(CNN)A few weeks shy of giving birth to my middle child, I went to what I thought was a routine ultrasound appointment near my local hospital. Later that afternoon, my son was born and whisked away to the newborn intensive care unit.
Struggling after her son was born with disabilities, a mom learns to ask for help
My husband and I were shocked to learn that he weighed less than 3 pounds, was sick and would have disabilities.
My life felt like it was spiraling out of control. My husband and I were in our early '30s, juggling a toddler and two full-time corporate careers. Suddenly, we were dropping our 2-year-old at day care each morning before racing to visit our son at the hospital. We braced for another day of on-the-spot decisions regarding medications and transfusions.
"Let me know what I can do," many of our loved ones said.
I wanted to let people help but didn't know what to say. I was uncomfortable being direct, and I thought small favors wouldn't be useful when we were dealing with such large issues.
Instead of reaching out, I withdrew and struggled to manage everything on my plate. Why did it feel awkward being on the receiving end of assistance? I had always been willing to help others. Now, almost 10 years later, I wonder how I could have accepted help and made the situation easier on my family and me.
"Being uncomfortable asking for help is an almost universal experience," said Heidi Grant, a social psychologist, speaker and author of "Reinforcements: How to Get People to Help You." "We worry about how embarrassing it will be if someone says no. We worry about how guilty we will feel if they say yes. We worry that people will think less of us. We worry about being a burden."
Do you think less of someone who asks for support or do you see that person as a burden? "No, of course not," Grant said. "In fact, helping is one of the most rewarding experiences we can have."
Her words resonated with me. I was raised to be independent and to help others -- something I've always enjoyed. I wanted to be comfortable receiving help when I needed it so badly.
Even though I couldn't ask directly, many friends and neighbors knew we were dealing with a crisis and took the initiative to lessen our load. The director of the day care brought my daughter to her home the day my son was born. We often had a hot meal waiting on our doorstep from members of my book club.
I felt funny relying on people outside our inner circle. I thought leaning on my closest family and friends would be easiest and most comfortable. But they lived almost an hour or more away and had hectic work schedules, young families or both. A 2021 study suggests it's common to rely solely on close friends when seeking help.
"We underestimate how much those that aren't super close to us are willing to do for us. And we minimize the circle of support we potentially have in a situation like that," said Vanessa Bohns, an associate professor of organizational behavior at Cornell University and author of "You Have More Influence Than You Think."