You know, when I look back at the first three months of my daughter’s life, I think the hardest part of being a brand new mom was that I just had too much help.
Too many people brought us our favorite meals and held our baby so we could eat it while it was still hot. Too many friends dropped off iced coffee, snacks, and wine. There just weren’t enough clothes to fold or dishes to wash or put away to fill all the hands that were willing to do the work. I took too many hot showers and naps and trips to the grocery store alone….
…said no mom ever.
The hardest part of being a new mom, for me, wasn’t the sobbing in the shower and watching both the love and grief overflowing from my eyes disappearing down the drain. It wasn’t the lack of sleep, the endless diaper changes, the incision scar from the unexpected C-section or the piercing wails that alarmed me day and night.
Far and away, the hardest part of new motherhood was how suddenly I became invisible. While I was consumed with meeting the needs of this tiny person I’d only just met, many of my own needs went unseen and unmet, even with a supportive community of friends and family within reach.
Does that make me sound needy? Maybe. Do I care? Absolutely not. Do you know what’s really needy? A newborn. Do you know who’s primarily responsible for keeping that newborn alive? The Mother — and we mothers have needs, too. We, the mothers, still need to be nourished and tended to as we nourish and tend to another (or many others).
Moms are more supported now than ever in a lot of ways. Culturally, we’re having fruitful conversations about the importance of families and I truly believe we’re moving in the right direction toward a society that values family and proves it by providing resources that families need to thrive.
Still, there are some really practical things we can do to love the new moms right in front of us a little bit (or a lot) better. Here are some ideas to get started.
Start before baby comes
While I was still pregnant, one of my friends asked me to make a list of ways people could help us in those bleary-eyed early days of parenthood. While we still had brain cells to spare, my husband and I typed up our orders from our favorite take-out places, our favorite snacks from Trader Joe’s, and coffee order from Starbucks.
Having the permission to ask for what we need is so important in a season when most people are offering help, but not always in ways that meet our actual needs as new moms.
See the whole woman underneath the spit-up covered t-shirt
Well-meaning people sent bows and teddy bears and teething bibs. They showed up with silver picture frames and board books and rompers. They held Lucy and told me over and over how beautiful she is, how identical she was to a porcelain doll. In those early days, everyone is looking at, talking about, and bringing things for the baby, because babies are cute and exciting and oh-so-snuggly.
While we may not be exciting or snuggly and we’re definitely not very cute, mothers need love, too. Mothering a newborn is so physically consuming — pregnancy and delivery are only the warmups. Our bodies are recovering from birth while adjusting to a sudden and dramatic hormonal shift. We’re navigating nursing or pumping or bottle-feeding or a combination of all of the above. We’re covered in spit-up and poop and yet somewhere underneath our new identity as mothers we still exist as people with interests beyond the cycle of feedings, diaper changes, and sleep. Showing up with a coffee and pastry from that place you know we love may seem small, but it is a subtle yet powerful reminder that we are seen and loved.
We still have interests and hobbies. We didn’t stop loving Big Little Lies or margaritas or reading a novel alone on the couch. We’re still women and dreamers and friends and wives and we need you to see that about us because some days we’re unrecognizable to ourselves underneath spit-up crusted t-shirts and sleepless raccoon eyes.
Bring a meal you know she will love
There are meals in my freezer that I will never eat — meals I am now pawning off on my poor, starving, early-20-something siblings; meals that are currently taking up residence in our deep freezer, buried under bags of frozen breast milk.
I don’t say this to sound ungrateful, but rather to assist anyone who wants to be helpful. Before you put the time and care into crafting a meal for new parents, maybe make sure it’s something they’re not going to shove in the bottom of their freezer and forget about until they move out or Jesus comes again.
Also, if you don’t cook, bring take out. Everyone wins with this one because you get to hold the baby and she can eat her food while it’s still hot for once.
The other day a friend stopped by to drop off a board game she borrowed. She sat down on the couch and started talking about a potentially major life change coming up for her and as we chatted, she reached her hand into the basket of clean laundry on the coffee table and started folding.
She didn’t ask, she didn’t make a show of it, she didn’t give me time to tell her not to bother. She just started folding. She saw my larger-than-life-ultra-high-waisted postpartum underwear and just started folding.
My mom always leaves my kitchen sparkling when she comes over. She doesn’t ask for permission. She doesn’t give me room to say, “No, it’s fine, really.” She just does it.
My village shows up, rolls up their sleeves, and gets to work. “But that seems so intrusive,” you might be thinking. I’ll tell you what’s intrusive: childbirth is intrusive. Never once has a mother told me to stop loading her dishwasher or folding her laundry, and I have yet to deny the same help. If you can push past your own discomfort, I can almost guarantee the new mom in your life will thank you for it.
Don’t forget about her
Everyone wants to come over during the first six weeks. Then pretty quickly, people stop showing up and checking in. While I welcomed the quiet, snuggly days getting to know my daughter, I would have given anything for someone to fold laundry while I took a nap, or drop off an iced coffee on the front porch without wanting to come in and chat. Shoot, I still would!
Motherhood doesn’t stop being hard after the first six weeks. Mothers don’t stop needing help after the “Welcome Baby Girl” balloon sits lifeless and deflated.
We still need you to see us and show up for us. We need you to respond to our texts when we ask for your help, even when the answer is, “No, sorry!” Or “I can’t today.” It takes an immense amount of vulnerability for us to ask for help.
Picking up an order from Target may seem like a small thing to you, but to her, it’s an hour snuggling with her baby instead of changing clothes for the third time today and packing the baby up for what used to be a simple errand but now seems to fill the entire afternoon. In short, what seems insignificant to you means everything to her.
On the day she gave birth to her child, a mother was born, too. She is just as new and in need of love as her child. While everyone else is reaching for the baby, reach out toward the mother. The mother is prepared to do the work of caring for her child. It is our job to show up and do the work of caring for her.