When I think back to my youngest child’s birth, and the postpartum period that followed, I remember Marcia. Marcia was a postpartum doula. My mother gave me Marcia’s help as a gift and I loved every minute of her time with our family. My mother knew that I was feeling overwhelmed with a new baby who was ill and who needed major surgery, four other children and a husband who traveled for weeks at a time with his work. While my mother helped when she could, she couldn’t provide all of the support that I needed.
Marcia came two afternoons a week. She was a ray of sunshine. She tidied up the house, did the laundry, prepared food and played games with my toddler and preschooler. Sometimes she held the baby, giving me time to rest. She listened while I told her my worries about my sick baby. She was kind and empathetic. She told me about her three boys and her experiences mothering. I liked the camaraderie between us – it seemed almost sisterly at times. Afternoons with Marcia made the whole week easier.
Little did I know that one day I would be helping mothers in the same way that Marcia had helped me. After all, I had come to understand first-hand what it means to be on the receiving end of gentle, loving care.
There is one thing for certain: mothers need all the help they can get. Paid help, friend help, family help. If you know a new mother, you know someone who needs your help. A prepared meal, a mopped floor, older children accompanied to the park, laundry folded…so many small ways to make a big difference to a new mother. If you don’t have time to help, consider sharing some of your resources so that she might have a few hours of paid help. What a difference these small acts of kindness and support can make in the developing relationship between a mother and her baby.
Society makes us feel we can’t ask for help. If we do, we wonder if we are being viewed as not coping well, not managing motherhood, ultimately making us feel inadequate. Do “good” mothers get overwhelmed, we wonder to ourselves? Many years ago, when communities and families were dependent upon one another, mothers didn’t have to use paid help to get the encouragement and support they needed postpartum. But the reality today is many of us do not have help after our babies are born. We struggle by ourselves, feeling isolated and unsure. We pretend to be managing and smile bravely when asked how we are doing. Inside we are longing for something different than we are outwardly expressing.
For many families, it’s a stretch to pay for help and we can actually feel guilty doing so. We shouldn’t. We don’t hesitate to spend money in other ways, so why shouldn’t we set aside some money that will help us postpartum? In the long run, a rested, supported, happy mother and baby are worth every penny spent on postpartum help.
I have lost touch with Marcia. Her children must be mature adults by now. Perhaps she is a grandmother like me. She will never know what a difference she made in my life. But even now, thinking back, I can see her folding laundry, making me a cup of tea, washing dishes and the memory of her comforting presence comes back to me.
My wish for all new mothers is this: that they will have the support, help and care they deserve in the early months of mothering. Someone like Marcia. A well-rested mother who has been given every opportunity to bond with her baby is a blessing to society. She is raising the next generation.
So if you are asked to give a gift to a new mother, think about giving her the gift of help. Instead of clothes and toys for baby, think a little more practically. You will be making a significant difference to the journey she is beginning with her baby. You will be giving her what she needs most and she will thank you for it.
Thank you, Marcia.