The closest I ever got to being in jail was, well, being in a jail.
The Allegheny County Jail, to be exact, in Pittsburgh. In seventh grade, on a field trip for MADD. All it took was one look at the toilet in the corner of the shared cell to convince me that the slammer was not the place for me.
Fast forward 18 years to when I had my first baby. And then? I put myself in jail again. This time it was in my own house and admittedly the bathroom amenities were much nicer, but based on the amount of ground I covered in those first few months of my son’s life, I may as well have been sharing an eight-foot cell with an actual violent offender. I was, for lack of a better term, stuck.
Thank God my sister-in-law got me out of my house by saying to me a simple phrase that, to anyone else who’s not in the mind-numbing grips of newborn exhaustion will loudly scream “DUH” to:
“You know, you can leave the house with the baby if you want.”
It was like smacked me upside the head with a bag of frozen breast milk.
I can leave this place? I thought.
I can actually bring this baby WITH me, in the car, and not about him maybe crying or pooping himself or me having to nurse in public? I can do that??!
Well, I did that, with her help, and honestly, that small nudge of reality and kindness was all I needed to break free of my own little jail.
It’s so common for new moms to feel lost. You forget how to operate in the greater world when you’re busy learning a new reality that’s happening right in your own house. Motherhood is so massive a job that even the starter course makes you feel like you’re flunking.
So, it’s in the spirit of helping new moms everywhere who may feel similarly trapped or otherwise overloaded that I bring you…
5 Simple Things to Do to Help a New Mom
1 – Text her just to say hi, and that you’re proud of her. And then don’t expect a response.
Tell her you’re thinking of her and the babies. Tell her you’re proud of her. Remind her of that time you guys got trashed and danced on a bar in Miami til 4am. Remembering these little bits of her Former Self are a good distraction from the mundanity and the difficulty of the new and unfamiliar. Then say you’d love to see a picture of the babies, when she has a chance, and don’t expect a reply for at least three weeks. And be okay with that, knowing you made her smile and she truly meant to write back write away, but the kid pooped all over her arm or vomited on her shirt or something.
2 – Feed her
You can drop off a meal yourself, or use a delivery service. Just help her get food in her belly, because all she cares about right now is making sure the baby is eating. And that is a 24-hour duty. The website Take Them a Meal is super helpful in coordinating meal deliveries among a group of friends or relatives for delivery to new mom. She will be so grateful, I promise.
3 – Hold her baby
This also requires you to visit, so yeah. Find a mutually agreeable time, stop over, and just hold the baby. That’s it. This will allow her to do a number of things I guarantee she hasn’t been able to do in the last hour/day/week/month, including but not limited to peeing, checking her Facebook, showering, grocery shopping or sweet, sweet napping.
4 – Ask how she’s feeling, and listen and look for clues that something is off.
You know your friend well. Is she still not back to being herself, even months after giving birth? Maybe talk to her partner and express your concerns. Ask her if she wants to talk about anything. If you get the feeling that it’s more than the Baby Blues at work, do something to push her in the right direction toward help. It’s often very difficult for new moms and their partners to identify symptoms of post-partum depression or anxiety, and sometimes a person who knows her well can feel if something is off. If the partner isn’t listening, maybe reach out to her parents or sibling—anyone who can help convince her to talk to a professional for further guidance and/or treatment.
5 – Drag her butt out of the house, with or without baby.
Follow these simple steps:
1) Call and say, “I’d love to help you get out of the house/go grocery shopping/run to Target/take you (and the baby, if she wants) to lunch. Let me come over and help you get out of the house.”
2) Go to her house and help her lug about 20 pounds of baby and baby crap into the car.
3) Get to your destination and prepare to help her hold up a nursing cover while she nurses in public, or mix up the formula into the bottle, or just hold the baby while she shops or eats.
Your friend will love you for this, and you’ll get in some sweet snuggles with a cute little human being, too.
And remember, she’s not ignoring you when she doesn’t call or text back as quickly as she’s used to: She’s just being held hostage by a smushy little person. A terrifying jail of her own making that she also secretly kind of loves.