How to Help Your People Help You: Newborn Edition

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I went to visit my good friend the other day. She has a seven-week-old gorgeous baby boy. There were a few of us there; chatting, drinking tea, our older kids playing in the afternoon sun. It was one of those afternoons when everything ‘works.’

Then, at 5pm, my friend made an announcement – in a new, strong, assertive voice I hadn’t quite heard from her before. “OK, I’m going to have to ask you guys to go. My partner comes home soon and he takes over for half an hour while I go for a swim, and if I don’t go for my swim, I lose my mind.”

It was matter of fact. It was direct. It was brilliant! I loved this new her. It made me reflect back to when I had tiny babies, and how powerless I felt at the time, how out of control, and how these feelings made me not enjoy being a mom. At that time I felt like I was at the mercy of everyone else’s needs: my relatives’, friends’, my partners’, my older kids’… even my neighbors. My earliest days of being a parent were filled with entertaining too many guests, not sleeping because it seemed impolite to ask people to leave, and frustrated at my partner for not getting it.

So I thought about going back in time and what, as a new mom, I might have asked for in an effort to be more honest with myself and my village. In my experience, friends and family members really do want to help – but they can’t read minds. My crew could have used some direction.

It’s not demanding or high maintenance to speak up and ask for specific kinds of help. Your people want you to! So, new moms, take note. During those first tender days and weeks of baby’s life — when you’re busy juggling sleep deprivation, leaky boobs and poop explosions — go ahead and unabashedly…

  • Ask for time.
    As a new mom, I was a martyr. I longed for some time to myself – even just a tiny bit of it for a brief sleep in once a week (my hands were full with the newborn and my toddler), or a 15-minute solo walk each day. But I didn’t ask for it. And, surprisingly, people aren’t psychic. So ask. Ask someone you trust to hold your baby so you can have a decent, guilt free, luxurious shower. Or a power nap when your eyeballs are falling out of your head. Recently I took my bestie and her beautiful new baby down to the beach for a coffee. She looked exhausted, frazzled and a wee bit broken. I told her to go for a swim and I held her little girl, rocked her to sleep. “Just go,” I said, “for as long as you want, we’re fine.” And we were fine. I treasured that time. And she walked back looking utterly refreshed and peaceful.
  • Ask for sustenance.
    Us new moms don’t want cakes, champagne and rubbish. Well, I mean, we do, but it’s not what we need. Our bodies crave healthy food: fruit, coconut water, easy snacks we can eat one-handed. Our bodies are going through something not unlike a marathon. So, nourish us. Have friends bring over food and drink to feed you. The champagne can come later, once we’re feeling more human and less like a feeding/ diaper-changing/ rocking machine. (And, that time will come, btw).
  • Ask for dirty work.
    Visitors can be lovely when you have a brand new baby. There’s the aforementioned food, there’s the fact that they can tell you stories that make you laugh and remind you of the world outside your house, and of course they shower you with compliments about your new baby’s off-the-charts cuteness. (Worried about Germs? We get it) (LINK TO ALICE PIECE) But make your visitors multi-task! Getting a hand with the dishes or laundry or trash emptying or reading to your toddler is major – but can be awkward to assign. So write up your to-do list, leave it on your counter, and when visiting friends ask what they can do to help, gesture to the list and tell ‘em they can pick their poison. That way you’re not giving them an assignment, a list is!
  • Just say no (thank you).
    My policy with my second child was to declare the hospital a no-visitor zone, apart from my very close family and a handful of friends. People could come see the baby once I was settled in at home, but the hospital was sacred; there are things going on with your body and your baby’s body that are intensely private and weird, and Uncle Loudmouth popping in with the seven-year-old triplet boys drinking raspberry slurpies wasn’t on the “what I need” menu. The earliest days are intimate ones, and you should get to decide who you want to have around you. Make your guidelines/intentions clear in advance. And if anyone bristles, worry not, they’ll get over it. Your job is not to manage other people’s feelings.
  • Shoot for quality not quantity.
    Unless you really want your visitor to hang around for hours (which you don’t), specify arrival time and end-of-visit time. This will let them know that you’re not in for an hours-long gabfest, and that a short visit is a good visit. If they are going to stay longer, go back to point 1 or 3 above and put ‘em to work.
  • Say sorry, not sorry.
    This is a time to put you and your baby first, and often that means that you — and your friends and family — need to remain flexible. So explain to your well-meaning, lovely future visitors that you might cancel at the last moment. Because let’s be honest: if the stars align and you can get a half hour nap that will help get you through the next 24 hours you’re gonna take it. It will be *even* better than a cup of tea and a chat with a buddy. Listen to your body (and your baby) and do what you need.
  • La-la-la-la-la.
    While you’re a new mom, people want to tell you what to do. Everyone, from the old guy at the supermarket to the midwife to your mother-in- law are all experts with ideas and opinions about whether your baby is tired, hungry, hot, cold or collicky. But the truth is, every baby is different. And every family is different. So while these peoples’ advice is meant to be helpful, it can be stressful. You’re tired and vulnerable and you start questioning all your choices. Is the baby cold ? (probably not) Will formula damage her? (no) Is breastfeeding in public ok? (yes). Cherry pick the stuff you want to hear. And always, always listen to your gut.

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Kristen Toovey lives in Sydney, Australia with her two kids and dog. She works in TV as a writer/producer/editor by day and paints the town a soft beige by night. She's currently working on a murder mystery, recording an album of 90's inspired rave anthems, and trying to find all the lost socks.