I believe you will agree with me when I say that a woman doesn’t know what maternity is about until she becomes a mother herself. Often I see pregnant women around me during their first year after their baby is born planning or trying for the second child etc. I wasn’t any different, of course. “What can surprise me now? I know I will not sleep, that it will be hard, that the baby will always cry, but I will handle it and one day it will pass”, you think.
More on this subject I write in the post Things about motherhood no one tells you about.
However, in reality, each of us are surprised by their own reactions and feelings. Suddenly you find that it’s not only about sleeping deprivation and changing nappies, but especially about the inner battle between love and madness.
What now? Every day you get texts with congrats and questions you often don’t know how to answer and everyone wants to come and see you as soon as possible. What should you do with it if your brain’s in a daze and the only thing you want to do is to lock yourself in an empty room and scream from the top of your lungs?
I have the feeling that it would be much easier for many of us if there existed a ‘behavioural manual towards a new mother’. That way there would be less misunderstandings and people would have a guide on what was expected of them. How would such a manual look like? What would it contain? I often think about it and I believe it would certainly contain some of the following.
1. Remember that a new mother is going through an extremely hard time
I don’t think there is anything needed to be added to this point. Pretty clear and yet so many people tend to forget about it. If a mother is irritated, angry, sad, if she doesn’t answer your texts, if she doesn’t want to see anyone…. totally natural and normal.
2. Don’t be in rush with your first visit and wait for a mum to invite you
This is a very sensitive subject a lot of people can’t deal with. When is the right time for the first visit? Many people feel they have to come as soon as possible, otherwise it would look like they are not really thinking of the new mum. Wrong! Of course, it always depends on circumstances, on a mother’s state and the closeness of a particular relationship, but every new mum usually needs some peace, space for herself and time for recovery – both physical and psychological. A new mum often cries, is tired, confused and weak and I am sure you’ll agree when I say that in such a state the constant circle of people is the last thing they really need. Don’t be afraid to wait a few weeks with your first visit. Remember that even a mum doesn’t want to be impolite so if you ask her directly when you can come over, she probably won’t advise a few weeks time. It is therefore more appropriate to show your understanding of the situation and say something along the line of reassurance that you will be there as soon as she is fine with visits.
3. The ideal length of a visit during the first months after the birth of a baby is 1 hour
Another sensitive topic, which is a stumbling block in many cases. How long to stay at a new mum’s place with a baby? Many people logically think that a mum enjoys the company and comes to different thoughts when people are around. Well, it doesn’t always work like this. Do not forget that some mum’s may not have slept for a few days. That all the time is dedicated to watching, feeding, changing and soothing a baby and on the top of that sometimes clean and cook… And once a baby is asleep, that is her only opportunity a little nap or just put her feet up. However, if she then finds that she has to make coffee and listen to her girlfriends’ problems with her boyfriend instead… ouch.
No matter what angle I look at it from, I always come to the same result that the ideal length of the visit during the first months is about an hour. This way you show that you care about the new mum and at the same time your interest won’t turn into a bother after a while.
4. When you talk to a mother, try and focus on her emotional state
Many mums get texts like “how was the birth?” “what is it like to be a mother?”, “how is the baby?”, “are they sleeping at night?”, “are you very tired?”, “are you coping?” and so on. It is undoubtedly amazing to see that your loved ones think of you. But what many people forget about (quite understandably, if they are not parents themselves) is the fact that a new mum is confused most of all and she is likely going through a so-called ‘baby blues’. Baby Blues is the most common affective disorder experienced by up to 80% of new mothers and it manifests with anxiety, sadness and frequent mood swings. A smaller percentage of mothers even suffer major postnatal depression, whose symptoms are more severe. Every new mum needs, therefore, especially an emotional support and a feeling of a human closeness. What if it’s your friend who is going through baby blues or postnatal depression? What if she is suffering every single day and no one has a clue? Instead of a flood of questions, next time you may want to ask her how she feels emotionally and if you sense a slight imbalance, do not take it lightly. Repressed baby blues and postnatal depression may grow into dimensions the consequences of which may be fatal.
5. Don’t joke about maternity
This especially applies for ‘advanced’ moms who joke about motherhood with other mothers on a daily basis. It’s okay of course, but only if the other person is an equally advanced mum too. However, telling a mother with one week old baby “don’t worry, you’ll be fine in 18 years” is definitely not a good choice.
6. Don’t feel like a new mum must undoubtedly have a desire to get smashed
A big mistake lot of mum’s friends make (unintentionally, of course), especially the ones with no kids. There’s no doubt a mum is happy if she gets out once in a while. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that she desires to drink ten shots and have fun till the early hours. Of course, this case is also on an individual by individual case and some mother do need to let off steam more than others. But if she does not want to cross a certain line of “fun”, don’t try and pressurize her with words like “do not be such an oldie!”, “how often you have a chance to get out?” “you need to know how to relax!” “don’t think about baby all the time, have some fun!” etc. Once a woman becomes a mother, her priorities turn 180 degrees and if she is having a good time chatting during a calm evening with tea, try to understand and respect that.
7. Don’t intrude any advice unless a mum asks for it
Every new mum has got a lot of things going on inside their heads like a huge balloon. She has to learn a lot of new things. Listening to medical advice, make some mistakes and then try to do things differently until she finds her own way of doing things. If people around overwhelm her with a variety of advice on top of that, I believe it does more harm than good. If from one direction she hears “Not like that, you have to do it this way” and from the other “Who told you to it like that?…do it like this… “, it can be extremely stressful. On the one hand, the mother can start to doubt herself and, means her surroundings will not allow her to learn and follow her own maternal instinct. Remember that nobody knows a baby better than their mother :).
A new mum is very fragile and although she gets used to the new lifestyle over time, many of above may still apply even if her children are a bit older. I still sometimes have a desire to lock myself between four walls and not to see or hear anyone. Although it’s true it doesn’t happen often now. But it does sometimes.
Like in everything, also in terms of the “right attitude” towards a mother, empathy plays a key role to see things from a different point of view. Misunderstandings often occur only because one or the other party (or both) do not want to be impolite. Yet so little is needed. If you’re not sure about anything, just ask a mum openly what you can do to help her for instance. This way you certainly can’t do anything wrong ;).