Photography by Logan Potterf
In a perfect world, this post wouldn’t exist. Because built into the fabric of life, our culture would have an understanding of how to love and care for new mothers. I have written about my own experience postpartum here. Obviously if I figured out what saved me, there was something I needed saving FROM. It is unbelievable how many mamas responded to what I wrote: Yes, that was my experience too. I realize that the problem isn’t that we as new mothers are incapable of coping. It’s that our culture is not designed as a place where new mothers feel welcomed, cared for or understood.
Let’s change that. Let’s start talking about what we can do to make a new mother’s experience as rich, peaceful, and supported as what she deserves. More than anything I want to hear YOUR words: What you think, what you need, and what we can all do in the lives of the new mamas we know to make their load a little lighter.
I’ll start here.
Yes, a new family is often inundated with new visitors in the first few weeks of their baby’s life. But something happens between weeks 4 and 6, and lasts for quite a bit longer after that: the visits dry up. A new mama goes from hauling her swollen ankles around her kitchen washing dishes from unexpected visitors to spending large swaths of time … completely alone (WITH A NEWBORN). Most people aren’t accustomed to being alone, let alone caring for a newborn at the same time. Do your new mama a favor (especially after the first exciting month of her baby’s life): Go visit her. Make her tea, give her the biggest hug, and let her show off her gorgeous baby. Let her brag, let her vent, maybe let her cry. Don’t just tell her that you’re there for her … SHOW HER that you’re there for her.
And while you’re at it:
LEND A HAND.
If you see a surface that needs cleaning, clean it. If you see a sink full of dishes, do them. If the trash is overflowing, take it out. If the dog needs walking …. you get it. A first-time mama is up to her eyeballs in love, in terror, in sleep exhaustion, and all the overwhelming physical emotions that come from not only recovering from birth, but learning to care for a tiny human life. It’s incredible how strong women are! But sometimes we aren’t as strong as we act.
I already wrote a whole piece about this: but it’s so important that it bears repeating. If you want to show your love for a new family, just cook for them. The way to a new mama’s heart is truly through her stomach. Please and thank you.
BE OK WITH HER BOOBS.
Friends, it is so freaking hard to learn how to breastfeed! Milk supply, engorgement, sore nipples, cluster-feeding, over-active milk supply, night feeds, reverse cycling, oh sweet Jesus the list goes on and on. The cure for most of these problems is patience, and practice. Her baby’s life and health depend on his access to her boobs. Don’t make her hide in a closet, bathroom or dark room to breastfeed her baby when he needs to eat. Don’t give her crap for not putting a blanket over her baby’s head when he needs to nurse. She just wants to look into his eyes. If you want to love her, then get past your own issues. Her boobs have nothing to do with you.
DON’T JUDGE HER.
To me, criticizing another mother for letting her kid cry or not letting her kid cry, for breastfeeding too briefly or too long or not at all, for putting her kid in time out, letting him eat this, dressing her in that, or birthing in a way that would have made me uncomfortable—to do any of these things would be like critiquing someone for her hair moving out of place while she was being eaten by wolves.
That is not what I want to do. I want to say, “Hey, Mama! You looked like a badass bitch taking on those wolves!” And “Aren’t these wolves crazy?!” And “Tell me how you’re surviving these wolf attacks.” And then I want to hug her, and tell her she’s doing amazing, and that I’m proud of her.
Not to be extreme, but there seriously are days just like that. Motherhood is beautiful, but sometimes, like my friend Alison says, it feels like getting pecked to death by chickens.
TELL HER SHE’S BEAUTIFUL.
(After you read this.)
I once told one of my patients, “You’re going to be such a great mama.” I will always regret having said that. From that day on, I always say, “You ARE such a great mama.” Because even if she just gave birth five minutes ago, she already is. And she needs to hear it.