Over the years, my dad has often remarked that if you want to really fit in to a new community, just have a baby there. I know – easier said than done – but it seems he has a point. I’ve lived in Missouri for more than two years now, and I just recently started feeling as though I belong. I believe I can thank my baby for that.
In June 2007, my husband and I moved here from western Pennsylvania so I could attend graduate school at MU. He found a good job in Mexico, Mo., so we decided to settle there where he would be close to work, and I would commute to school.
Since neither of us had ever lived outside of Pennsylvania, adjusting to our new life was tough. Our new home was located in the middle of town; both of us had been raised in the country. Instead of being surrounded by our beloved mountains, we were surrounded by farmland. We had to travel long distances to parks in order to participate in the outdoor activities we used to enjoy in our backyards.
We soon found ourselves missing just about everything that we loved about our native state: our friends and families, the cooler weather, even the landscape itself. I think the biggest hurdle for both of us was that we didn’t know anybody here and a small town like Mexico doesn’t exactly have tons of opportunities for a young couple to meet people. We were both having a hard time making new friends.
Enter pregnancy. It amazed me how quickly people started opening up to us once my husband and I started telling people our happy news. Suddenly, we had a common bond with our co-workers and neighbors who have children of their own. They were able to relate to the joys and anxieties we were feeling. We no longer had to work so hard to keep a conversation going. (We could stop worrying about boring others with our tales of Pennsylvania.)
Instead, we could talk “kid stuff” – where to find the best deals on formula or diapers, what the best options are for schooling, and let’s not forget the fun, personal tales of adventures in child-rearing. Better yet, all those “kid” conversations eventually led to other topics, which have helped us get to know our neighbors and co-workers on a more personal level. Slowly, my husband and I are building friendships.
More important to me, though, is the level of support I’ve received since becoming pregnant. Deep down, I knew the only person I really “needed” support from was my husband, but when my co-workers and neighbors learned that we had a baby on the way, they rallied.
Our neighbors have insisted on giving me their phone numbers, “just in case”; co-workers have offered up their children’s hand-me-downs; advice and empathy have been in rich supply. And I won’t even get into the number of wonderful and thoughtful baby gifts I’ve received.
I couldn’t be more thankful, or relieved. Having a first child is difficult enough for a young couple; having a baby hundreds of miles away from the family and friends who would normally support you is even harder. It’s been so nice to know that we now have our own little network of folks who we can turn to for advice.
It’s amazing how something as tiny as a baby can bring so many people together. Even though my husband and I might not live in Missouri forever, it’s comforting to know that we’re becoming part of something bigger – part of a community.
Thanks, little baby.
Jen Russell is a night news editor at the Missourian. If everything stays on schedule, she is due to give birth to her son Monday morning. She welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.