For the New Mamas

I’ve got a soft spot in my soul for new mothers, the first-time kind. The bewildered, shaky, anxious-ridden variety who keep one vigilant eye on the clock (when did the baby last feed?) and one distracted eye on the conversation at hand (sorry, what was that?). The ones who fear the nail clippers. The ones who still disinfect the toys. The ones prone to sweating-and-swearing as they maneuver an oversized stroller into the passenger seat of their Toyota Echo for an entire year before a gentle, seasoned mother shows her the release button that magically folds it in half, perfectly sized for a small trunk.

(Thank you, Cassie.)

I love the moms that slice the grapes into sixteenths. The moms who pray for naptime, count down the hours until naptime, dream all day for naptime, and then, when the blissful hour arrives, they find themselves enslaved to the video monitor – wide-eyed watchdogs, worrying little warriors.

To the questioners, the criers, the Googlers, the doubters: I get you. I was (am) you.

I won’t tell you it gets better, because it just gets different. You find new things to worry over, like dairy intake and ill-fitting bike helmets. Like bullies, like monsters, both real and imagined.

But I do know a few things that helped ease my mind in those early days, and a few ways other women became the salve my muddled heart needed. Behold, 5 ways to help the new mother in your life (even if it’s yourself):

  1. Offer permission.
    Write her a letter, an email, a text. Speak it to her in person. Call her on the phone (or not). Whatever the medium, offer her permission to take as much time as she needs to grow into her new role. Here’s the beautiful way my own friend gave this to me.
  2. Consider sunsets.
    I have never met a mother who did not struggle with a sunset in those bleary-eyed newborn stages. As the night darkens, her anxieties often do the same: Will the baby sleep tonight? Will I? Will nursing hurt again? Can I handle this? For how long? If you think of it, send a text of encouragement as the sun goes down, or for extra credit, show up with chips and guac.
  3. Bring nourishment.
    Vitamin B12 is a proven postpartum savior whether a new mother is battling run-of-the-mill anxieties or a deeper depression. Grab a bottle; she’ll need it. Add everyday staples: coffee, paper plates, Lansinoh cream or healthy snacks for those 3am pantry raids.
  4. Grant hope.
    Give her something to look forward to. Those early days and nights can move like syrup until suddenly, weeks have passed and she finds she hasn’t left the house. Schedule something refreshing for her, whether it’s sending her on a solo stroll through the bookstore or a matinee with her favorite folks. If you have the capacity, consider scheduling a weeknight where you’ll sleep on the sofa and wake up with her baby so she’s guaranteed one night of Zzs (my sweet friends in L.A. house swap every Thursday so the new parents get a full night’s sleep in their quiet house, and the not-yet-parents get to cuddle a baby all night!).
  5. Don’t ask.
    Two of my closest friends are brilliant in this department: when push comes to shove, they’re over with coffee and breakfast sandwiches at the ready. They don’t ask what I need, or how they can help, they just do something. Ken’s mother lives two doors down from us, so when Bee was born, she’d stop by to water the plants, play with the dogs, switch the laundry — all of the mundane tasks that go unseen, but can easily pile up. My personal favorite? Bring a fresh set of sheets to change her bedding, then finish with a spritz of lavender linen spray – both will make the most of the (little) sleep she’ll get.

Tell me, what are your favorite ways to help a new mother? I’d love to add to the list!

p.s. Of note, here’s a space for grieving parents, should you or your friend be walking a far different path. (I am so, so sorry.)

  • I love this. It brought back so many memories of the newborn days with my son, who is 4 1/2 now. And it brought tears to my eyes. I love your blog and will definitely keep this in mind with the new Moms in my life. Thank you so much for sharing with us!

  • This is so special, I always feel like you’re writing just for me. Thank you for your beautiful words, as a worried soon to be mama they are the most comforting thing to me right now.

  • I was unexpectedly overwhelmed as a new, first-time mother at 36 – I’m intelligent, I babysat, I should have this! – but no, I often felt I didn’t have a bit of it. I also lived 20 miles away from my friends and an hour away from the grandparents so those first weeks/months were a struggle. YES to all of this. YES to checking in so she (or he) has a human voice on the other end of their crazy. YES to just doing (and understand she/he/they may not be good at saying thank you in their crazy, but they thank you, they really do!). = )

    • Oh Jamie – what a hard transition that must have been! I had a very similar experience. What a gift to be able to have the perspective it takes to know where/how to help now. :)

  • Used to read your blog a while ago – exited the blogging world for a bit – just had a little one of my own five weeks ago, came back to the blogging world, and this was the first post of yours I read.

    I thought I was going to feel like I had to play catch up. Instead, this greeted me right where I am.

    Thanks Erin.

  • I’m a first-time mom of an 8 month old, and I’m still navigating my way through it. I have to say the best things my tribe has done for me is offer me a place to be real. There is never judgement when I tell them I spent the evening crying because I’m tired or because I am just so overwhelmed in love with this tiny human. They’ve shared my joys and reassured me that my lows don’t make me a bad mom. So, I guess, offer honesty and a judgement free zone for venting.

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  • Thank you so, so much for the last mention in your post. Saturday will mark a month has passed since I was in the ultrasound room being told my baby no longer had a heartbeat. It was the most difficult days of my life. I love reading posts like these, because I hope that one day I can experience in my life. But also because so many of the things you’ve mentioned are applicable to grieving parents, too – like knowing when to come over even when we don’t ask (because sometimes, we don’t, when we should), or just offering an ear or to go out for a small dinner so we’re not sitting around the house analyzing and reanalyzing every moment.

    Thanks again.

    • Miranda: I am so, so sorry. I know words likely don’t help, but sometimes a simple acknowledgement might. I’m so comforted that you felt seen here, and I’m sending prayers your way that heaps of beauty will arrive with your pain.

      Much love to you.

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