Sure, send your congratulations on social media. But it’s way overdue that we learn to do more for new parents.
When I gave birth to my daughter in the summer of 2013, I was surrounded by people and love.
Numerous friends and family members waited in the waiting room, eating cold pizza and watching 24-hour news. They paraded in and out of my room — offering me comfort, companionship, and (when the nurses allowed) short walks down the rectangular-shaped hall — and after delivery, they came to my bedside, to hug me and hold my sleeping baby girl.
But less than 48 hours later, things changed. My life (undeniably) changed, and the calls died down.
The “how are you feeling” texts stopped.
Initially, the silence was fine. I was busy nursing, napping, and trying to burp my very stubborn babe. And if I couldn’t keep tabs on my coffee, how could I possibly keep tabs on my friends? My life was lived in 2-hour increments… on a good day.
I functioned on autopilot.
I didn’t have time to do anything more than “survive.”
However, after a few weeks, the silence became scary. I didn’t know who I was — or what day it was.
I scrolled through social media incessantly. I watched TV endlessly, and I slipped into a deep depression. My body became one with our cheap, IKEA couch.
I — of course — could have reached out. I could have called my mother or called on my mother-in-law (for help, advice, or a hug). I could have texted my girlfriends or best friend. I could have confided in my husband.
But I didn’t know what to say.
I was a new mom. A #blessed mom. These were supposed to be the best days of my life.
Plus, none of my friends had children. Complaining seemed silly and pointless. They wouldn’t get it. How could they possibly understand? Not to mention many of my thoughts (and actions) seemed crazy.
I spent hours wandering the streets of Brooklyn, staring at all the other moms who just seemed to get it. Who played with (and doted on) their newborn babes.
I wished I would get sick — not deathly ill but enough to be hospitalized. I wanted to get away… run away. I needed a break. And I wasn’t sure which I wiped more, my daughter’s butt or my eyes. And how could I explain that? How could I explain the intrusive thoughts? The isolation? The fear?
My daughter slept and I stayed awake. I watched her breathe, listened to her breathe, and worried. Had I rocked her enough? Had she eaten enough? Was that little cough dangerous? Should I call her doctor? Could this be an early warning sign of SIDS? Was it possible to get a summer flu?
My daughter woke and I prayed she would go to sleep. I needed a moment. A minute. I longed to shut my eyes. But I never did. This vicious cycle was rinse and repeat.
And while I eventually got help — sometime between my daughter’s 12th and 16th week I broke down and let my husband and doctors in — having one person in my life could have made a world of difference.
It would have been nice if someone — anyone — asked about me and not just my babe.
So here’s my advice to anyone and everyone:
- Text the new moms in your life. Call the new moms in your life, and do so regularly. Don’t worry about waking her. She wants adult contact. She needs adult contact.
- Ask her how you can help, and let her know you’re happy to watch her baby for 30 minutes, an hour, or 2 hours so she can sleep or take a shower. No task is too silly. Tell her she isn’t wasting your time.
- If you do go over, don’t do so empty handed. Bring food. Bring coffee. And do so without asking. Little gestures go a long way.
- If you don’t go over, send her a surprise delivery — from Postmates, DoorDash, Seamless, or Grubhub. Flowers are cute, but caffeine is clutch.
- And when you do speak with her, don’t sympathize — empathize. Tell her things like “that sounds like a lot” or “that must be scary/frustrating/hard.”
Because whether you have children or not, I promise you this: You can help your new mom friend and she needs you. More than you will ever know.
Kimberly Zapata is a mother, writer, and mental health advocate. Her work has appeared on several sites, including the Washington Post, HuffPost, Oprah, Vice, Parents, Health, and Scary Mommy — to name a few. When her nose isn’t buried in work (or a good book), Kimberly spends her free time running Greater Than: Illness, a nonprofit organization that aims to empower children and young adults struggling with mental health conditions. Follow Kimberly on Facebook or Twitter.