Did your friend/family member/loved one have a baby?
I just had my second child, another little girl, four years after the first. Even taking into consideration the COVID hellscape on which we are all residing, the reception to this one was a little quieter. The general feeling I get from the lack of texts or calls or drop-bys or offers to babysit is that people think because I’ve done this before, I’ve got it. They think I’m an old hand at this, but really, I am floundering.
There is much of having another kid that does seem easier. I’m less stressed by the sound of a baby crying, there is an ease to changing a diaper for me, I am less likely to Google “is my baby spitting up too much?” or something similar at 3 a.m., but it’s still new territory.
There’s the juggling of the existing child or children, there’s the guilt that you can no longer spend the time you used to with your 4-year-old, there’s the inability to achieve one single task in the house. Every item of clothing has been used and is piling up on the sofa. There is nothing in the fridge but some dubious cheese and expressed breast milk and you are starving. You haven’t even spoken to your partner, you’ve just been taking shifts with various children, putting out fires until it’s bedtime and you’re both too exhausted to speak to each other. It’s hard! It’s so hard! And yes, it is something I have voluntarily subjected myself to, I would not trade my two girls for anything in this world, but my God, I am so tired and worn and tapped out.
With this in mind, I’ve put together an easy breezy list to help you figure out how to support a loved one who has just had their first baby, or second, or third, etc. (There are even varying options for in-person contact, considering the aforementioned COVID hellscape.) Because even if your friend’s Instagram is all sunny smiles and solar flare photos of kids wandering in fields, chances are that friend is struggling.
1.) If you have promised to hold a child, or gushed over a pregnant pal’s belly about how you would love to babysit, follow through. Don’t wait for the new parent to reach out to you, we can barely remember what fucking day it is, let alone who swore up and down that they would come and help out.
2.) Made it to the house of a person who just had a baby? Don’t stand around waiting for a drink, or a snack, or wondering why there’s a pile of laundry scraping against the ceiling. Help! Sit the new parent(s) down, ask if they’ve eaten (they haven’t), make them a cup of tea or pour a glass of wine. If you really are a true-blue friend, you’ll also do some washing up, or fold some laundry. I had a friend who washed all my makeup brushes (love you, Charlie). Get creative!
3.) Ask your friend to hang out, even if you’re fairly sure they won’t make it. Heading to a winery with friends? Have dinner plans? Getting your nails done? Send a text to your parent friend. There is nothing more isolating than scrolling through Instagram, the baby in your arms nursing from your incredibly painful nipples, and seeing all your friends out at a restaurant you were dying to try. Sure, if you’d been asked you probably wouldn’t have gone, but at least you would have felt included and not like your life only existed in this stagnant, sour milk bubble whilst your friends clink champagne glasses and cackle in your absence.
4.) If you are just too busy, if work is demanding, if you’re worried about passing a cold (or worse) on, or you don’t have time to head over to your friend’s house to hold a baby or watch them cry, but perhaps you have a little disposable income, a great gift to give in absentia is a gift card to a food delivery service or grocery store. Sure, flowers are lovely, but it’s hard to appreciate a nice bouquet when you are sleep deprived and desperate for a shower. This is my go-to gift for new parents, and it is always well received.
5.) With the second baby (or third, or fourth, or fifth for all you masochists out there) there is none of that heady 1-on-1 baby and parent time. No time to snuggle or watch them while they sleep because you have another kid(s) who needs to be fed or bathed…or assisted to build a fort with every pillow in your house! The guilt of giving neither child enough attention is pretty overwhelming. So, if you are someone who isn’t good with little babies but your friend has older children, offer to take the older kid to the park or the library or just out of the house somehow, preferably for a minimum of 2 hours. 3 is divine.
6.) If you’re an overachieving friend, someone who thrives under pressure, something the other parents in my life have told me is absolute gold dust is a person coming over and telling the parent to leave the house. Saying, “Go! I got this!” so that the parent can leave and wander the streets aimlessly, sobbing with relief that they don’t currently have a screaming infant and a whining toddler hanging off their bodies.
7.) There is also no need for actual contact, as one freshly minted second-time mum told me: “Drop off a dish on the stoop, preferably still warm.” A meal for the parent or even just to feed the other kids is a gargantuan task to undertake with a baby who won’t let you set them down. And in this COVID-centric world, perhaps contactless is the move when you’re unsure about whether the cold you have is actually just a cold or something worse.
8.) This one seems like a no-brainer and should be applied to every avenue of life, not just parenting: Don’t mention the new parent’s body! Let’s abstain from saying how much bigger/smaller body parts are, let’s not talk about that one friend you know who was skinnier post pregnancy than pre, or the friend of a friend who still puts cute outfits together for her and her newborn. Let’s just not. Please don’t send me that photo of Emily Ratajkowski and her child. Please don’t say things like, “Don’t worry, you’ll get your body back soon.” It never helps, it never feels good, it always sows a tiny seed of pressure in the person’s mind. Leave the body talk at the door.
9.) And finally, listen. Just listen. Send a text (it’s hard to talk on the phone with a screaming baby and your rapidly cooling coffee just out of reach), ask how they’re doing, if they say a curt “fine,” push a little harder. There is nothing better when you are trying your best to keep it all together than someone saying, “This looks hard and you’re doing great, but how are you feeling?” It makes you feel seen, it makes you feel like someone is looking out for you when you are spending every waking (and some sleeping) hour looking out for your little ones.
Eirinie Carson is a writer, model, and California-based mother of two. Be sure to read her previous pieces for MOTHER on Her Beautiful (Medicated) Birth Story and Being Pregnant In A Pandemic. You can also hear her motherhood musings in our 2021 video project, Mother Each Other.
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