As a new mother, I had a knack for giving the impression that I didn’t need help.
My village lives on the other side of the globe, so it was borne out of necessity, but I wonder if it was more than that. As new (or not so new) mothers, I wonder if we feel as though we’re letting ourselves down if we show that we’re vulnerable. Are we falling short if we admit that we simply can’t do this alone?
That we have one hairy leg because our survival strategies have devolved into shaving one leg one day, and the other the next. And we forgot the second leg…for a week. That we eat breakfast for dinner on a semi-regular basis. And that if one more well-meaning person tells us (as if we’ve forgotten) that we really need to take care of ourselves, we’ll scream.
Because, before becoming mothers we were used to feeling productive. To meeting deadlines. To getting the job done and feeling like a valued team member.
But motherhood shatters that reality. And although it’s bittersweet, thank goodness it does. It softens us. Slows us down. Stops the treadmill of a results driven society, forcing us to reassess what we truly value in this one short life of ours. As parents, we need to redefine success in the context of a journey, with a destination we will never see.
Our work as mothers will simply never be ‘done’.
Brave women have gone before us to fight for gender equality. The lines of parenthood are beautifully blurring as men take on roles that their fathers and grandfathers considered to be women’s work. But, in the early days of motherhood, there is simply no escaping the fact that it’s all about mum.
Mum is comfort. Mum is nourishment. Mum is sleep. Mum is warmth. Mum is home. And mum is exhausted.
But, mum may feel guilty for asking for help. She may feel like she should be able to handle this. Maybe she imagined when she was pregnant, that there would be hours upon hours of blissful naps that she could use to clean the house from top to bottom and have a piping hot dinner on the table for her husband at 5:30pm every night like it’s 1953.
But, this is far from reality.
So, when she’s still in her pyjamas at 4pm for the third day in a row, smelling of milk with a baby who has been nursing and napping (on her) for an hour and a half, her electronic lifeline has 3% charge left and her water bottle is empty she needs someone to take care of her. To truly see her.
A new mama needs a fairy godmother, every once in a while, to take care of her so she can feel free to focus her attention on her baby. To slowly find her new normal. To metamorphose. To bond with her baby. To reconcile that life, while richer beyond her wildest imagination, will never be the same again. To revel in the unique, yet fleeting magic, that is new motherhood, complete with all its ups and downs.
So, here are half a dozen ways to help a new mama in your life, in case she (like me) can’t ask herself.
1. The gift of permission
New mothers need permission, freedom and space to find their new identity. To wear it proudly and to forge their own path, no matter how long it takes. To change their minds. To try one way of doing things and know its ok to change direction without needing to offer an explanation.
Resist the cultural urge to ask her if she has a “good” baby. Don’t ask her if her baby is sleeping through the night. In short, don’t ask questions that may inadvertently leave her feeling like a failure. Leave personal agendas and expectations at the door. She may parent differently to the way you did, and that may be challenging when she’s your daughter, but this is her motherhood to define.
Be humble, curious and courageous enough to support her on her journey, no matter how different it may look to the one you chose.
2. Just do it (you don’t need to ask)
It’s safe to assume a new mother is always hungry, thirsty and tired. She’s beyond sleep deprived, suffering from decision fatigue and doesn’t want to feel like a burden, so just do it, without asking.
Bring her a takeout coffee – connect her with the outside world through a paper cup and help her feel normal and pampered. Empty the dishwasher. Surprise her with Lansinoh, her favourite chocolate and Mother’s Milk Tea. Load her freezer with ready meals. Walk the dog. Brush the cat. Remake her bed with fresh sheets. Take out the trash. And always make her a little something before you leave.
(If you live on the other side of the world – order fresh groceries to be delivered, her favourite takeout for dinner or arrange a house clean. The internet makes anything possible).
3. Adjust to and respect her timeframe
Elizabeth Stone once said, “Making the decision to have a child – it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking outside your body.” Every new mother understands the truth in this statement. Our babies may have entered this world but they still feel like a part of our physical being in the most literal of senses.
This is normal. This is healthy. This is the “chemistry of attachment” at work. New mothers experience a flood of hormonal changes that are designed to prime her ability to be uniquely responsive to her baby. Let this critical process take place. Let her be with her baby as much as she needs to be. Don’t rush her.
Bear witness to the beauty of this ancient maternal slow dance, as she falls in love in a way she has never known.
4. Squeeze some lemons
For years I’ve squeezed a lemon to sip with warm water first thing every morning. It sounds simple enough but with a baby my morning ritual became a logistical nightmare. As new mothers, it’s often these simple pleasures of our old life that we miss the most.
So, what is your new mama’s metaphorical lemon juice? What is one simple thing that’s important to her? Her tiny symbol of self-care that makes her feel like her? Find out what it is, squeeze a bunch of lemons and help keep a little of her old world in her new. Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference.
5. Notice her
Babies are super cute. They’re soft and cuddly. And they’re the first thing everyone notices. People can’t help it! I get it. I’m the same.
But, when mothers consistently feel like the encore it hurts a little. We feel invisible. My family used to lose their minds over our baby and it made me so happy, but when it took minutes for them to even say hello to me, in person or on FaceTime, it kinda hurt.
So, make a big deal of the baby, but remember to notice her. Say hello to her. She’s a mum now, but she’s still an individual. Give her a hug. And most importantly, check in with how she’s doing. Motherhood is beautiful but brutal; there isn’t a new mother on the planet who doesn’t need a shoulder to cry on.
Let her be real, honest and authentic. Be there for her and…
6. Remind her how well she’s doing
Without a doubt the best words my husband said to me as a new mother were, “You’re an amazing mum”. (Closely followed by, “I’ve ordered takeout for dinner”). His words always made me smile. No matter how rough a day I was having, those words felt like gifts. They were the emotional fuel I needed to dig deeper and keep going.
Because, in the early days of motherhood there is very little feedback, very little validation that we’ve got this. That even though we have no idea what we’re doing, we’re somehow getting it perfectly right. So, whenever you see a new mama, tell her what a great job she’s doing. Or send her a text. Remind her that her baby is so happy, so loved, so healthy – and it’s all because of her.
What would you add to this list? What is the smallest gesture that has had the biggest impact for you as a new mother?