I always wanted to be a mom. I honestly don’t remember a time when I didn’t look forward to starting a family. I had a good example in my own mother, loved babies, and enjoyed babysitting other people’s children. When my husband and I decided to start trying, I was ready.
Or at least I thought I was.
Even with all of that preparation and lifelong desire, new motherhood hit me like a freight train. The sleep deprivation alone felt like more than I could handle. The emotional weight of holding someone’s entire life in my hands floored me. The sudden identity shift from independent woman to this precious soul’s mommy left me reeling.
And that’s not even touching the upheaval of my body, the recovery from growing and birthing a whole human being, and the trying to figure out how to feed and keep alive said human.
I was lucky in that I had an incredible support system between my mother, mother-in-law, sisters-in-law, friends, and a wonderful hubby. My mom was a labor and delivery nurse and certified lactation consultant and stayed with me for two weeks. I had every bit of emotional and logistical support I could have asked for.
And it was still really freaking hard.
Adding a baby to your life is like no other life experience. It’s wonderful and joyful and magical and all of that goodness, but it’s also taxing and exhausting and confusing and a lot of other awfulness. And there’s no way to prepare for all of those things.
We need to stop acting as if new moms need to be prepared. A new mom doesn’t need preparation; she needs triage in the trenches in real-time. She needs house calls which involve no stress or work on her part, just someone to hold her baby and chat while she folds laundry (or fold her laundry and chat while she holds the baby). She needs someone to tell her that her feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty and insane exhaustion are normal. She needs someone to bring her a warm meal.
A new mom needs to be showered, not so much with baby gifts or gear, but with solidarity and support.
She needs other moms who have been where she is to look right into her unshowered face and tell her that she’s not alone.
She needs to know that she’s entered a whole new world of extreme emotions, from indescribable highs to almost unbearable lows, and that that roller coaster is a normal part of parenthood.
She needs any amount of sleep that you can offer her.
She needs someone to help her figure out how to logistically and emotionally navigate this new terrain, and to help her understand that that terrain will continually change from here on out.
She needs to be told that she has the ability to roll with those changes and that it’s okay to feel terrified sometimes.
She needs the proverbial village we all talk about but frequently fail to create.
It’s been 16 years since my first baby was born, and eight years since my last. It’s easy for us moms who are immersed in big-kid life to forget how overwhelming those first weeks and months (and sometimes years) can be. We tend to see a newborn baby as a sweet and nostalgic reminder of the miracle of life and of simpler days. But we forget that simple doesn’t mean easy.
I mean, technically, running a marathon is simple: You just start running and don’t stop for 26.2 miles, right? But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Same deal with having a newborn. Feed, change, rock, repeat — all pretty simple on paper. But the reality of it is so much more than that. The challenge of it needs to be acknowledged, and new moms need hands-on support to lift them through it.
If you know a mom with a new baby, offer her words of encouragement and pick up some groceries for her. Tell her you don’t care what her house looks like or if she hasn’t showered in three days, and that you will come hold her baby for a couple of hours while she rests.
Don’t wait for her to ask because she likely won’t. In fact, you’ll probably have to convince her. We all want to feel like we can do it all, and many new moms are in such a daze that they don’t always know what they need. Or they are too exhausted to articulate their needs.
They need our honesty, our solidarity, our willingness to help with housework, and our willingness to listen without judgment. They need us to show up. They need to know that they can fall apart if they need to, that they can gush about this all-consuming new love that just landed in their lap, that they can feel whatever they feel without shame or guilt.
New moms need support. Let’s not hesitate to give it to them.