Tips for Loving a New Mama
Maybe it's because 2020 has been the year for babies in my circle, or maybe it's because postpartum care and mental health have come up a lot lately.
But regardless, I've been thinking a lot about the metamorphosis called motherhood, and those crazy, messy, newborn days that have been some of the best of my life.
Shauna Niequist put it so beautifully in her book Cold Tangerines:
"I think babies really do make you believe in God. They make you believe in God because there's something just beyond understanding about their freshness and fragility and their smell and their toes. When they take their first breaths, and when they land, floppy and slippery, on your chest under the bright overhead light in an otherwise dim delivery room, when you watch their tiny sleeping selves, when you hear their thin wild animal cries, you know, you just know in your gut that God is real."
Another thing that becomes very very real is the paradox of strength and weakness you find in yourself.
Through Sean's birth, I discovered a super strength in my mama heart that I had no idea existed. Yet in the days that followed, along with Hallelujah-Chorus-level joy, I reached new limits and felt weariness and worry I'd never experienced before.
Postpartum, especially the first time, is a chapter when you can hit all-time highs and lows, mixed with the exuberance of celebration and the gut-wrenching desire to care for baby perfectly, while still recovering yourself.
That's where community can play a vital role. Every mama is different, but I thrived on community and friendship during that time. Sometimes I needed days on end to be at home in my pjs and a simple text was enough, but other times the tangible ways people loved me meant the world.
Now let me clarify first that my intention is not to make anyone nervous about "messing up" when a friend of yours has a baby. Just showing up for her, ON HER TERMS, and sharing her joy can bless her immensely. You can always text her, regardless of whether she's ready for company.
But I hope this spark ideas in an area that can leave us uncertain!
First, I can't stress these two things enough:
Tell that mama she's doing an amazing job (because she is, even if you would do it differently)
Tell her to be patient with herself. Baby fed is best, surviving sanely is best, and remind her to give herself grace in those hazy first weeks.
Spoiler alert: she probably has all the onesies and blankets she needs after that baby shower. Scratch that - she probably has more than she'll ever need. So resist the urge (I know they're cute) and think about diapers, WIPES!, unique baby outfits, or even board books if you want to bring a post-birth baby gift. (You know me, going to give the book pitch whenever I can!)
Pick her up a coffee shop drink. Even if she's avoiding caffeine, a decaf treat will make her feel so pampered. When we had Barrett during the pandemic, the hospital didn't offer us coffee AT ALL - instead, they served canned orange juice that was beyond disgusting. So when our friends showed up with Starbucks vanilla lattes, I could have kissed them. (I didn't. Covid and all that.)
If you're feeling like splurging and you know your girlfriend's size, grab a pair of cute pjs that she can easily nurse in. Make sure you wash and dry them for her so they're ready to wear! It's amazing what a fresh change of cute clothes can do for a new mama's mental health! One thing I wasn't prepared for was how gross I would feel with all the substances - blood, sweat, milk, spit-up, more blood and sweat... you get it. I didn't mind at ALL, but hot showers and changing clothes are especially heavenly in the beginning.
Food. All the food. Lots of it. And I'm not talking casseroles for the freezer. Those are great, but in those early weeks, I mean hearty treats, because she'll be starving (she just birthed a human!) but she won't take the time to eat unless it's irresistible. Comfort food is LIFE during early postpartum. Do her a favor and only cook what you'd be excited to eat yourself. Forget the freezer at first and just spoil her. It won't hurt. Promise. (I've never known a mama to turn down restaurant takeout, either!)
My mom cleaned my house with both boys and it made a huge difference to be able to come home and focus on resting and baby snuggles. It can be uncomfortable to let people help and see your dirty dishes and fridge that hasn't been wiped out, but if she's willing, offer to do housework.
Consider a basket of goodies - some of my favorites were berry lemonade, chocolate, and a few other odds and ends like fuzzy socks, electrolyte drinks, tea, and snack bars.
She's going to feel pressure because she wants to see you and visit, but she's also running on no sleep, healing, and figuring out the baby's unpredictable schedule. It can be stressful to tell a friend to come at 10:00, only for the baby to start screaming at 9:55, putting her in the midst of the feeding process when you arrive. So be flexible, and reassure her that she's under no obligation to entertain you or let you see the baby.
This doesn't fit in every situation, but if you're close enough to the mama, offering to come hold the baby while she naps or takes a shower can mean a lot, especially if her husband has to work and she's alone.
Other tips from my Instagram friends include:
"I honestly enjoyed people leaving me alone...is that bad? Unsolicited nagging and advice is the worst." (Definitely keep that in mind and respect your friend's preferences!)
"Some gave me a huge bag of snacks! And our best friends came and cleaned our house while we were at the hospital." - K. D.
"Show up and insert yourself into that mama's environment. The need will reveal itself." - C. W.
"Bring her coffee and sit and chat without asking to hold the baby :)" - H. B.
"We went for a walk together and tackled some of the clutter that was bothering me!" - S. Y.
"The day before we came home from the hospital, my family went to our apartment and cleaned it up so beautifully. Washed all the dishes, vacuumed, folded laundry, straightened everything up. It was so peaceful and relieving to come home to such a clean place! All I had to do was chill out and cuddle with baby. And then they left little notes around addressed to the baby, just saying how excited they were to have her in our lives. It was so special, I'll treasure them forever. I'm so grateful!" - E. P.
Did I leave anything out? If you're a mama, did you like having people around during postpartum? Any tips? Share them below!