Know a new mom who might be in need of some assistance, but not sure how to help? Our mommy blogger Stephanie Hanrahan came up with four simple ways to help that new mom, without overstepping. And new moms out there? She has some advice for you too.
Women carry a child for 40 weeks, but many wait much longer than that to have their biggest dream of birthing a baby come true. Long before budding careers, mortgages or marriage, our younger selves carried around baby dolls and stuffed our shirts to make fake bumps, pretending to be a mom.
For some of us, playing make-believe mom cultivated that dream. Once actually pregnant, we’ve painted nurseries, attended showers, prewashed clothes and packed an overnight bag. We’ve prepared our minds, homes and hearts to grow tenfold; then with a few (or many) pushes, out pops our greatest gift in the flesh. We’re overjoyed.
But then, a few days or weeks later, we might find ourselves overwhelmed too.
In comes the fourth trimester—the part of parenthood the books barely mention. I know this because I’m not only a mother of two (and former shirt-stuffing dreamer), but I’m also a labor and delivery nurse.
During nursing school, we spent a significant amount of time focusing on breathing techniques and breastfeeding, but little education was allotted to what happens when the hormones start going haywire and you’re home alone with a crying infant.
No one prepares you for the reality of sleeplessness nights and isolated days. No one tells you that you can be filled to the brim with love for your child, and yet desperately want to break away.
There’s a lot of talk about how “hard” things are, but where’s the dialogue about the depression? The shame for feeling like the happiest time of your life is falling incredibly short?
The truth is, the after-birth of new motherhood is equally as hard as birth itself—perhaps more so since it lasts longer. For the first few months, you will use your body and your mind entirely for another human, and you’ll do so on very little sleep. You’ll fear leaving the house because of feeding times and flu season. You’ll scroll through social media and see people having fun while you’re sore and overspent. You’ll love this little human so much it hurts, but long for free time to do more than just shower.
But here’s the fabulous news about being a new mom: It doesn’t last forever.
This isn’t meant to sugarcoat the hardships, but rather to inspire hope. One day you’ll wake up before they do. One day you’ll be feeding them, and they’ll lock eyes with you and smile. There will come a moment when you start to feel more confident leaving the house and begin to reenter the world again.
The point is, we get our footing eventually. But it takes time, patience and sometimes medication.
It also, as they say, takes a village. If you know someone who’s recently had a baby, here’s the number one thing you can do for her: Offer help. And if you are someone who’s recently had that baby, accept that help.
Here’s where we go wrong in supporting new mothers: We state, with great intent, “Let me know if you need anything.” But a new mom never will. Women are conditioned to do it all and do it well. Asking for help isn’t in our DNA any more so than men stopping for directions. So when we’re lost in new motherhood, drowning in peri-pads and postpartum depression, we feel the need to shoulder it alone. But we must stop.
Here are a few things to just do for a new mother (especially when she says she’s fine).
1. Bring a meal, but don’t go in
They just had a baby, they need food. They don’t need to put on a bra, clean the house or entertain. A “Sip and See” can be arranged to meet the baby when the mother is ready, until then you can see all their cuteness on social media. Drop your food on the front porch and go.
2. Take the older sibling for a few hours
There’s not much family and friends can do with a newborn, likely their glued to their mother’s hip/breast. But those older siblings are free for the taking! Schedule a park play date and tell that new mama you’ll be over in an hour to pick their kid up. They won’t refuse when plans are already made.
3. Bring the fun indoors
Don’t let her scroll through social media and feel bad about missing a girls’ night out. Arrange a Bachelor watching party in your home. Order take-out and eat it in your PJs. Give her a comfortable place to come to with her newborn, as well as a plan that’s unchanged if she needs to cancel. We were women before babies, and we’ll be women after. Make her feel like one for a makeup-free evening indoors.
4. Gift her with self-care instead of a baby item
No one needs another onesie or burp cloth. Give her a gift certificate to get her hair done or for a housecleaning service. Cute bows and bibs are nice, but what’s really needed is help with the daily duties. Remember she won’t ask, so just do.
And to the new moms, of course there’s a big part you play in this as well: Just say yes. No one gets a gold star for doing it alone—we birth our babies with support by our side, and we need it even more when we go home.
Motherhood is meant to be a team sport, so as you’re giving yourself grace in your new role, remember it’s just a small fraction of your life when your child—and yourself—are on the receiving end of extra care. Pretty soon, you’ll be restored enough to pay it forward.
Stephanie Hanrahan was just your seemingly average housewife until she grew tired of pretending and took an axe to her white picket fence (also known as making her private journal public). Learn how she traded her pretending for a panty liner on Instagram, Facebook, and her blog Tinkles Her Pants, where she chronicles her journey as wife to a husband with chronic illness, mother to special needs kiddos, and a woman who often unravels then finds her footing again.
Image courtesy of iStock.