October 12


I can, but I need help!

By Jessica Allen

October 12, 2020

I had a failed epidural with Elisha, my 2-year-old. 

Kudos to all the mamas who loved and embraced natural childbirth.  My pain-management clan hails to you with honor... but I will never join your tribe.  You would never teach me your secret handshake.  I would bring much shame upon your name.  

I don’t really know what happened the day E was born, but there was no pain relief.  I have never experienced such excruciating pain in my life, although kidney stones are close.

Everyone was doing their very best to A) get the epidural working, and B) help me in case it didn’t, when all of a sudden someone said “I can’t do this!”

I whipped my head around to figure out what lunatic picked this moment for negativity, so I could ask her to politely get it together or leave.  Imagine my horror when I realized that statement came out of ME.

I was so caught off guard that if it weren’t for the excruciating pain I was in, I would have made fun of myself and joked about throwing myself out of the room.  “I can’t” is not part of my vocabulary, especially since I became a parent.  I don’t think there’s a more limiting statement we could think, believe, or model for others. 

"I can," "I can't," and "I won't"

Now there are a lot of things “I won’t.”  It’s important to understand how to give an intentional and thoughtful NO.  Saying “no” isn’t admitting “I can’t;” Saying “no” is communicating “I choose not to allocate my valuable time and energy on this particular task.” Doesn’t that feel more empowering than being exhausted and run ragged all the time because we overcommitted to everyone else’s needs?


Most times, the only way “I can” is with a whole lot of help. We’ve lost this art of asking for help, and accepting it too, in an age of self-sufficiency and toxic independence and Instagram-worthy pictures of our perfect mess-free lives.  Somehow we’ve started feeling shame if we can’t do it all ourselves, which is absurd because we absolutely cannot.  We cannot do it all.  Which is why it takes a healthy balance of NO and YES BUT to keep all the plates in the air. 

So rather than shutting down and screaming I CAN’T! at the people I love most, here’s what I can say instead to the good healthy YESSES I want to give in my life:

I can...

I can… after I get a good night’s sleep.

I can… with the advice and support of a good friend.

I can… once I’ve taken the steps I need to get my head screwed on straight and tight.

I can… after I drink some water and eat that healthy (or indulgent) meal my body’s craving. 

I can… once I’ve burned some physical energy.

I can… but not right now.  It needs to wait until tomorrow or next week or next month. 

I can… with a little help caring for my children.

"I can" in 2020, but I need to ask for help

Because the thing is, we’re all panting through 2020’s failed epidural right now.  There’s nothing taking the edge off.  We’re all feeling every bit of searing pain, anxiety, and pressure.  It may be hitting you mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, financially, professionally, relationally, or politically.

I bet you’ve probably panicked at least once and thrown some things – and some people – out of your proverbial room.    

So what do you need to help you “I can?” 

Help with time management, child care, meals, or housework?

A listening and non-judgmental ear?

To excuse yourself from a conversation – or relationship – that is causing you anxiety and stress?

A physical wellness visit with your doctor?

An hour to yourself, no distractions?

This is self care.  Sure, your version of self care may include a bubble bath, but I’ve realized the most effective self care involves asking myself “what do you really need right now to feel well and healthy?”

Needs balance out

Today I needed a run (like a lung-busting lashing) and some vitamin D.  Yesterday I needed to cry and eat chicken wings.  Both days were equally satisfying and equally important.  It all balances out in the end.  If you find yourself leaning too far to the indulgent side of self care, add in a few physically nurturing activities.  If you can’t bring yourself to do that, it’s okay for awhile… but if you need help steering the ship a little differently, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.  That’s one “I can…” mindset you’ll love: “I can… with a little guidance and support.”  Related: Not Okay

The rest of the story

The rest of the story from the delivery room is that my “I can’t” outburst was obviously wrong, because I actually can, and I finally did.  I got a cute fat baby as my reward.  And a chocolate pie, delivered by my mother who was circling the parking lot until the moment she could come inside.  The epidural finally kicked in about 20 minutes after he was born, and I couldn’t feel a thing for about 8 hours.  Which was fine, because the baby and the pie (and the Astros playoff game!) kept me plenty busy.  After all was said and done, I felt ridiculous for sobbing “I can’t.”

But in my most panicky pain, all I could think was “I can’t.”  And the only reason I COULD that day was because my very concerned husband and my incredible L&D nurse stepped in and squashed all that crazy talk that was coming out of my mouth.  Nobody told me to “just try harder” or “it’ll be okay” or “cheer up Charlie.”  They held my hands and helped me focus and get the job done.  They gave me the actual physical and emotional support I needed, got into my head and on my level, and helped me through every step of the way. THAT is the kind of help and support we all need in every aspect of our lives.

A tough truth about getting the help you need

Here's a tough truth I had to learn: if you aren't getting the help and support you need, it is your responsibility to get it. It may look like making some phone calls, making a list, reworking your family budget of time or finances, or confiding in a trusted person.  If you are truly unwell, it may look like asking someone to help you get the help you need.  Because when you're crawling on rock bottom, asking for help can feel impossible.  There are people in your life who want to help.  But they will never know you need it unless you ask.  Summon that 20 seconds of courage, and pick up the phone.  

What support do you need to help you "I can?"

Every day, and especially right now, a season of insanity I TRULY BELIEVE we will only get through by loving and helping each other.

What does your version of “I can…” look like right now?  What do you need to say NO to?  Who and what can support you in your good YESSES?  And how can you set some of those support systems in place?  (like: today?)


J <3

Jessica Allen

About the author

Jessica is a writer, musician, entrepreneur, wife, and mom. Jessica's mission is to write "real" - shining light into the dark places of the tough stuff we all experience. She and her husband Jack live in Houston, Texas and have weathered the storms of grief, infant loss, adoption, and a marriage that almost fell apart. Jessica and Jack have four children: LJ in heaven, Grace, Jackson, and Elisha.

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