There’s nothing like a newborn! That soft head of hair peeking out of a receiving blanket. The peaceful breathing through parted heart-shaped lips. The smell we all know and love – the one we all associate with a brand new baby. The soft breath on you neck when you cuddle the warm bundle. The froggie sleeping position on your chest…who can resist and not feel broody?
When my both girls were born, people offered to help – both family, friends and acquaintances. When my second daughter was born, offers came thick and fast from everyone! My dad is a pastor and he and my mom, who live less than a kilometre down the road from us, left to go on sabbatical a month after my second daughter was born. So you can only imagine how many people have approached me! And it means a lot!
But, no matter how desperate I got, I battled to call anyone. Because, let’s be honest, are people really prepared to drop everything at a moment’s notice to come and rescue your child from you and to keep you from going insane at 11:45pm? There is no ways I’d phone anyone so late at night. I’ve had many, many moments when I feel as if I just can’t carry on and yet, I can’t bring myself to call anyone at that time. And, the people who you would actually call are probably friends your age who also have children and can’t just pick up and leave. Otherwise, the other people who are available often have some well-meaning advice or tips to share that really aren’t helpful to hear. Or, even worse, they make an insensitive comment that makes you feel like you really don’t have a clue what you’re doing and it makes you question your ability and discernment as a mother. In fact, in that moment, all you need is a hug, to be told that it’s okay to feel like this, to be encouraged that you are doing your best, to be made a cup of tea and sent off to drink it with free arms and silence.
This is a time when you don’t need more advice unless it’s asked for. Believe me, the world is saturated with parenting advice. You’re already drowning amongst the thousands of opinions of ways to bring up children. To feed on demand or not. To “wear” your baby or to train them to sleep on their own. To rock to sleep, to feed to sleep, to shove a dummy in and walk away or to cry it out. To smack or not to smack. To use a dummy or not to use a dummy. To give solids at 4 months or at 6 months. To give rice cereal or not to give rice cereal. It’s horribly confusing! You don’t need more “sage words”. And the last thing you need is judgement. The weight you are carrying is already sinking you into the ground! And if that’s not enough, you feel guilty for complaining because there are so many people out there who can’t have children, who “don’t have the finances to afford them” and people who are bringing their children up in poverty. So instead, you keep it inside, smothered under a layer of guilt.
None of the what I say below is to criticise anyone who has tried to help me and really means what they say or what they offer to do. But let me tell you, if you really want to help, I believe that these are ways that will make such a difference in the first weeks, which are already hard, that much easier! Hope this is helpful!
So, here’s my advice to those reading…
1. Listen and Sympathise
When a mommy feels this low, she needs to know that she’s doing the best she can despite what she may feel and that it’s okay not to cope some days. That it’s okay to ask for help. And that she doesn’t need to do it alone. Don’t pass judgement even in your head because I can feel it. Just hug me, hold me if I cry and listen to me as I get it all off my chest. Because sometimes, that’s enough to make me feel like I’ve been to therapy.
2. Offer Practical Help
She needs specific offers like, “Can I come over to help you at bath time or supper time?”, “Can I come to your home to hold your baby so that you can go to the shops on your own?” Can I come over during arsenic hour to walk around the garden with your baby so that you can eat dinner?” “I’d love to wash your dishes. When does it suit you for me to help you?” This past week offered to come over and clean my house! That’s what I needed! And, although I appreciate a, “Call me if you need me,” it is SO hard to pick up that phone because you weren’t specific about when I could call you and what you would honestly be willing to do.
3. What to Say and What Not to Say
If you’re going to talk, make sure that your words are measured, few and encouraging. I don’t doubt that everyone who tries to comfort or offer something they believe is helpful, means well. I really know that they do. But, if you have something to say, first check your words and make sure that your comment may not come across as insensitive. Don’t tell me, “I would have loved it if my child screamed like yours! Mine sounded like a banshee! Yours is quiet in comparison.” Instead, say, “It’s awful when they scream! I’m sorry you’re battling.” Don’t say, “There are many worse cases out there.” Instead, say, “It’s really hard, hey? I’m sorry you feel you’re not coping.” Don’t say, “Ah, but I never hear your child crying. He’s always so happy when I see him.” Instead, say, “It’s so frustrating when they give off good impressions when others are around.” When you say hurtful and insensitive things, it feels as though everything that I say is discredited by you. And then, I don’t want to say anything. Instead, I bottle it up and choose not to open up to anyone for fear of being hurt again. If you are going to speak, don’t tell me to, “Enjoy every moment,” or that “This too shall pass,” or “Everyone has managed,” because at this very moment, it doesn’t help! I would love to enjoy every moment but when my child is screaming blue murder and has been for the last hour or five, it’s hard to put that into practice! I know it will pass. But that’s hours, days, weeks, months from now and, right now, I don’t know if I can do another 30 seconds of motherhood! I know everyone has managed. The proof is that there are children alive older than the age of one. But, it doesn’t make it any easier to cope now! Instead, offer compassion and sympathy. Empathise and acknowledge it’s hard. Don’t take it a step further. Just acknowledge that it’s tough. That’s all.
4. Check In
We all know the hype dies down and, when it does, that’s when the going gets tough. A few weeks in is probably when you’re at your lowest. Sometimes people don’t get in contact to give a new mom space. But that’s probably when they need the most encouragement, support and love. A kind message, an encouraging word, a verse, an offer to help or to pop in at the shops – all these things go a long way to keep a new mommy pushing through each day. I still have a friend who messages to say, “I’m going into town. Do you need anything?” And even if I don’t, I know she’s thought about me and remembers me.
5. “What suits you?”
Maybe I’m a mom who’s too rigid in her routine. I definitely am the one most bound to my idea of what should happen when. But I can’t tell you how helpful it is when people ask, “What suits you?” Obviously I can’t expect everyone to dance to my tune. But, when people say, “Where would you like to meet? I know it’s probably nap time…” or “What time of the day is best for you?” it goes a long way to know that you know it’s hard to make a new baby understand that he/she needs to wake up at a certain time or feed before an appointment. And, guaranteed, the day you have something planned, they will sleep in later, feed earlier, throw up everywhere or have a “poonami” as you walk out the door. And, when you’re already stressed that you’re not there on time, it’s really hurtful to be reminded that you’ve inconvenienced everyone. It’s something you’re already painfully aware of. It’s so appreciated when you’ve done you’re best to get somewhere on time but haven’t managed, for someone to say, “PLEASE don’t stress!” Or, even worse, you’ve had to cancel or delay an appointment because it’s the first good sleep your baby has had all day, for someone to say, “Don’t worry! We all know what it’s like! I completely understand!”
An extra help to a C-section mommy
Please don’t put pressure on her to recover. Everyone’s bodies do their own thing. Every woman has a different pain threshold. Everyone responds to anaesthetic and drugs differently. No one heals in the same way. (You’ll see what I mean if you read Dear C-section Mom). So, if she decides to drive after two weeks or six, if she battles to get up to open the door or to sort out her toddler, it is SO helpful to have help for a few hours each day, at least for the first few weeks. My friends and I were all sitting at the park one day as I was talking about when my husband should take his three-day paternity leave and they all told me that he should take it while I was in hospital to keep my toddler’s routine the same and that they would take shifts to come and entertain and help my toddler when I came home. At first, I felt bad taking them up on the offer. But when I saw just how genuine they were, I did just that. And, between them, my mom and my mom-in-law, I had someone with me for the first two weeks! Blessed, I know! Very few mommies have this luxury but, if they had a genuine offer, I’m sure they would accept it without blinking! I cannot tell you how much it helped me!!!
Thank you to all those who have done their utmost to help me and already have! You know who you are!Tags: baby, help, mommyhood, motherhood, new baby, newborn, offer, offering, parenthood, parenting, parents