Having a baby can be one of the happiest, most exciting, and joyous times of your life. Bringing a new baby home also has the unique ability to simultaneously be the most stress-inducing, isolating, and overwhelming experience you can put yourself through. It’s easy to see why so many women end up suffering from postpartum depression. There are so many demands put on a new mother. SO many things change, all at once and the expectation is that, in the end, you figure it out. You learn how to be the caretaker for this precious new person who needs you for everything. You learn to live on three hours’ sleep. You learn how to make dinners one-handed, to combine folding laundry with playing peek-a-boo, and to fit in diapers and bath times, nap times and doctors appointments into your already crowded schedule. In the end, you figure it out. It becomes your routine. In the end, it’s wonderful. But all along this road to wonderful, it’s exhausting.
This week, I had the pleasure of visiting with a friend who just welcomed twin baby boys into her family. After a three week stay in the NICU, these sweet, tiny bundles had just come home and were keeping their mama up at all hours of the night, leaving her feeling depleted. The demands of nursing and caring for infant twins along with keeping her two and a half year old entertained ALL DAY LONG was proving to be an exhausting chore. Her husband was unable to take off much time from work, leaving her doing double duty at home. I read her facebook posts that shed some light on the tired, lonely state that she was in and knew that I should lend a hand and a little love. So, after dropping off my big kids at school on Thursday, I headed to the grocery store with my little girls and purchased enough food to make about 15 nights’ worth of dinners. Then, I breezed into the new family’s home and turned the kitchen into a batch cooking extravaganza, (think…Kelly Guertin style.) When I was through prepping meals, I took her excited 2 1/2 year old with me to pick up Madelyn from school and to the playground. I was able to bring her home a few hours later to a more relaxed mama who had gotten a bit of sleep, a few minutes to read a book, and a new outlook that everything was going to be okay. Driving away, I felt accomplished–like I had given them a leg up on the next few weeks. The ladies in my mom’s group had done meal deliveries and taken my older kids on special dates when Lily was born, and that outpouring of support was invaluable in helping our family adjust. I was happy to be able to pay it forward.
I think if you can get through that first month, the month when everything is so strikingly new and different, motherhood is an incredible gift to be cherished. The hardest part is getting to that place where everything becomes like second nature. The perception is that, after delivering a baby, this motherhood switch is flipped and you will just know what comes next. I can distinctly remember my husband handing me our first born child every time he cried, saying “Oh, looks like he wants his mommy…” until I tearfully screamed back, “Do you REALLY think that I know how to do this any better than you do? Maybe he’s crying because he’s a baby and babies CRY!”…Then, we were able to sit down and have a candid conversation about how this was new and scary for us both, but that we were going to get through it together. Not my finest moment, but we eventually did get it, we figured it out, and we were able to balance the responsibilities of parenthood in such a way that most things in our house work like clockwork these days.
It’s hard to know how to help someone in those early days. There are so many rules, spoken and unspoken, that govern the time that new parents are spending under their roof with their brand new baby. How long to stay, what to bring, when to visit, who is welcome. It’s also hard to ask for help, as if admitting that you are unable to do it all is some reflection on how you are handling your parental responsibilities. Somewhere in the middle, there’s a place where the needs of a new mom and the support of friends and well wishers can meet. I find that food is always welcome, as is the care of older children who may be in need of a little extra attention. How do you help the new mothers in your life as they adjust to new motherhood? Did you have your own guidelines and rules of engagement when you brought your new baby home?