This is part two in a two-part series on success and new motherhood check out part one: tips for moms over here.
Before my daughter Avery was born just over a month ago, I had never changed a dirty diaper. Just a couple of my friends had babies, and I didn't know the first thing about what it took to feed, soothe, and tend to a small human being.
I also didn't know what a new mom needs in order to survive and thrive.
A few weeks before Avery arrived, I had lunch with Lady Project co-founder Sierra. She asked me: "So, when this baby gets here, what's the protocol? I never know the right way to support my new mom friends. Can I call you and come visit? Should I give you space and wait to hear from you?"
I couldn't really answer at the time, but now, after making it through the first few (very challenging) weeks of first-time motherhood, I've come up with a better answer.
While each new mom and baby are different, here are some general do's and don'ts for all of you out there who - beyond liking cute baby photos on Facebook - want some sense of how to be an effective and supportive friend.
1. Reach Out
Shifting from an on-the-go busy lady to being at home with a new baby was a drastic change for me - one that happened quickly and left me feeling isolated. It felt so good to hear from friends and colleagues from the outside world, and to know that Avery and I were in their thoughts.
For someone who hasn't been there, it's hard to know what exactly to say when you reach out. I didn't think about this until I was on the other (very hormonal) end of conversations and texts.
Many of my friends texted me to ask, “How are things going?” I’m sure this was their way of checking in and letting me know they were thinking of me. But I had a really hard time writing back to these texts in the beginning. It turned out that “How are things going?” was a really complicated question - one that would take all of the emoticons on my phone to answer. I didn’t want to type out the challenges and pain that I was experiencing in trying to nurse, or relate the fact that we had to bring our baby to the ER when she was just three days old, or try to explain how tired and emotional I felt.
My favorite text that I received wasn’t a question at all, but said simply: “I'm thinking about you and sending you and your family love.”
What I loved about this message was that it helped me to know that my friend had me in her thoughts. It also left it open for me to reply in any way that I was up for at the time - which could include everything from “Come visit us tonight!” to not replying at all.
An always helpful way to reach out to a new mom is: “What can I do to support you?” This is very different than saying, “Let me know if there’s something I can do.” It’s a hard thing to accept help from others, especially for us super-capable, independent women. When you ask what you can do to support me, it makes it so much easier to accept that help - it means you’re already on board to do something.
Lastly, keep inviting me to stuff. Don’t assume that just because I have a baby, I’m not able to come meet the ladies for drinks, or to your Saturday brunch. Send me a message inviting me, and let me be the one to decide whether I can make it. It’s all about priorities, and for me, right alongside taking care of my baby girl is cultivating my own interests and relationships with stellar ladies so that she’ll have tons of positive role models in her life.
2. Bring food
Feeding myself was a huge challenge in the first weeks with Avery. All focus and attention was on caring for her, and meeting my own needs was often an afterthought.
Cooking dinner is pretty much impossible, and getting lunch out of the fridge and eating before she needs me to pick her up is a rare occurrence. Most days, you'll catch me munching on whatever requires just one hand while I'm pinned to the couch, holding and nursing her with the other hand. This makes for a diet that consists mainly of goldfish crackers. (I wish I was kidding about that.)
My experienced peer mom friends totally got this. They brought dinners in disposable containers that didn't need to be returned.
If you're not much of a cook, no worries. Pick up some healthy snacks of the non-goldfish variety (granola bars, fruit cups, nuts), and I’ll love you forever.
When you drop off food, don’t expect a long visit. Hosting friends and splitting my limited, sleep-deprived attention between baby and friends was (and still is) a tall order.
3. Offer non-judgement and compassion
Before I had Avery, I had some opinions on how I would care for my baby - things around big topics like breastfeeding, bottles and pacifiers, and sleeping arrangements. If I visited another mom who made decisions other than what I considered the “right” ones, judgement often crept in.
But in reality, due to circumstances out of my control - plus the effects of sleep deprivation - many of my intentions have gone out the window in favor of choices that help me to care for myself and my family and keep my sanity on a day to day basis.
It’s really driven home for me that it’s not for any of us to judge the decisions that another parent makes, because every baby and family is different and we have no idea what it takes to make it all work in their lives.
When you ask a new mom questions about her new family life, above all: listen. Do your best to avoid the very human temptation of interjecting with your own stories.
I’ve found that storytelling and reminiscing can be unhelpful and even hurtful. If I tell you that my baby hasn’t been sleeping well for the past few nights because her tummy hurts, and you launch into a horror story about your cousin whose baby was colicky for the first eight months of his life - that’s really not helping or supporting me. In fact, it will totally freak me out. Or if I pull out Avery's pacifier and you say, "My parents never used pacifiers with us kids," it might make me feel totally judged.
It’s perfectly natural to relate to another person by telling a story that comes to mind about something like a pacifier. But before you share, take a beat and think about how helpful the story will be to the new mom.
No matter what’s going on for the new mom - whether everything is going according to plan or unexpected challenges and turns have come up - offer your compassion.
The demands of such a big life change have ranged from joy and wonder to emotional and draining for me. I’m feeling judged by the expectations that I’ve set for myself, and the ones that seem to be floating out there as the definition of a “good mom.” I am so grateful to my friends who have listened as I’ve processed all of these changes, offered their compassion, and encouraged me to have some self-compassion, too.
To all of you moms out there: What were some key ways to support you in those early days?