My dear friend had just had her first baby four short weeks prior, and I couldn’t wait to meet the little lady.
We scheduled some time for me to swing by, drop off gifties and swoon over her newborn baby. I didn’t want to be disruptive or a burden, so I planned to pop in, give mama a big hug, leave goodies and get out of her way.
Upon arrival, though, something in my gut told me to slow down and stay a while.
My beautiful friend was tired. So, so tired. Which, although I don’t have little ones of my own, I understand is part of the deal with a newborn baby.
This, however, felt a bit different than your run-of-the-mill sleep deprivation, so I got her settled on the couch, lit a candle, made some tea, and opened a bar of chocolate I’d brought for the occasion.
Three hours later we’d just scratched the surface on her immense stress, guilt and shame around trying to navigate being a new mother and having no guide book. From feeling like her sole purpose was pumping out a baby at the hospital to only learning that she had struggles breastfeeding when her newborn started shrinking, the pressure and strain was palatable.
I felt entirely helpless and useless. Although she held her signature dry-eyed brave face and joked about learning to mom with the help of Google, I could tell she was entirely overwhelmed.
Did I also mention her partner had just gone back to work? So not only was she frantically trying to keep her head above water as a new mama, but she was also on deck to care for a puppy, home in mid-renovation and a freak critter infestation.
It’s moments like these are when you truly understand the backwards thinking behind no paternity leave in our country. But I digress…
Our time was up. I had to get back to responsibilities of my own and she mused that pumping in front of me may not be good for our friendship. We said our goodbyes with a bit longer hug, and I made my way out the door with the safe catch-all, “Call me if you need anything.”
I took two steps out the door, stopped and turned. “Actually, what if I came by on Monday morning. I’ll bring you your favorite Broomwagon latte with a hearty breakfast and work from your dining room table for a while. You don’t have to entertain or talk to me. I’ll just be here.”
My takeaway is that we mean well by offering to “help with anything,” but this places the burden on mama to ask for what she needs. If she is already neck deep in feelings of shame and guilt, then asking for specific help may add to the overwhelm and perceptions of failure.
As friends and family, most of us don’t have the guide book either. Especially for those of us who don’t have children of our own, we may draw a big blank when it comes to knowing what to do, but we can show up the best we know how by offering specific support .
A few ideas:
If you have the flexibility to work remotely, offer to work from your new mom’s home for a few hours - you don’t need to be entertained, but the company could help.
Does the new mom in your life have furbabies? Bring by some good distractions (rawhides or a new toy) and offer to play with or take the furchild for a walk - this may alleviate a great source of guilt for mom.
Running errands? Call up the mama in your life and tell her where you’re going (grocery store, pharmacy, etc…) and ask for a list - drop the essentials off on your way home.
Help her get out of the house. Strollers alone seem like a two-man job to me, so, even if it’s just a walk around the block, make it a team effort. Vitamin D does wonders.
Take an hour to help tidy up. Grab some Lysol wipes and go to town on the kitchen and bathrooms. If mom feels bad about that, give her a big squeeze, tell her you love her and order her to go relax on the couch.
Step in as Mom’s executive assistant for a couple hours. Schedule the lawn care service, place the Amazon Prime order, book her a hair appointment and massage…
Bring MOM a care package. I don’t know much, but I do know with a new baby that mom can quickly go on the backburner, so bundle up some love just for mama - a scrumptious candle, delightful facemask, chocolate-covered espresso beans… The point of this is to show mama that you still see her and she deserves to be cared for too.
If you get that gut feeling that the mama in your life is in a dark place and needs more than a hand here and there, take her to one of our peer-led support group meetings.
What are some of your go-to’s for offering specific help to the mama in your life? Or, as a mom, what were some of the best ways your friends offered to help you?