I have a handful of friends who are either expecting or recently welcomed a child into the world. For some, this is their very first time. For a few others, they are welcoming baby #2 or 3. This write is for all of them and their husbands. (I am three years out of having a new baby so I am now in the “safe to write about this topic” with my husband.)
She is more tired than you are. I know. I know you are tired too, but you really are not nearly as tired as she is. She is physically tired from sleeping in 2-3 hour chunks for the last several months. Yes, months. You may be tired from waking up with the crying baby, but she started this motherhood with a sleep deficit from waking up every few hours to pee or roll over or grab a few TUMS. She is more tired than you are. Let her have that title.
If you really must complain about how tired you are (all new parents have the right to announce their astonishment at the lack of sleep), please please please begin your complaint with, “I have no idea how you are functioning… I’m so tired;” “You must be exhausted because I’m so tired;” or something along those lines. New Mom will appreciate your respectful nod to her own tiredness. Unless of course, she fell asleep before you finished your sentence.
She really wouldn’t mind hearing your compliments. Everyone likes to hear that their hard work is not only noticed, but appreciated and admired. New Mom is no different. In fact, she is probably putting more effort and energy into your new little bundle of joy than she has put into anything. Ever. However, her effort is overlooked by the wee one who most likely responds to her hardwork with screams, spit-up (the ultimate insult to a nursing mother), or a smelly poopy diaper. So if Baby isn’t going to say, “Gee, Mom, you really are amazing! The way you keep calm, the way you sing that sweet song, the way you know just how to hold me when I have reflux…. you blow my mind away,” then, it’s up to you, Dad. Compliment the way she handles the baby and the way she handles herself. Point out the things you never knew she knew how to do so well. Notice the way she can cradle the baby in one arm and fold clothes/text her friends/bake bread/anything with the other. Notice that she took a shower today!!! That’s HUGE.
New Mom is working darn hard these days. She deserves a tip of the hat, a compliment, a compliment in front of others (!), a hug for a job well-done. She deserves encouragement when she thinks she messing up the whole thing, she deserves a reminder that her body created a whole new being and no one else could do a finer job. She deserves a boost when she’s so tired she’s almost crazy and a kiss when she climbs back into bed for the fifth time each night.
She thinks she looks pretty awful. Okay, maybe not every woman thinks she looks “awful” after having the baby, but I think most do. If your New Mom is a lucky lady who has a body that bounces back quickly, that’s awesome for you and her… but I bet she’d still like to hear that you think she’s a beauty. For the average woman, post-baby is quite possibly the ugliest few months or years. Let’s start with the physical, since that’s the easiest. Crazy stuff is happening with her body. The belly, the feet, the ankles, the hair falling out, the sweatiness… oh, the sweatiness in the middle of the night… the boobs that might look nicer but are oh so painful, it’s sort of a head-to-toe disaster. Now, you may not think she looks like a disaster (I sincerely hope you do not) because you can see all the beauty that she is as a New Mom, but she thinks you do. Let’s move on to her new fragrance, because that might be the most obvious. New Mom probably smells… interesting. A little bit of her old self, add quite a bit of sweatiness from those night sweats, plus a whole lot of breastmilk that leaked sometime during the night or day, and a splash of spit-up most likely down the back of her shoulder or even in her hair…. subtract daily showers and you get… Mmmmmmmm. Yeah, that doesn’t make a lady feel amazing! If you notice her new “perfume,” just don’t mention it.
Not only is she battling post-baby body, she’s also been battling the fact that she watched her body balloon from pre-baby to full-term baby. That’s pretty incredible. Imagine holding your hand 6-8 inches in front of your belly… and over the next few months your belly would just grow and grow and grow. I know I used to poke the front of my full-term belly and think, “HOLY COW… how in the world am I, me, myself, that far out there?!” So it’s not just the fact that Baby is now born and her body is different, it’s that she’s watched her body morph from the one she knew for years to this foreign expanding, shrinking, swelling, leaking, stinking thing she has now. She will go back to normal. She will. She just might not believe that yet.
Remind her that she’s beautiful – she was before Baby and she is after Baby – and, at the same time, know that that probably won’t be enough…. but keep reminding her anyway.
She really wants a break. She really would like some time off. You would too, I know. But this topic is not about you, so there. New Mom is giving and giving and giving some more of herself to the wee one and she could just use some time where she does not have to give to anyone. She also really really does not want to ask for it. She would really really really like you to suggest it. Is that silly? Yes. Does it feel like she is playing games? Yes. Is she? No. Remember, she’s tired, she thinks she looks a mess, she knows she smells like old cheese… could you just make this suggestion instead of making her ask?
In the early days of Baby, and if she is nursing, she can probably only take an hour or two before she’s back on the job. You could let her sleep in; you could take Baby (and siblings) to the grocery store or Home Depot; you could drop her off at the nail salon or a friends house while you drive around with Baby so she knows the little one will get a good nap. The best breaks are when New Mom can not hear or see or smell Baby. Give her a break… a real break. I can almost guaranteee she will come back to you and the babe much more relaxed and enjoyable to be around. (Also, this is setting you up well to show her how capable you are as a Dad. This could lead to her having complete faith in your abilities to take care of your little prodigy… which means she won’t micromanage the house/children in months and years to come.) This one is a win-win for everyone!
She may have lost her mind a little. New Mom’s brain is amazing. Pregnant Mom’s brain is something short of amazing… at least mine was. I just couldn’t put thoughts together well. No, I just couldn’t put thoughts together at all. But take a look at all that New Mom is keeping track of in those first few months. There’s the eating schedule including how many ounces were ingested (including how much from each side if she’s a nursing mom), there’s the diaper count – dirty versus clean… don’t want to run out!, there’s the sleeping schedule and lengths, there’s the exactly how old is Baby right now count (this is probably only for a first-time New Mom), there’s the constant tally of which “thank you” notes have been written versus need to be written, there’s the adult meal schedule that may or may not be delivered by friends and family, there’s the knowledge of the first few chapters of What To Expect the First Year (and where Baby is or isn’t measuring up), I bet she even knows how many clean onesies are in the drawer and she has an idea when she will need to do laundry. That’s just the beginning. That’s just Baby stuff, not to mention normal adult stuff. And she’s sleep deprived.
So if you’re New Mom has a crazed look on her face, it’s just that she’s counting and tallying and measuring things in her head. Or she fell asleep with her eyes open. It’s best to just refer back to the first few suggestions above and give her a compliment or give her a break.
On a serious note, also keep an eye out for postpartum depression. This is real. I, for one, experienced depression after my third baby. You and your New Mom need to take this seriously. It’s a touchy subject to put on the table, but it’s definitely worth it. There is a variety of treatments available and the treatments seriously work. If you suspect she may be experiencing moods that run deeper than “baby blues” I strongly suggest talking to her about your concerns and encouraging her to talk to her OB/Gyn as soon as possible.
She’s pretty awesome. You probably know this already. Yes. You do. The coolest thing is that New Mom probably has some new-found self-awareness of her awesomeness. She’s a Mom. She might be a Mom again or maybe Mom for the first time. It doesn’t really matter. She, by the grace of God, brought a human being, into the world. No matter how tired or ugly or overwhelmed or crazy she feels, she knows she did something awesome. Celebrate her! Celebrate her awesomeness! Celebrate the awesomeness of your New Family! (You are pretty awesome too, by the way.)