From the perspective of someone who isn't a mom, this was so insightful. Do you have any advice on what friends can do to effectively help a new mom so she doesn't feel so stranded alone in the ocean?
Jean! My girl! What a great question.
First and foremost, let me say that the standard gestures are standards because they are wonderful and necessary - visiting, bringing food, offering to help with pets/housework, and giving mom a baby break so she can go bathe, all solid choices to help take some weight off mama as she floats in the deep water of her new life.
I will never forget the friends who showed up with 2 cases of beer and a package of Mega Bloks for Chicken after Buster was born. I will never forget all of the people who fed us, both times we had new babies completely changing our lives. That food was delicious, the beer so cold, and the sense of community a balm.
Like the friends on the beach, those gifts waited for me in the outside world when I was able to look around and find them. But no, they didn't solve the fundamental groundlessness of my new life. The hardest challenge was in my head - how do I redefine what a productive day looks like? How do I feel a sense of accomplishment at the end of a day in which I did nothing but leak milk and wipe shit? Is this panicky feeling normal? Is breastfeeding supposed to hurt this much? Why is the baby crying? Why isn't he sleeping? Am I okay? Are we okay? What have I done?
The truth is that there is very little anyone can do to help a new mom feel less stranded, because she's stranded (I hate that I'm about to say this... but here I go) INSIDE HER OWN LIFE.
The reality of the situation is that she is out there alone, and she knows it, and it's an acute and unfixable feeling.
Like depression or anxiety, or the specter of a Great White circling in the black water underneath your pale, shaking legs, New Mom Tired isn't a problem with a solution so much as it is a state of mind that is both horribly uncomfortable and necessary.
That being said, you can reach out to your friend not with what we think of as a solution to a problem - a meal to solve your hunger, a load of laundry to solve the fact that you are out of towels - but with genuine interest in who she is becoming and what is happening around her.
In short, your friend needs you to get out of the boat.
5 Ways To Get Out Of The Boat
1. When you go visit, ask questions that show that you're genuinely interested not just in how she's feeling, or how the baby is doing, but what her life looks like right now.
Ask about the birth, and wait while she regales you with all the details she can recall.
Ask, "so tell me what a day looks like right now. Tell me about the routine. Is there a routine?"
Ask, "how many diapers are you going through?"
Ask, "breastfeeding looks ridiculously hard. How do they even teach you how to do that? How is it going?"
One of the most isolating parts of new parenthood is worrying about how boring your new life is to other people. As a new mom, I gave short answers to these kinds of questions and then tried to talk about something "fun" because I didn't want to bore or scare my friends with the reality of my life. Don't let her try to entertain you. Show her that she doesn't have to put on a show. Show her you're interested. Show her that her life - the boob, spit, diaper, nap cycle - is not a snooze to you. Hear her stories and then ask more questions.
Under no circumstances should you tell her to suck it up, ask her to look on the bright side, or for the silver lining, or see the glass half-full. While you might have a fine point, the truth is that she's alone in the middle of the ocean and she needs someone to say "fuck! This water's deep! Are you a super hero?" not, "at least it's not too choppy!"
2. Invite her to go for a walk with the baby when she's ready/healed/cleared by the doc for light exercise.
Getting out is good for everybody. Baby will probably sleep, you two will get some fresh air and exercise and a good talk, and your friend will feel like a boss because she went out into the world with the baby and nobody lost a limb.
3. Text her funny shit from the outside world.
Don't just text "how are you doing?"
Text, "I just saw the full ass crack of my 85-year-old neighbor as she bent over to pick up a dog turd. She was not wearing underwear. Just something for you to dream about tonight."
4. Buy her a funny parenting book.
Personally, I like this one by Jason Good.
But you can't go wrong with this one, either.
5. If you've been a New Mom and you can relate... then relate.
When she says, "this is so hard," say, "yes, it is so hard. I remember." You don't have to give all the gory details of what's to come - in fact, I wrote a blog post about how those kinds of stories don't really help our friends so much as they alienate them.
Just remember with her. Let her know that her feelings are normal, even if they're awfully heavy. Let her know that you Validate her feeling of depletion and fear while swimming alone and exhausted and teaching herself to weave and caring for a blind 3-legged kitten.
Of course you're tired.
Of course you're scared.
I was, too.
It's SO hard.
There is no greater comfort than hearing, "me too."
Jean, thanks for this awesome question.
Moms, if you have anything else to add to this list please comment! I would love to hear more suggestions on how our friends can get out of their boats.