It’s a while since I was a new mum, but some of what was said to me back then still lingers, less with the tears attached, but more with the dregs of, Why would you say that?
There’s a reason why I’ve not said “new parents”, by the way. It’s not because I think dads are unimportant (the contrary in fact – I wish society judged them to be just as important as mums in the lives of their children), but because when a new baby lands Earth-side, I think the role the woman has played in that spectacular event should be given the respect it deserves.
In our culture however, it’s all about the baby. Which seems odd when you consider that, a bit like Kim Kardashian, he/she has simply turned up: all the hard work behind the scenes has been done by someone else.
Perhaps then, we should spend more time and effort celebrating and congratulating a woman because she is the one who has grown a whole person.
She has changed the way she looks, walks, wees, works, eats, drinks and spends her free time for this mini-dictator, but in our haste to celebrate the driver of the vehicle, we forget to marvel at the engineer.
Instead, I would go so far as to say rather than asking the parents how the baby is sleeping/ eating/ feeling, these are the things we should be asking the parents. And they are definitely the ones who need the biggest cuddle.
And all the while that I say this, I’m aware there are people somewhere (I’ve never been), somehow (I’ve never experienced), someplace (I’ve still never been there), something something (who knows, really?), who swear they embrace every second of motherhood as a blessing.
I admit that I
want to poke these women in the eye never completely believe people who say this, and so would say that unless someone corrects you, work on the assumption that they too are finding it HHAAAAAARRRRDDDDDDD.
Essentially, just be kind and say…
- You’re a hero. Whether the baby surged out with the assistance of nothing but some grunting and a Golden Thread breath; whether that brand new human was air-lifted out of the sunroof; or whether the mum had a giant set of spoons shoved up her foof, wrapped around the baby’s head and heaved on like a stuck cork in a bottle… whatever the story, that woman is a hero.
Even more importantly, she needs to be told that. I might even argue that she needs to be told that MORE if she has had a difficult experience, such are the dreadful tricks that a new mum’s mind can play on her.
2. How are you feeling? Asking this and receiving an accurate answer is dependent on your relationship with the mother. But even if you’re not that close, you might find that talking openly (but always briefly) about your experiences might encourage someone else to share something they otherwise would have not.
Sharing can lift the burden, not necessarily of the feelings themselves, but certainly of feeling alone with them. It’s easy to feel like you are the only terrible mother/ human being who ever wanted to keep walking past the bins, to the end of the street, onto a bus, to the airport to fly away and never come back.
She just took out the recycling, you imagine your confused other half lamenting, and you dutifully turn round and trudge back into the house.
Sharing means a new mum can realise that these feelings are normal – the adjustment is huge, and it’s ok to struggle with it. And while I don’t wish to insult anyone who genuinely enjoys the weeping (eyes, boobs, wounds) and wiping (hands, bums, noses, floors, your clothes, the baby’s face) of early motherhood, it is my experience that as soon as I venture “It’s a bit shit, isn’t it?”, the floodgates open.
Because it’s NOT easy – for many people – and we need to talk about this, normalise it, so that no one feels shitty for finding it so.
3. I’m going to wash my hands and then I’ll hold the baby – you drink some tea/ use a knife AND a fork/ wave-your-arms-around-in-the-air-like-you-just-don’t-care-just-because-you-can. But read the situation – if the mum keeps staring with intent at the baby, ask her if she wants him/ her back. Some mums feel a fierce protective instinct over their new baby, and seeing someone else hold him/her can provoke anxiety, so if you’re not sure, then check.
4. I’ll change his/her nappy. Say this, sit back, and watch – like a slightly suspicious Labrador hearing the crunch of a crisp the new-parent’s head will lifts and peer curiously at you. Alert, eager, hopeful but slightly confused, they will double and triple check your intentions lest their hopes be dashed, Really?…Are you sure?… You don’t have to… really you don’t have to…
A friend insisted she do this at my birthday meal just weeks after my daughter was born. To this day I remember the peculiar and welcome sense of relief and freedom I felt for a few short minutes. I stared at the Mr in bemusement as it dawned on me that I hadn’t looked at his actual face for weeks, and I resolved there and then to offer to do the same whenever the chance arose.
5. I’ve brought you some food. Especially if you are visiting over a meal time. Under no circumstances turn up and expect to be catered for – at least take pizza. The new mum might be totally on top of it and be showered, dressed, with a freezer full of batch cooking and a lasagne bubbling away in the oven, but don’t be the person who expects to be fed.
She might also be the mum who is surviving on bourbons dunked in thrice-microwaved tea – the last thing she needs is someone else to look after, who simultaneously makes her feel a bit crap about her inability to adult.
6. I’ll make the teas. Not knowing where the teabags are is no excuse. Unless you have reason to suspect their kitchen might double up as a set for Indiana Jones: The Temple of Doom, you should be safe opening some cupboards and firkling around to find everything you need.
This manoeuvre is especially welcome should you visit in the first couple of weeks after childbirth when the mum may well have just tried eleventyhundred different sitting positions before she is vaguely comfortable.
And then she has to get up to make everyone a drink.
Let her sit. Make the tea…
Clearly this isn’t an exhaustive list of the nice things you can say to a new mum, but some of them are things that made a difference to me in The Early Days. Some of them meanwhile, are things that I wish someone had said to me.
But why, you might be wondering, is it even necessary? Haven’t babies have been born since the dawn of time – what’s the big deal? Well, yes, but what our society fails to acknowledge, in contrast to the reverence offered by other cultures around the world, is that this is still not a simple thing.
New life should certainly not be taken for granted, but the mothers who grew and delivered it should also be treated with as much love, gentleness and consideration as you can find.
Basically, mothers are awesome. So don’t be a wally – be the person who makes sure they know it.