A Letter to New Mothers

I’ve got several friends who are expecting, or have recently welcomed, their first babies this year. Whenever I think of them, I have an instant flashback to my first week home with Claire, which is blurred at the edges with the ungodly sleep deprivation that comes with the gift of parenthood.

I would not say that I handled the adjustment well. I remember my mother-in-law calling me “unflappable,” and my own mother saying how wonderfully laid back I seemed, but this was either a great ruse on my part or it was simply their interpretation of what I remember as a feeling of utter overwhelm.

After talking with two friends this week who now live farther away from me than I would like, I was also reminded of the blessed kindness extended to me as a new mother. These two women – one, the mother of two, and the other a mother of none – somehow knew that I needed help even though I’d been stunned into silence by my new role, and they arrived at my doorstep with encouraging spirits and a peaceful one-day-life-will-feel-normal-again presence for which I still feel grateful.

They didn’t come to chat, or to harangue me with advice, or to coo over this being who’d kept me up all night, but to hold and love my baby so that I could take a shower in peace, or go back to bed, or just sit on the couch and not feel the weight of the world swaddled in my arms. I have never accepted help so guiltlessly.

There were others who brought food (every other day, for seven weeks!), a neighbor who brought hot tea and the sound advice to leave the screaming baby in her crib and step outside for fresh air if necessary, the doctor who prescribed an antibiotic for mastitis without forcing me to come in to her office because she could hear the desperation in my voice. And there was the husband, so constant, so confused about how to help beyond folding every piece of laundry and scouring the kitchen, who  would take the screaming baby on long strolls in the evenings. When he returned, he would find me lying under our dining room table with Ivy, our dog, in retreat.

Four years in to motherhood, despite the toddler tantrums, the big-girl-bed transition nightmare, the what-to-do-when-your-baby-throws-food-and-refuses-to-eat-anything-other-than-blueberries-and-cheesetoast crises, AND the arrival of a new sibling, I still contend that there is nothing more difficult for an independent woman, no matter her work/life plans post-baby, than transitioning to life with children.

Unless a new mom begs for advice, or is really specific in her asking, I generally do not offer it. But there is something about having a handful of friends on the brink of this major life change that’s made me want to put together a top five list of instructions. See below:

1) Get a good pedicure the week you’re due. Face it: you won’t be able to reach your toes to paint them, and labor makes a girl vulnerable enough. While you’re at it, indulge in some delicious smelling body wash, because the hospital provides only antiseptic soap.

2) Read Great With Child by Beth Ann Fennelly. As someone who feels debased by most pregnancy/parenting books, I feel very well qualified to make this recommendation. The book is as beautifully written as it is insightful. Even if you don’t have children, it is well worth reading.

3) New mothers: accept all offers of dinner delivery and/or meal calendar set up. New fathers: The week you return to work, pack a lunch for your wife each day. Don’t ask her what she wants, or whether you have any mustard, or wonder aloud if it is OK to eat yogurt past its expiration date. Just make the lunch quietly and without flare. Make the effort to go to the grocery store and fill the fridge with healthy snacks the new mom in your life can grab (with one hand) easily. For extra points, hide a thoughtful note of praise and/or deep gratitude where she’ll be sure to find it.

4) Know your boundaries. People love to visit new babies and/or families with new babies. They will overstay. You will want to cry and ask them KINDLY to LEAVE. That’s OK. People forget (or else do not know) how exhausting it is to have a newborn. There is absolutely nothing wrong with turning away visitors, no matter how well-meaning. The ones who love you the most will understand.

5) When I became a mom, I felt like I’d entered an entirely new dimension – a scary dimension, a dimension worthy of identity crisis. But it was, I found, also a dimension filled with people who were really great at being moms – confident women who continued to maintain a strong sense of self, thoughtful women who have great ideas about how to raise children who turn into respectful, grateful adults  – and who were willing to talk about how hard the adjustment can be, how exhausting the days, etc. Make friends with people like this, parents you admire who continue to invest in their own relationship while keeping the empowering perspective that the purpose of parenthood has less to do with the precious, well-dressed, cherub-like babe-in-arms and/or the days of apparent drudgery than with the person he or she is bound to become.You will also meet other types of parents in this new dimension; when possible, disregard them.

I have advice on swaddle blankets and sleep methods, too, but really – you’ll figure all that out on your own. For now, young mothers, put your feet up, drink a milkshake a day, and enjoy all the attention you’re getting. Shortly, that’s all about to change.

Art House America published a new essay of mine today: “Death by Neti Pot.” You can read that here.

 

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96 thoughts on “A Letter to New Mothers

  1. Oh, hooray! I’ve been anxious to hear more of you, Towles. Thank you for this and the AHA post. Now, you go put your painted toes up somewhere comfy and drink a milkshake. I’m off to send this link to all the new moms I know and love. xo A

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I also enjoyed the book, Great With Child by Beth Ann Fennelly. So nice to see you share it on wordpress. One of my favorite part is how Beth Ann describes: giving birth!
    Michaelangelo dreamed of creating a life, someone who could breathe and walk. Dr. Frankenstein dreamed of something similar. But only women can bring forth a living creature. We do this with our bodies. We do this with our hearts. […] Oh we women needn’t play at war and its games like men I’ve known who can’t disguise their aggression and excitement when the bombs begin falling on some country or other. We needn’t play at war because if we give birth, we go to war, and at the deepest level, deeper than bone deep, our evolutionary history tells us that it’s a matter of life and death. […] You will split open your body to free the tiny god who will be caught and held up like a hero. You are the hero. No one but you can do it. (pages 163, 190-91). Thanks for sharing these awesome and inspiring tips as well to new moms or moms to be!

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  3. Love this! Especially the part about only giving advice when asked, everyone has an opinion on parenting even when it’s not solicited it can be so overwhelming. Sometimes, it’s nice to have someone give you a bit of time that makes you feel like you are still a person, not just a mother, and that you did actually exist before you were busy changing diapers and the like.

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  4. This couldn’t be closer to the truth!! I would also recommend making at least 4 weeks worth of freezer meals during pregnancy. They come in handy, especially when daddy goes back to work! I struggled so badly getting dinner ready when my husband returned to work because the minute I would start prepping, my LO woke up and needed to eat (and this was after going through my 2 weeks of freezer meals).

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  5. Beautifully written post and great advice, especially love #3 about husbands making lunches for their wives on their first week back to work. My son is four now but I remember well the feeling of anxiety when my husband first returned to work and I was by myself all day with the baby. Luckily my husband loves to cook so he left the fridge well stocked, which made the transition a lot smoother.

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  6. Reblogged this on ally1lakeside and commented:
    Being a mother (or father) is a priviledge and this reminded me of 30 years ago when our children were babies and our daughter only slept one hour in 24. With my mum dying in my teens and the Mother-in-Law from Hell, I was so lucky to find strength through one particular friends and our neighbour.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Absolutely beautiful, perfect perfect! This piece has brought back memories, 2010 my son introduced himself. It was a shock to the system, one In time I got over hes now four and I love him more everyday. Your words summed up exactly how I felt in the first year of his life in awe..and wanting hide all at the same timeto xx

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  8. One more for the list – hang out with those who are transitioning to parenthood at the same time. They will understand why you are often late, or why your hair hasn’t seen a brush for a week and they won’t comment on the little bit of baby sick on your clothes because they get it and they know you aren’t judging them either. It doesn’t matter how you meet them – whether at your antenatal appointments or birth preparation classes, or postnatal baby clubs, or just in the park – meet them you should, because they will save your sanity.

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  9. Fortuitous I’d happen across this as a new mother. I appreciate you’ve given me permission to dismiss visitors because I haven’t felt I could and it’s just so exhausting to entertain guests and the misunderstanding of “I’m an extrovert and therefore need people but I’m also -so- tired so I don’t want people, at least not for long” where friends only get that first part.
    I’m lucky to have a husband who likes cooking and will make me breakfast and he’ll make dinner.

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  10. The advice about the pedicure — that’s my own favorite. There’s something about the helplessness and vulnerability of giving birth, followed so quickly by the absolute dependence of the baby on your body to provide his/her needs, that can feel…dehumanizing. I’m not sure why, but having shiny beautiful toes (and a freshly waxed bikini area) that helped me remember my humanity and maintain perspective. Plus, it’s one less thing to worry about after baby comes!

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  11. This is a great piece. I totally agree that moms should never turn down help, especially meals, when they’ve just had a new baby. It’s such a big help. Anything to minimize the chaos and bring some comfort to a tired mom…I’ve got 6 so I know! 😉

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  12. Thanks for this. 9 months into motherhood and I still need to hear stuff like this. I guess I’ll need to hear it for a long while yet! Finding motherhood a struggle more than a joy at the moment. I think I’ll look up “Great With Child” as well.

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  13. I’m very glad you posted this. I’m not a mom myself, but as I am newly married my family has started the “make a baby” pressure that I choose to ignore. It’s euphoric to know we finally live in a world that is beginning to accept the difficulties of childrearing, specifically at the beginning. Thank you for your insight.

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  14. Thank you for writing this post, I am personally not a “new” mother as I have a 5 year old and a 1 year old, but I thought that this was awesome! I wish I would have been able to read this years ago before I had my daughter.

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