those hard first six weeks with a happily-nursing, long-stretch-sleeping baby, and I knew I couldn’t have done it without the full-time support of my mom. Instead of feeling embarrassed about living with her, I started telling my friends what a perfect arrangement it was, and how grateful I was to be home.
Of course, I’m not the first to discover the wonders of family living. Many cultures do this on a regular basis, adding on to the home as new generations are born. If they don’t already live there, pregnant women often stay in their parents’ home for birth and postpartum recovery. Alternatively, mothers move into their daughters’ homes for months or even years to help with housework and pass on their wisdom.
By contrast, American culture encourages new mothers to be independent, doing it all on their own and losing that baby weight while they’re at it. It’s a recipe for depression and isolation.
I, for one, am glad I didn’t have to go it alone. I’m grateful that my mother rescued me from the norm of living alone and Googling baby advice. I’m grateful that I wasn’t too stubborn or prideful to receive her support. I may not be a good, self-reliant American—and I may be the butt of those living-in-mom’s-basement jokes—but I am one happy and healthy mama.
Though we’ll soon be moving on to our own apartment in France, I’ll always remember this time as a sweet season: how I was cared for, how my son was so loved he rarely got set down. How we fit three generations under one roof and loved each other the whole way through.