By Lola Augustine Brown
Every day for the first two weeks after giving birth to her daughter Willow, Nikki Riedmueller’s friends each took a turn bringing dinner to the new family. “I had third-degree tearing and 20 stitches so could hardly move from the bed, and my husband was running around doing everything and getting less sleep than I was,” says the Medicine Hat, Alta., mom. “Not having to think about feeding ourselves took a lot of stress off of us.”
New parents often think they’ll cope fine when baby comes, but the reality is that the first few months of being a parent are often exhausting and overwhelming, says Teresa Pitman, La Leche League leader and author of 10 parenting books including The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers (Crown) with Dr. Jack Newman. But, sadly, in our society we’ve become conditioned to equate asking for help with admitting weakness, when in reality there is no shame in reaching out to others for support. “We tend to be independent and think we have to do everything on our own,” says Pitman, “whereas in other societies around the world people expect to help new parents.”
The good news is that everyone who really cares for you does want to help you in your new role as parents, but until baby arrives it can be hard to know just how much help you’re going to need. When friends don’t know how to help, they often ending up buying you more stuff for the baby. “As there are only so many sleepers that a baby can wear, you can channel that desire to help into things that will make life easier after the birth,” says Pitman.
Here are some ideas of what to ask for when your friends and family offer their help:
Steer those close to you towards gifts that will create time for you, because that’s what you’ll really need after the baby arrives, says Pitman. She suggests asking friends to chip in to get you a housecleaning service or organize a cleaning bee, where they pitch in to help you tidy the house the week before you are due.
Meal trains, like the one Riedmueller had, rock. Alison Eades, a doula from Vancouver, is a meal-train veteran and suggests asking one friend to organize the process with the following guidelines. 1 Meals should be easy to reheat. 2 They should provide plenty of leftovers. 3 Dropping off food doesn’t give friends the privilege of seeing the baby (unless you really feel like visitors). Grocery shopping may also seem impossible during the first couple of weeks, so take friends up on their offers to run out and pick up the things you need.
Book your friends in advance to help you with the baby or to take you to any appointments you have after the birth. “People don’t realize how hard it can be just to get out of the door with a new baby, and that situation alone can reduce you to tears,” says Pitman. “Booking support in advance means that you won’t be scrambling to find someone to help you at the last minute.
Make dates with friends to help keep you sane in the weeks before you are due (and the highly frustrating time when you are overdue and going stir-crazy). “At 41 weeks I was so bored and big as a house, and felt too vulnerable to be out on my own. My friend Morag would pick me up and we’d go sit in the park or have tea,” says Riedmueller. “She was my lifeline.”
Give your closest friend the lovely task of spreading the good news once junior arrives. Make a phone or email list of everyone you want to tell about the birth, then ensure it’s safely in your pal’s hands a couple of weeks before your due date. “Everyone wants to be in the loop and get the good news,” says Eades. “But you may be so tired after the birth that calling your mom and that one friend will be all you can manage!”
Vancouver-based writer Lola Augustine Brown realizes how daft she was for not taking better advantage of the offers of help when she was pregnant with her now one-year-old daughter, Perdida.
What are the top six gripes of new parents? Check out Baby Beefs for the answer.