Beyond the Baby Shower: 10 things that new mommy may find more useful than the adorable outfit you want to get the baby
© 2015 by Binahkaye Joy
Don’t freak out. The cute clothes in your gift bag with the matching tissue paper and one-of-a-kind card you just know no one else will have is still very fabulous and will make a great gift. And certainly, the little one will look amazing in all those pictures mommy will send you when the baby is wearing that outfit from you. The following suggestions are not meant to discourage you from stocking up the infant’s closet. After all, they do grow so fast and will need more things to wear every month. However, the truth is there are so many more ways to be helpful to a new mommy than making sure her baby looks fly.
Most new mommies are exhausted, and some find it hard to ask for exactly what they need. It would help tremendously if the general public was more informed about ways to be of service to families that are welcoming a new baby. Here are some simple ideas for other types of generosity, and most of them won’t cost you anything more than some of your time and a little bit of mindfulness.
1. Help out around the house
There is always, always, always something that needs to be done. A half hour, an hour, a few hours–whatever you’ve got, there’s something you can do that will make mommy’s day enormously better. The laundry, the dishes, taking out the trash, cleaning the bathroom, changing the sheets, sweeping, vacuuming, dusting, organizing the closet with all those baby clothes people keep bringing by. It’s endless, the list of things to do. If you can spare a moment to do just one of any of the things that mommy is feeling are on her plate, please know that you’ve contributed to mommy’s wellness and peace of mind in a deeply meaningful way. No task is too insignificant. Mommy thanks you in advance for coming over ready to do some work.
2. Shop for the groceries
Getting up and out of the house with a baby can be overwhelming for any number of reasons. Whenever you call and say those magic words, “Hey, I’m going to the store. Do you need anything?”, mommy is suddenly feeling like she just won a million bucks. Her list will roll off the tongue so quickly because she’s been adding to it now for days. Every morning she would think she could get it together and get her and baby out the door, but once the reality of her sleep deprivation hit, and the mounting logistics of moving from here to there fully dawned on her, that much-needed grocery run got postponed, again. So here you are, the hero of her heart, calling to say you’ll go and do the leg work and bring the food to her. Who doesn’t love delivery? Mommy couldn’t be more elated than if you were bringing groceries and some yummy food that she won’t even have to cook (see #5).
3. Give mommy and baby a ride
Even if mommy has a car, she might not feel like driving herself around. And for mommies who don’t have transportation, a personal ride from you is always preferred to having to figure it out on her own. Oftentimes the family is negotiating how to get to doctor’s visits, or other important appointments where mommy and/or baby have to be seen in person. If you are able to offer transportation assistance, familiarize yourself with how to install the car seat, or just be prepared to get out and help mommy load her and baby into the car. Make sure you offer to help when you truly have time. Sometimes mommy might need you to pull over so that she can nurse the baby, or change the diaper, or burp the baby. And in case you didn’t know, being so attentive to a baby’s constant and shifting needs is why it takes mommy much longer to get anywhere nowadays.
4. Listen to mommy’s birth story
Oftentimes in the whirlwind of having a baby, mommy doesn’t have time to fully open up and process her birth journey. Sometimes just having a present ear committed to listening deeply can go a long way to restoring mommy’s sense of connection to herself and her power. One common cause of postpartum depression is when mommy feels like she can’t find the words to tell her story, or that when she tries to articulate it to the people around her, she doesn’t have anyone’s full attention. By setting aside dedicated time just to listen to mommy, you are giving her the much needed space to feel nourished in a way that sleep and food can’t provide. Especially if mommy’s birth was a traumatic one, listening to her story validates in a very meaningful way that her experience matters, and this goes a long way in her ability to create sustainable healing around her journey. (For a greater understanding of “deep listening” I recommend this article.)
5. Cook dinner in the home, or bring food with you whenever you come over!
Yes, you should definitely call ahead to see what mommy has a taste for or so that you’re knowledgeable about any foods that may be off limits for her or the baby. But generally speaking, if you have a good idea about what mommy and family like to eat, everyone will sing your praises for months to come if you cook it for them or bring it with you. It’s not just that food that is ready can satiate a raging appetite. It’s also the very profound relief mommy feels from having one less meal plan to mastermind. Do you know how much sleep mommy loses over just strategizing when and what and how to make food? Your thoughtful gift of a hot meal just bought mommy an extra hour of nap time, a real shower with full-body lathering (and not just the wipe-n-go that usually happens when she’s got too much to do), or maybe even just an intangible sensation of warmth from realizing that she’s actually not alone and that her community really does know how to take care of her.
6. Entertain the baby’s older sibling(s)
This is major. I am a newly reformed, soon-to-be mother of two myself. When my first baby was born, I didn’t want other little children around until we were out of 4th trimester. But now…HA! I am singing a new tune! Come one, come all. Play dates, toy jams, laughing fests, music sessions. Whatever, you got, mommy needs you. Whether it’s just you or you have access to a cool kid–either your own or a niece or nephew that you can borrow for the occasion– come on over and give that big brother or big sister someone else to interact with other than their very exhausted mommy. You might think it’s small, but it can ensure mommy has a few extra moments to herself without anyone having to have a tantrum about it. Welcoming a new baby is a lot for an older sibling to digest, especially if they are still very much a baby themselves. But because they are older, when people come over to visit and engage them, magically they forget for a while that they need to be glued to mommy and are happy to exercise some of that budding independence with their guests.
7. Go for a walk with mommy and baby
You might be asking yourself why mommy would need a walking partner just to take a simple walk around her block with the baby–because for a while that’s as far as she’ll probably be able to go. But for some mommies who have been mostly at home inside the cocoon of newborn life, venturing back out into the world those first few times can feel extremely awkward and maybe even a little scary. Especially in very public places with lots of people traffic, mommy can feel very vulnerable and highly protective of her brand new baby. Just having someone she trusts right there can help mommy enjoy the fresh air and sunshine a little more, as your presence can alleviate any anxiety she might be feeling. If she needs to pause to catch her breath or sit for a moment or put the baby down so she can readjust the baby carrier, she can relax knowing that you’ll be there with open arms to support her and the little one.
8. Set up appointments for mommy
Who wants to be on hold for 10, 20, 30 minutes? Nobody, that’s who! And especially not a new mommy who is trying to navigate the dramatically different rhythms of her long and sleepless days, full of leaking breasts, sore nipples, soiled burp clothes, poopy diapers and many other things that cannot be planned out neatly on a schedule. So if it’s hard for you to be on hold waiting to get through, you can imagine this is even more challenging for mommy. If you know that mommy trusts you to make appointments on her behalf and arrange important logistics for her or the family, then volunteer to be her proxy. There’s so much going on, mommy will forget five minutes after a call that she’s supposed to follow-up with this person or that office. You can be her memory in those moments and ensure that life goes just a little smoother at least some of the time.
9. Do some heavy lifting
Even before the baby is born, mommy is probably nesting something serious. She wants everything cleaned, furniture moved, baby things assembled. There might be walls that need to be painted, pantries or closets reorganized, items sorted out in storage or brought up from the basement. Mommy’s list is usually very long and overflowing with tasks that are highly inappropriate for her 3rd or 4th trimester body to be managing all by herself. This is where you come in to save the day and to save mommy from overexerting herself. Wear clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty and be sure to be on time. Mommy is sometimes so pressed, she’ll get started without you even though she knows she shouldn’t be putting so much strain on herself. It’s totally not a rational thing, that’s why you showing up to be her arms and legs for the day is critical to supporting her and baby’s wellness. And don’t take it personal when mommy knocks your HGTV-inspired, design ideas. She’s likely been staring at that corner or that closet for months and knows exactly how she wants it. Just smile and do what she wants. It will bring her so much joy and she’ll be forever grateful to you.
10. Hold the baby
Now some folks might be wondering why this one is on the list. It seems pretty much a no-brainer, and for many people it is. But there are some family and friends that struggle to listen to what mommy wants when she asks for it. Maybe they have had 7 kids and are sure they know best. Maybe their auntie so-and-so was the expert baby caregiver and always did it this way. Maybe they were watching youtube and are now experts in early childhood development. Whatever their angle, if it’s not what mommy wants, then it’s not what mommy wants. Mommy has an intuitive pulse telling her how she wants her baby cared for when she’s sleeping, or in the shower, or trying to handle something and can’t hold or wear her baby herself. So when she asks you to hold her baby, that’s just what you should do. Not strap the baby in the swing so you can do something else. Not insist that the baby needs to learn to sleep by themselves in the cradle. Not put the baby down for any reason because you don’t see what the big deal is. Human touch is critical to a baby’s wellness. And when mommy knows her baby is still receiving loving, gentle, hands-on care from you–in the way she asked for it!— she breathes a little easier and her day gets that much sweeter.
And #11–I know I said 10, but this is the most important one of all–
Continue to be of service even after mommy’s baby is not a baby anymore
Because as a society we don’t talk very openly about the intricate and complex nature of mothering work, we feed these illusions that after the first months or first year of the baby’s life, mommy’s got it all sorted out. But no, it’s quite the opposite. Mommy and the family will need your support and mindful generosity forever. There is an ancient saying that it takes a village to raise a child. Well in today’s realities of rapid technologies, accelerated lifestyles, and severe individualism, families are often isolated without the benefit of a larger community that is willing to go more slowly and participate in the intense work of raising young people. The birth of a child then presents an opportunity for collective healing, as the village, and its power to contribute positively to the life of its youth, become newly illuminated in the light of service to the mother and family. Fortunately, there will always be a baby being born somewhere who can help the village rediscover and strengthen itself. The more ways we can identify to support each other and the families we are connected to, the happier mommy, baby, and the whole world will be.
Binahkaye Joy is a new mommy, dancer, doula, writer, movement facilitator, and creativity coach. She writes extensively about the intersections of mothering work and the cultivation of a vibrant creative practice. Learn more about the New Mommy Writers’ Workshop, the Creative Wellness Lab, and other projects in the works.