With Mother’s Day coming up next week, there are loads of blog posts and articles on Mother’s Day doing the rounds, and it’s really forced me to sit down and think about my own journey as a mom; the things that motherhood has taught me, the things I think all new moms should know, that special connection that all moms have, as well as how to help a new mom (or an ‘old’ one, for that matter!)
Funny thing is, many new moms might look at me as a relatively well-practiced mom (I know that anyone who had children aged two and older when Beanie was just a couple of months old seemed like an expert to me), but I’m only just starting to feel as though I’m coming to terms with being a mom. After four years and four months, I finally feel as though I know what I’m doing (most of the time, anyway).
There’s no denying it: being a mom is haaarrrrd. I’ve wanted to be a mom for as long as I can remember. I played dolls up until I was 15 years old, and I was broody from day one… my mom often recounts the time a three-year-old me took my baby brother out of his cot before she could get to him. And nope. I didn’t drop him. I’m a natural mother, guys! Or so I thought.
I have four younger brothers, and two of them (twins) were born when I was 16 years old. My mom had absolutely no help, so I often helped out where I could… feeding one a bottle while she was busy with the other, dressing Bryce while she bathed Byron. My cousin, Nu, was born when I was 19 years old, and I often visited my aunt and uncle and helped to look after her – taking her for a walk to the beach while my aunt got some work done, bathing her, feeding her. By the time I fell pregnant in 2012, I was convinced that motherhood would be an easy transition, because I had so much experience when compared to my peers.
Thing is, although I often felt a huge sense of responsibility when babysitting my brothers and cousin, I was never fully responsible for their wellbeing. I didn’t have crazy hormones surging through my body, resulting in crazy highs and lows. I wasn’t woken up by a screaming, ravenous baby – every hour on the hour, for weeks on end. I didn’t live in constant fear that I was somehow ruining my baby; worried sick that the fight my husband and I had just had within earshot of our baby would somehow result in psychological problems in years to come.
Being a mother is a massive responsibility. It’s scary. You don’t know what you’re doing, you feel all alone, your entire life has changed completely within a blink of an eye, and sometimes, you don’t even recognise your partner, let alone yourself. It’s something I’m starting to become more and more aware of in recent months, as so many of my friends and family welcome their own babies into the world. I’m seeing that all-too-familiar panic-stricken look in their eyes, and the slight tension that’s suddenly there when interacting with their partners. It’s barely noticeable, but it’s there. I know, because I’ve been there, too.
Seeing my loved ones experiencing all the same lows that I felt back in the early days weighs heavy on my heart. I know what it feels like, and I know how painful it is to scroll through Facebook, seeing status updates from fellow moms raving about the sudden love they have for their husbands when you feel absolutely nothing – bar irritation – for your own. Maybe not everyone feels that way, but I did – and I know loads of other women who did too, so new mama, you are not alone! (Funnily enough, most of those friends who were posting loved up updates when their babes were fresh from the womb have since confessed to going through rough times with their partners, too… I don’t know why we feel as though we can’t be open about all the trials of new motherhood and how it tests your relationship while it’s happening? For me, I think it has a lot to do with the fact that I felt so out of control of every aspect of my life, that I tried to control all the things that were within my power – my presence on social media being one of them, perhaps?) Anyway. For weeks, I’ve had the beginnings of this blog post rolling around in my mind, and I thought it was about time I shared my advice for how to help a new mom (or an experienced mama, for that matter!) These are things that some of my own friends and family members have done for me, or things that I wish someone had done for me. Pick a mom friend, pick something off the list, and do it!
Feed her (and her family)
This goes beyond the home-cooked meals prepared so lovingly during the first week or two of the new baby’s life. When Beanie was first born, we were inundated with delicious homemade meals for the first week after his birth (which we were incredibly grateful for, of course), but by week 6 – when Beanie’s reflux started acting up, he literally stopped sleeping, and The Husband was getting sick of cooking every night – a home-cooked meal would’ve been so appreciated. I think many people get excited about the birth of the baby and flood the new parents with phone calls, flowers and scrumptious meals during the first couple of weeks after the birth, but then life resumes as normal and the visits and meals start to dwindle down. The worst time for me was between the 6 – 12 week mark, when Beanie’s reflux was at it’s worst, I was getting barely any sleep, and the constant state of disarray in our home was seriously starting to get to me. How I would’ve loved for someone to pop in with an unexpected meal, or simply to hold my baby while I took a quick shower. In fact, a takeaway coffee and a quick natter about what’s going on in the world out there would’ve been amazing for this mama! By week four, I had serious cabin fever, but I felt far too anxious to leave the house on my own with Beanie, so I just stayed at home, by myself, all day, every day. (Well, The Husband was there – but he was locked in his home office and working during the day).
On that note, I’d like to encourage you to think beyond the usual dinner; one of my besties (who does not cook) once popped round with a Woolies bag packed with treats: a yummy ready-made curry for both The Husband and I, some chocolate, a magazine… It was such an unexpected gesture and it totally made my day. Think about taking little snacks that the mama can snack on throughout the day (dried cranberries, breakfast bars, rice cakes, etc). Breastfeeding makes you hungry, so snacks are always welcome!
Take photos of her and her baby
I have hundreds of photos of The Husband and Bean, and thousands of Bean on his own. As for photos of Bean and I? Probably two. Ok, I’m exaggerating, but from conversations I’ve had with fellow moms, photographs of the mama and her babe are few and far between (and photos of the new family can be just as rare). If you happen to own a decent camera (whether it’s one of those fancy Canon jobs, or simply your iPhone) and you possess some photography skills, make a date to pop by and take some pics of the new family in their natural habitat. Print some out for the mama to frame, and email the rest of the pics to her. I wish I had more photographs of Beanie and I in the early days, and I regret not booking a newborn shoot for this very reason.
Arrange to babysit
If the mom has older children, offer to take them out for an ice-cream or to see a movie so that the new baby and mama get some uninterrupted bonding time (and hopefully manage to squeeze in a nap as well). Although a new mama might not be comfortable having anyone babysit her brand-new baby, check in with her again a few months later and arrange to look after the baby for a couple of hours so that her and her partner can go on a much-needed date night.
While I was still pregnant, The Husband and I quizzed every single parent we knew to find out what their number one tip for new parents is. The answer? Make time for regular date nights. Beanie is currently four years old, and we still don’t do this. The reality is that securing a trusted babysitter simply isn’t that easy. We’ve just recently teamed up with my brother and sister-in-law to give each other a monthly night off – once a month, we’ll look after my nephew while they go out on the town (or stay in and take a nap because – let’s be honest – that’s all parents of a seven month really want to do), and two weeks later, we’ll switch out and they’ll watch Beanie so The Husband and I can let our hair down.
It doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but making time to connect with your partner is so important. Becoming parents is rough. You go from having all the time in the world to spend with each other to having no time for yourself, let alone each other. Even something as simple as brushing your teeth anytime before noon is seen as a major feat during the first few weeks!
Take her (and baby) for a walk
As I mentioned earlier, I spent the first few weeks of Beanie’s life couped up at home, because I was far too anxious to leave home alone with him. After two weeks of battling through cabin fever, I popped Beanie in his pram and took him for a quick stroll around the neighbourhood. It would’ve been far nicer (and I probably would’ve done it sooner) if I had someone join me on my walk. Do this now: send a message to a new mama friend asking her whether she’s up for a chat and a little walk around the neighbourhood. Make a note in your diary. Don’t forget. Don’t cancel. Put on your walking shoes, grab a takeaway coffee (or whatever said mama is into… I love coffee, can you tell?), then listen to mama chat about her experience as a new mom. Ask her about her worries. Ask her how things are with hubby. If she opens up, reassure her that it’s normal to fight – your lives have changed drastically, you’re both exhausted, it’s completely normal! (If you’re not a parent yourself and can’t speak from experience – direct her to this blog post. If you’re a struggling new mama, send me an email!)
Surprise her with an unexpected gesture
So, I’m hardly a new mom, but two of my friends (I won’t name them, in case they don’t want to be named – but you know who you are!) recently read one of my blog posts about how stressed I’ve been lately and how we’ve been struggling financially (it was this post) and they bought a few treats from Woolies’ online store to spoil Beanie and I. When I received the delivery and read the note they’d sent, I instantly burst into tears. They’d sent some Easter eggs, chocolate milkshakes for Beanie (because I mentioned in my post that I felt so awful at not being able to buy Beanie his favourite chocolate milkshake – our budget was that stretched), and even a bag of fresh mangoes and a yummy vegan lentil salad for me. It was so incredibly thoughtful and so unexpected, and it made my mama heart happy to know that Beanie would be able to have a chocolate milkshake every day for the next week! Little gestures like this go a long way towards making someone’s day, and it totally perked me up knowing that there were people out there who cared enough to take some time to do this for us. I appreciate the gesture so, so much… and I know any mom, regardless of how old her children are, would be so thankful for a similar, unexpected gesture. It just helps to know that there are other women out there who know what you are going through, who see you, and who are there for you… in whatever big or small way.
If you don’t have the time to cook a homemade meal for new parents, log into your Woolies account and send them a few treats instead, or organise to have a pizza delivered. If you don’t have money to make it to the end of the month, offer to babysit, or arrange to go for a quick stroll with the new mom instead. A thoughtful Whatsapp message to let her know that you’re thinking of her and to find out how things are going will mean the world to a new mom who is feeling alone and alienated from her friends (as will mentioning that she doesn’t have to reply right away). But more than anything, the most important thing you can do for any mom – new or old – is simply to be there for her. Listen to her. Ask her about her worries or concerns. Find out if there’s a way that you can lighten her load.
Being a mom is the hardest job; it’s relentless and never-ending. Raising well-adjusted children is a huge task, and no one really knows what they’re doing. I feel way under-qualified to be raising the wonderful little boy that’s been placed in my care on this Earth. I’m only human! I get impatient, I scream and shout, and I make more mistakes than I care to count… but I’m the only mom he’s got, and I’m doing the very best I can. And so are you, mama. You’re doing ok. You’ll be ok. Your baby will be ok.