I was honored to be invited to attend the birth of my own nephew last weekend. A few of my hands-on doula skills were put to use, but my primary focus was to add love to the room where he would be born and loving my family was easy as pie. Love in a labor room can make all the difference. It was an awesome birth. The story isn't mine to tell, but I want to share that I witnessed so much strength and beauty. I watched my sister transform into a goddess, the way I watched my other sister do 3 years ago, the way I've watched many friends do, and the way all laboring women do when they are hard at the work of birth.
"If a woman doesn't look like a goddess in birth,
someone isn't treating her right."
~ Ina May Gaskin
So I will admit that in visiting my new baby nephew, I had my heart set on snuggling him a bit. It's a natural reaction to such crazy-adorable sweetness. But since my own babies were born, from the loving care we received from friends and neighbors, I've learned that there are some important things to remember when visiting a family who has just welcomed a baby. My across-the-street neighbor gave birth just a few days after my sister, and as excited as I am to meet her new little one too, we've simply dropped off food and let them know we're here for them if they need anything. Each family's needs and moods postpartum are so different, but here are some things I've found to be helpful--from my own postpartum experiences and from those I've assisted with.
Bring food. Any food, but especially food that doesn't need preparing, can be eaten with one hand while bouncing or nursing a baby, and will easily nourish the whole family. Chilis and soups, rices and pastas, even delivering a pizza or takeout Thai (um, that's for me) is so appreciated by families. Don't forget the sweets or easy breakfast fixins--muffins, lactation cookies, fresh squeezed juice. This is an easy one. Don't show up without food, just don't.
Lend a hand. Are there dishes in the sink? Do them. Is there a diaper pail or kitchen trash that needs emptying? Hop to it. Just as you shouldn't enter a new family's home without food, you shouldn't leave it empty handed. Take out the recycling, throw in a load of laundry, walk the dog, take an older child out for ice cream. If you're not sure what to do, ask.
Ask how they're feeling. Are they overwhelmed? Again, ask how you can help. Are they blissed out and enjoying being together? Great. Tell them they're doing everything right and then get out of there and let them enjoy it.
Pay attention to everyone. Does a toddler or older child need some hugs or a sibling gift? Does a pet need a rub or a game of catch? Does her partner need anything from the store? Sitting and coloring with a child whose mother has been nursing around the clock and not able to care for them as much as usual is a bigger help to a new mama than you can know.
Tell her she looks great. Especially if she doesn't. When I look at the pictures of myself in the days after Declan's birth I laugh at how crazy I look, and smile that my darling friends had such sweet things to say to me in the days after. A compliment, even if it's "You look SO HAPPY," can save a mama's day. Really.
Listen. If she wants to talk about her birth, listen without judgement. Let her tell things the way she feels they happened. Let her process. Be a witness without trying to fix things. If she wishes things went differently, don't tell her "at least everyone's healthy, that's all that matters." Everything matters to her.
Come over uninvited.
|Listen to Max. This is his serious face.|
Tell her she looks tired. She knows. If you say this you will be cursed by her entire family for days after you leave. Don't do this.
Stay too long. They love you, you're special, but the newborn and postpartum time is oh so sacred. Let them all rest and be together intimately without feeling observed or like they need to entertain you.
Ask to hold the baby. If they want you to, they'll offer. Every mama feels differently about this in the early days. Enough said.
Offer up advice about birth or breastfeeding unless you are qualified to do so as a postpartum doula or lactation counselor/consultant, or unless she asks you for your own motherhood experience. We all make different choices on this parenthood journey. Maybe afterward email her a book or a resource that helped you, the name of your favorite local lactation counselor, tell her you are here for her if she needs you, leave it at that.
An awesome homebirth midwife I know gives a flier out to her expecting mamas to put on the door after the baby is born. I feel like it's worthy of sharing and you can make your own as well, and sign it "The Midwives" or with the name of whatever your care provider is, just to make it look official.
Dear Family & Friends
This new family is very happy to see you, and needs your love and support. Please see that Mom and Baby get their rest by keeping visits short, making a meal, doing laundry, cleaning up a little, or any other things you notice need doing.
It's really wonderful to have such willing support from loving people like you.
Thank you for being here.
And I feel like we totally stayed too long at our visit on Sunday, but who could blame us.
|Guys, really, you can go. Enough pictures. I will only be getting more adorable as the days go on.|
What would you add to this list?
What was helpful to you in the early days at home with your newborn?