You never dreamed it was going to be like this. You read all the books. You talked to other mothers. Everyone seemed to make motherhood sound so rosy and cozy. But bringing up baby isn't turning out to be as easy as everyone made it sound.
"So, what's wrong with ME?" you question. You don't feel the attachment you thought you would to your new baby. Your breasts are seriously sore from nursing. Your incision hurts from the C-Section. Your hormones are raging. And your sex-drive has shut down. You feel isolated. Sure, friends and family came to help out for the first two weeks, but now everyone has left and you feel alone and downright scared as you look into the face of this helpless newborn who depends on you for everything! Lack of support leaves you feeling desperate. Loss of intimacy with your husband leaves you both feeling shut out and isolated. You find yourself sleep-walking half the time, sometimes unaware that your husband even exists.
Sound familiar? Most of us moms echo the sentiment, "Been there, done that!" American culture certainly doesn't cater to young mothers. Folks play up the American dream of a nice job, fine home, husband, and kids, but when baby arrives, they abandon the new mom and utter sweet platitudes like, "Hang in there; this is the best time of your life" or "Enjoy it while it lasts; he'll be grown before you know it!" Would that he were! you inwardly lament.
Other cultures provide a stark contrast to the American way. Many societies embrace the new mom for forty days. They bring her home to fall in love with her baby. They clean; they cook; they help where needed. They offer encouragement and support when she most needs it, easing her new mother concerns.
So how can we as caring Americans jump on the baby wagon and support the new moms (and dads, by the way) around us in bringing up baby? I thought you'd never ask!
BREAK THE SILENT CONSPIRACY THAT SURROUNDS MOTHERING. You who are older and wiser and have at least one child of your own, prepare the couple for the onslaught to come. Be honest, but encouraging. Tell her that if she chooses to breastfeed, she may experience soreness, even cracking and possible bleeding. Tell her to prepare her body now, so that she can minimize any soreness. Share tips that have helped you. Contact La Lache League, a breastfeeding network, for help. Encourage her to talk to her obstetrician about ways to prepare for breastfeeding. This is the best way to avoid the pain of nursing and come to enjoy the experience of bonding with her child.
Tell her to prepare for the hodge-podge of thoughts and feelings she may experience, like wanting to return her baby for a refund after several nights of constant crying. Tell her she will be tired, sometimes cranky, and touchy with her husband. Tell her that her husband will feel left out at times, like a fifth wheel. Tell her she may have crying jags when she can't really put her finger on why the tears are there. Hug her and tell her that these things will come, but that they are normal. And they will pass. But also tell her that in the midst of the dirty diapers, a sink full of dishes, and a dirty house, the first baby smile will make it all worthwhile.
OFFER TO HELP, NOT JUST IN THE FIRST WEEK OR TWO, BUT OFF AND ON THROUGHOUT THE ADJUSTMENT PERIOD. Enlist a team of people from your church or neighborhood who can help. The first year is the most tiring. Young parents need a chance to get away by themselves, even if just for an hour. Parenting changes marriage. Romantic feelings change. Roles change. That a tiny seven-pound bundle can upset an entire household and bring two grown adults to their knees is amazing, but it happens! One of the best things you can do for the couple is baby-sit while they get away. They need this at least once a week. Be there for them.
MAKE REGULAR USE OF "MA BELL." I received weekly, sometimes daily calls from another young Christian mother when our girls were small. At first, it irritated me. But as time wore on, I came to appreciate the afternoon calls and the bond that Rita and I established because we shared a common role--stay-at-home moms. Rita’s candidness about her mothering experience and relations with her husband freed me up to admit my own lack of "togetherness." I felt someone understood my plight. Our conversations would usually begin with gloom and doom, but by the time we said "good-bye," we were laughing over spilled milk (literally) and botched attempts at romance. We felt loved, supported, and transported away if only for a few minutes until baby awoke and cried to be fed.
SEND ENCOURAGING NOTES AND EMAILS. What a treat to open a card with a simple message, "I'm praying for you today" or "I love you" or "you're a great mom; keep up the good and godly work!" Invaluable.
TAKE HER TO A SUPPORT GROUP. Mops International is a good one, with many local chapters. Moms-in-Touch is another helpful national organization with monthly meetings. La Lache League also has local support groups in every major city. Churches now see more of a need to support young mothers and many have started their own support groups.
SURPRISE HER WITH A CASSEROLE FOR DINNER. Young mothers are strapped for time, especially if they have the added responsibility of a career outside the home. Take over a meal once in a while and watch her face brighten! Enlist your Sunday School class to provide meals and share the load. That's what the Body is for, right?
These tips can help bringing up baby just a little bit easier and provide good memories of the early days of motherhood. Why not try one today for that special mom in your life? You'll be helping the marriage as well as the mama (and Daddy, too!)