On Monday, November 26 we welcomed sweet Hadley Jayne to our family (pictures credited to Erin Rachel Photography). We are over the moon excited and couldn’t be happier about this new squishy addition. She is 6 pounds of pure joy. She is everything that gives moms baby fever: small, angelic and a reminder of the miracle that is new life. As I write this, she is fast asleep on my chest. Ironically, it is this very moment that I will mourn in a couple of months. It is this very day that will likely leave me pleading with the husband to go for a third. As a second time mom, I know that I will desperately miss these leisurely days (yes, I said leisurely – after having a toddler, newborns are indeed leisurely) of Hadley napping quietly on my chest. We have nowhere to go and nothing to do but enjoy each other. In theory, life is blissful and perfect. (It should be noted that the toddler is at school until it lets out for the holidays!)
BUT – as any mom knows – Hadley also has a LOT of needs. As Jennifer bravely shared last week, a newborn’s needs can often become terrifying and overwhelming. In some cases, mothers experience debilitating emotions and professional attention is warranted. But I don’t know any mom that doesn’t feel overwhelmed at some point during these precious early days. It’s almost a cruel joke; we long and pray for a baby, we avoid deli meat and caffeine for 10 long months, and then when the blissful moment comes that they join our family, we are unable to fully enjoy it because we are tired and on an emotional roller coaster. But was it always this way?
The Importance of a Modern Day “Village”
A friend recently sent me this blog post – Why You’re Never Failing as a Mother – that I thought was simply brilliant. Times have changed. As modern day women and moms, we are expected to do it all. For those of us who work full-time, we are asked to go back to work and leave our precious little ones with caregivers at an extremely young age. Maternity leave in this country – in my very humble opinion – is entirely too short. Modern day mothering is hard. Granted, I don’t have anything to compare it to BUT I can say definitively that my instinct right now is to go into hibernation for as long as possible. Ideally, I’d be able to bring breastfeeding experts with me, as well as my closest friends. We’d share in the responsibilities of cooking and cleaning our modern day postpartum hut, and we’d discipline each other’s toddlers when we didn’t have the patience to do so ourselves. We wouldn’t be worried about getting the toddler to and from his preschool program or keeping up with email or figuring out which playmat will lead to optimal brain development or designing a newborn announcement. We’d be able to simply focus on caring for our little one in a nurturing, supportive environment with little distraction from the outside world. Sounds kind of nice, right? But, in my experience, modern day moms get thrust back into the hustle and bustle before they even leave the hospital.
My Personal Village
I am extremely lucky to have a village that I am proud of. We are in a Sunday school class focused on parenting, and the families involved are simply amazing; I know that I can count on them for prayer, spiritual guidance and practical parenting advice. My parents also live a mere mile away and have always dropped everything for us. After keeping Thatcher for two nights while we were at the hospital, it was my mom that I called at 10:15pm, full well knowing that she was exhausted. We needed to take Hadley to Chidlren’s Hospital on our first night home due to a spit up scare that has since resolved itself, and I was grateful that my mom was a phone call away. And then there’s the moms in our playgroup with whom I text or email hourly. Yes, I said hourly. About the mundane, serious, funny and trying moments from our day. These women keep me sane and laughing. I also have several friends who are inspirational mothers to me but live in other cities; in those cases I am simply grateful for Facebook and email and texting because I can stay in touch and draw support from them as needed. And, my husband’s family lives in New Orleans as well. This is my personal village and my source of daily strength, humor, advice and support. I feel incredibly, incredibly lucky and blessed.
But even with what I’d consider a fairly sizable and dependable village, it’s not the same as “the way things used to be.” And since we sadly can’t sit around in postpartum huts together, I’ve compiled a list of easy ways to create a village for the new moms in your life. I should also note that it doesn’t matter whether they are first, second or fifth time moms. Newborns are a lot of work, and moms need support during the postpartum period regardless of whether they’ve done it before. Simply having nursed before does not necessarily mean that the next time will be “easy,” and hormones know no limits. Not to mention, newborns have no idea whether they are baby number one or six, and baby number six may have the hardest time latching or be the worst sleeper. While I do feel slightly more confident with Hadley, I am still tired, worn down and emotional. As moms, we owe it to each other to offer help and create the proverbial village that used to quite literally exist.
Practical ways to help new moms
A lot of times people will say “let me know what I can do to help.” The thing is that a new mom is very unlikely to proactively ask another mom for help because she knows just how darn hard this parenting gig is. I personally feel very guilty asking another mom for help because I tend to feel like “she has her own family to raise and doesn’t need to worry about mine.” Yet at the same time, I know that I am MORE than happy to lend a hand to a family when baby arrives. Below are some ideas on how to create a village for the other moms in your life.
- Offer to bring a meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) to the new family. My dear friend Courtney set up a meal train for us and it has been invaluable. I can’t emphasize enough how helpful it is to not have to worry about meals.
- Food of any and all kinds is always welcome to new moms, especially if they are nursing (we are ravenous beasts that know no limits when it comes to food!) One friend brought us a loaf of pound cake and another left a dozen bagels from Panera on our doorstep. Neither was planned or announced, but both have been deeply appreciated. Whether it’s freshly baked cookies or hummus and pita chips, it will be welcome.
- Call or text the new mom and say “I am headed to Target / the grocery store. What do you need?” Phrasing it this way allows the new mom to take you up on your offer because you’re headed there anyway, and it sounds less optional than “let me know how I can help.” A mom from our Sunday school class brought me Lanolin, iced coffee and a small treat for Hadley on the first morning we were home, and it was one of the kindest gestures.
- Leave a pack of newborn diapers on their porch with an encouraging note.
- Offer to come over and watch the baby so that the new mom can shower/nap/play on the internet if she desires. New moms are highly unlikely to hire a baby-sitter, but an extra set of hands around the house might be welcome. If she doesn’t feel up to it today, ask in a few days. Sometimes new moms also want to hibernate and simply be left alone, which is okay, too.
- Consider hiring a cleaning service for the family or offering to fold laundry. Again, it’s the phrasing that’s important: saying “I’d like to help you with housework (or insert any task). Is there a good time for me to come help you catch up on laundry/send a cleaning service?” is much more assertive than just saying you’d like to help. Be specific and make it non-optional!
- There are several meal delivery services in the area such as Whit’s For Dinner or DinnerBelle. Or, consider gift cards to restaurants that deliver.
- Ask her if she’d like company. She may not have the energy to leave the house but very well may be up for a visit just to feel “normal.” Bring flowers, cupcakes, nail polish or a magazine with you as a little “happy” (I am a big believer in little happys!)
- If you can swing it, perhaps join together with other moms to purchase a gift certificate for a manicure/pedicure and/or postpartum massage (NOLA Maternal Instincts is great for this!), particularly if the new mom has a birthday coming up. Or, consider this “welcome baby” philosophy gift set, which one of my mom’s friends sent me.
- Let her know that you’d like to take her out for coffee or lunch or even a walk. Fresh air and sunshine is immensely helpful, but she may not have the energy or interest in instigating plans on her own. After Thatcher was born, my mom used to come to my house and take us to lunch regularly. Another friend called or texted with offers to walk pretty much daily. All of this was super helpful in getting out and about and feeling confident enough to handle baby in public.
- If the family has a pet, offer to either walk or otherwise care for it. My brother has had our very first born, Coco, since last Monday. This is a huge luxury since we have family in town, but I honestly can’t repay him for the gift of not having to worry about the dog right now.
- Think about what the new mom loves. My mom left a bottle of wine and sushi for me, and I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I think I get my gift giving love language from her, but it just meant so much that she thought of my very favorite things.
- Call or email or text “just because.” Offer to let her vent. Or cry. Or scream. After all, if we were all living in a hut together you’d hear these things (and likely more!) anyway.