“Forty weeks is how long you carry a child, but many women wait much longer than that to have their biggest dream—birthing a baby—come true.
Long before we thought about budding careers, mortgages or marriage, we were carrying around baby dolls and stuffing our shirts to make fake bumps.
So by the time your child is born, you’ve not only given life to a human, but to a dream too. You’ve also painted nurseries and attended showers. Prewashed clothes and packed an overnight bag. You’ve prepared your mind, home, and heart to grow tenfold, and then with a few (or many) pushes, out pops your greatest gift in the flesh.
But then, a few days or weeks later, you may find yourself overwhelmed too.
In comes the fourth trimester, the part of parenthood the books barely mention. I know this because I’m not only a mother of two (and former shirt-stuffing dreamer), but I’m also a Labor and Delivery Nurse.
During nursing school, we spent a significant amount of time focusing on breathing techniques and breastfeeding, but little education was allotted to what happens when the hormones start going haywire and you’re home alone with a crying infant.
No one prepares you for the reality of sleeplessness nights and isolated days.
No one tells you that you can be filled to the brim with love for your child, and yet desperately want to break away.
There’s a lot of talk about how ‘hard’ things are, but where’s the dialogue about the depression, and the shame for feeling like the happiest time of your life is falling incredibly short?
The truth is, the afterbirth of new motherhood is equally as hard as birth itself—perhaps more so since it lasts longer. For the first few months, you will use your body and your mind entirely for another human, and you’ll do so on very little sleep. You’ll fear to leave the house because of feeding times and flu season. You’ll scroll through social media and see people having fun while you’re sore and overly spent. You’ll love this little human so much it hurts, but long for free time to do more than just shower.
But here’s the fabulous news about new motherhood: it doesn’t last forever.
This isn’t meant to sugarcoat the hardships, but rather to inspire hope. One day you’ll wake up before they do. One day you’ll be feeding them, and they’ll lock eyes with you and smile. There will come a moment when your body stops bleeding and your hormones have leveled. You’ll start to feel more confident in leaving the house and reenter the world again.
The point is, we get our footing eventually. But it takes time, and patience, and sometimes medication.
It also, as they say, takes a village.
If you know someone who’s recently had a baby, here’s the number one thing you can do for her: offer help.
And if you are someone who’s recently had that baby, I’m begging you to do one, and only one, thing: accept it.
Here’s where we go wrong in supporting new mothers: we state, with great intent, ‘let me know if you need anything.’ But a new mom never will.
Women are conditioned to do it all and do it all well. Asking for help isn’t in our DNA any more so than men stopping for directions when lost. So, when we’re lost in new motherhood, drowning in peri-pads and postpartum depression, we feel the need to shoulder it alone. And we must stop.
So, friends. Here’s a few things to just DO for a new mother (especially when she says she’s fine):
Bring a meal, but don’t go in.
They just had a baby, they need food. They don’t need to put on a bra, clean the house, or entertain. A ‘Sip and See’ can be arranged to meet the baby when the mother is ready, until then you can see all their cuteness on social media. Drop your food on the front porch and go.
Take the older sibling for a few hours.
There’s not much family and friends can do with a newborn, likely they’re glued to their mother’s hip/breast. But those older siblings? They’re free for the taking! Don’t ask, just do. Schedule a park playdate and tell that new mama you’ll be over in an hour to pick their kid up. They won’t refuse when plans are already made.
Bring the fun indoors
Don’t let her scroll through social media and feel bad about missing a Girls’ Night Out. Arrange a Bachelor watching party at your home. Make a cheese board and play cards. Order take-out and eat it in your PJs. Give her a comfortable place to come to with her newborn, and also a plan that’s unphased if she needs to cancel. We were women before babies, and we’ll be women after. Make her feel like one for a makeup-free evening indoors.
Gift her with self-care instead of a baby item
No one needs another onesie or burp cloth. Give her a gift certificate to get her hair done or for a housecleaning service. Cute bows and bibs are nice, but what’s needed is help with the daily duties. Remember she won’t ask, so just do.
And to the new moms, of course there’s a big part you play in this as well: just say yes.
No one gets a gold star for doing it alone. We birth our babies with support by our side, and we need it even more so when we go home.
Motherhood is meant to be a team sport. So as you’re giving yourself grace in your new role, and sneaking in some cat naps, remember it’s just a small fraction of your life when your child—and yourself—are on the receiving end of extra care.
Pretty soon, you’ll be restored enough to pay it forward.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Stephanie Hanrahan. Follow Stephanie on Facebook here, Instagram here and visit her website here. The article originally appeared here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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