The Reality of Having a New Baby: How to Help Support a New Parent
Having a baby is supposed to be a magical experience. You finally get to hold the baby you’ve been dreaming about for months. Yet sometimes, this magical time ends up being a time of struggle. Hormones and lack of sleep are not always conducive to feelings of joy and happiness.
Some parents may be wondering, “What did I get myself into?”
Sometimes, moms (and dads!) with newborn babies struggle. They may not have postpartum depression, but they may be realizing the fairytale of parenthood looks more like several days without a shower, a growing list of chores undone, the smell of curdled milk on your shirt and a mountain of dirty diapers and onesies.
It may take a while to find routine and balance. Other parents may end up needing professional support (and that’s totally normal and OK!). Until then, a new parent can feel alone and unprepared in their new role.
My oldest daughter was born in a small town where my general doctor delivered perhaps four babies a year. I was young and healthy, so I was confident it would be fine to be under his care even if he did not have the experience. He was a good doctor, but I found out he was not the best OB. He was also of the belief that all first moms should get an episiotomy (a surgical incision made between the vagina and the anus to enlarge the opening so a baby’s head can pass through more easily and to prevent the potential tearing of the mother’s skin). However, most women do not need one. But that’s the way he did it, and that was that.
By the time I came home with my baby, I was exhausted from labor, sore and sleep deprived. Like a clock, my daughter was up every two hours ready to eat. The lack of sleep was the hardest for me. One night, as I put my daughter down in the bassinet next to me I thought to myself, “I think I appreciate sleep more than having a baby.”
My husband helped as much as he could, but he did not have a job where paternity leave was an option.
My mother, thankfully, took two weeks off from work to come and help me. The only thing I had to do when she was home was sleep and breastfeed. She did everything else. She cooked, she cleaned and did laundry. She also took full advantage to hold and love her first grandbaby as much as she could.
By the time she left, I wanted to cry. But I’d had the chance to rest.
The ladies from church organized two weeks of meals after my mom left, and I was so thankful for the help.
A woman from our church (who was one of the OB nurses and the local lactation consultant) offered to help me or babysit anytime I needed. I took her up on that offer once my mom left. So she became “mom” to me, and till this day all my children consider her and her husband as much grandparents as the ones they have by blood.
I also had a friend call and ask if she could visit. She said, “I am coming to visit you, not your house.” I felt such a weight fall off my shoulders. My house, without my mom, was a complete disaster.
Eventually, I got into a routine, although for all the moms who claim they can hear their baby cry and know exactly what their baby needs… yeah, that never happened to me. Other than a truly distressed cry, every time my baby cried it was a guessing game. Does she need her diaper change? Is she gassy? Does she want to be rocked? Is she hungry? Sometimes, I had no idea why she was crying and felt so inadequate as a mom.
But I got to know her, and she got to know me.
Oh, I loved her (and still do) something fierce. And for all the bad rep teenagers get these days, she is an absolute pleasure, and I enjoy spending time with her. Teenagers are pretty awesome if you ask me!
I look back at those early days and realize how hard it can be to transition to becoming a parent — even if you have been preparing and planning and learning and dreaming about it.
Most of all, I realize how important it was for me to have people in my life who were ready and willing to support me until I figured things out. It made all the difference.
Now that the newborn stage of life is behind me, I find myself on the end where I can help moms of newborn babies. What a great opportunity we have to support these new moms and remind them they are not alone.
Getty image by Halfpoint