My only sibling just had her first baby almost two months ago, which means that I am now officially an aunt (much to my utter joy and delight!). We live on opposite sides of the country, but last week I was able to go and visit her and her hubby, and meet my new nephew.
I was enthralled! It was definitely love at first sight. I had the privilege of doing much rocking, singing, shushing, bouncing, diaper changing, bottle feeding, swaddling, soothing, and in general all-around caring for this little guy that has stolen my heart.
It also reminded me that being a new mama is a heck of a lot of work. It’s been seven years since I had a newborn of my own, and to be honest, much of that season is now a blur in my memory.
I remember feelings, like intense joy and overwhelming exhaustion, all-consuming love and desperate frustration. But many of the details have faded away over time.
Being with my sister did bring back a few memories, and I did my best to offer her a bit of big-sisterly wisdom, but in all honesty, I think she’s already doing one of the most important things that a new mama can do (and of which I definitely didn’t do enough): she’s getting help.
New mamas need a lot of help
While I was visiting them, I coincidentally read an article online at NPR about preventing postpartum depression. It said that there is more and more evidence that the best way to prevent postpartum depression is for mamas of newborns to have plenty of help at home–whether that looks like a fabulous social support network, extended family living in or near the home, or hired help.
The problem is not strictly an American one–but almost. We here in North America are often scattered far and wide from our extended families, as we’ve become more mobile and less rooted. This can also mean the absence of good friends nearby, too.
And unlike most of Western Europe, we often lack many benefits such as paid maternity leave and access to quality postpartum care. But the problem often comes down to the simple fact that our society – and even we mothers ourselves – don’t really see postpartum mamas as people in need. As the article says, our culture often operates under the “badly mistaken assumption that going on maternity leave is akin to going on vacation.” Ha!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Mamas, I’m here to tell you that if what you’re going through feels hard–hard hard–like the hardest thing you’ve ever done and you’re not sure if you’re going to make it, you’re not alone.
Tsh has written here before about her experience with postpartum depression. This open letter to new mamas is a good read for those of you wondering if you’ll ever come up for air. But the most important thing I want to say is: tell someone. Get some help. Find someone you can trust and just tell them that you need some help.
If you don’t have family or friends nearby, see if you can find a way to hire some help if you need it. I know it’s not cheap, but it could be one of the most important investments you’ll ever make. If you’re expecting a baby, you could begin to plan ahead now and save funds so that you can hire someone to come in, even for just a few hours a week.
And this doesn’t just apply to brand new mamas, either. Postpartum depression can strike up to a year after the birth of a child, even if it’s not your first child. So be aware, and never be afraid to ask for help. We all need help sometimes.
And if you know a new mama, reach out to her. Don’t hesitate to offer to bring over a meal, or pick up some groceries, or sit with her baby so she can take a shower. You’ll be blessing her more than you ever know.
I wish I had done things differently after my first daughter was born. I should have gotten more help, but I didn’t, and it made things much, much harder than they needed to be.