From our February 2015 E-Newsletter:
At It Takes a Village, we strive to support mothers in a way that is compassionate, nonjudgmental, efficient, and, above all, helpful. Each season, we have a new batch of volunteers come together and learn exactly how to provide this kind of assistance to mothers. We talk about what they should expect coming into someone’s home, the different kinds of things they should do around the home (pending any personal limitations, such as a knee/hip injury), and the various resources they should know about in the area that could help their volunteer family in this time of transition (say, the It Takes a Village Mother’s Group, our Village Closet, or similar groups down in the Pioneer Valley).
Ringing in the start of February 2015, we thought it would be great to write an article sharing some tips from us (ITAV volunteers, coordinators and families, alike) to the outside world on how to be the best postpartum visitor to a family with a newborn. I guarantee that if you can do at least one, if not all, of the things on this list, you’re sure to be invited back again!
- Bring a meal along with you. Cook up something before you visit; if it’s a friend, think of a meal that you know they’ll enjoy; if you’re volunteering, err on the safe side regarding allergies—roasted veggies and rice, in separate packs, are a go-to for me because they’re both gluten/soy/dairy-free options. Pack up your meal in something that requires minimum clean-up, preferably a disposable bag, aluminum foil, parchment paper, etc. If you use Tupperware, either prep the meal there and wash it, or leave a note on the meal saying the Tupperware is theirs to keep. If you’re not the greatest chef in the world, gently insist on bringing take-out; for example, you could say “I’m in [insert place] and there’s a Subway, pizza place, and Chinese Restaurant. What can I get you from any of these places?” If they seem hesitant to take you up on the offer, then ask if there’s anything you can grab from the grocery store. Make sure to let them know that you are more than happy to do any of this, some moms are very shy/hesitant about accepting help!
- Be Perceptive. If you have children, then you might remember those first few weeks and months of postpartum. Your first few weeks revolve around this new little bundle—feeding them, putting them down to sleep, feeding them some more, and—you guessed it—feeding them, again. This schedule leaves little to no room for cleaning/tidying the house, doing dishes, or the occasional laundry load. That being said, assume that all of these things listed are on the table as things to do when you arrive. Look around when you first enter the home: is there a sink full of dishes? A pile of laundry, waiting to be folded? Countertops that could use a nice cleaning? Don’t hesitate to attend to any of these things; a new mom isn’t, and shouldn’t have to ask you. If she does have any things she’d like for you to do, then of course, those take precedent—but if you find yourself with any free moments, just look around and you’re bound to find something to do that will make Momma’s life easier.
- Clean Up After Yourself. Maybe this one goes without saying, but this is a big one. Maybe your visit becomes more about companionship—you’ve hung out, chatted about life and baby, maybe you’ve just had lunch together. Maybe you both had some tea and spent some time outdoors. And now, you’re getting ready to leave—but not before you make sure your dishes are cleaned and put away, you didn’t trail in any dirt/debris from outside, and you’ve put everything you may have moved (furniture, shoes, boxes, etc.) back where they belong. In my work as a childcare provider, I try to think back to the idea of leaving the home in a better condition than it was when I first arrived; and a very, very important part of that is making sure to keep a conscientious eye on my contributions in the home.
- Leave All Judgments/Opinions at the Door. This one may sound easy, but it’s really underestimated how difficult it is to keep it in check. There are many approaches out there about birth, pregnancy, parenting, and specifically, the parenting of infants. There are also many opinions out there about those approaches, and it’s very likely that you may have some opinions or experiences related to these approaches. However, I urge you: leave these opinions and experiences at the door, unless otherwise asked to share. A new mother is bombarded by these approaches and opinions in the form of doctors, nurses, midwives, family, friends, books (I’m looking at you, Dr. Sears) and other mothers. She may feel overwhelmed, like her voice is diminishing underneath all of these different perspectives and attitudes, and it can make figuring out how to parent in those early months all the more difficult. So, leave your opinions out of it, unless she asks.
- Be the One to Reach Out About Communication/Making Plans. Remember when I talked about how Mommas’ lives tend to revolve around feedings for the first couple of months? This means that calling you to make plans may not be at the top of her list. If you want to see her and be there to help, get the ball rolling by sending her a call or text. Be prepared with your availability, so you don’t waste her time. If your schedule isn’t as cut-and-dry and keeps you from knowing your availability in advance of a week or so, then make plans on when you’ll be in touch to tell her what times will be best—and be sure to follow up when you say you will. And above all, do everything in your midst to avoid canceling—remember that for her, you may be the only adult person she’s going to see until her partner gets home, so she’ll really be looking forward to your visit.
- Don’t Be Afraid To Not Know the Answer. It’s really tempting to want to be the “expert” for the mama you’re working with, and to want to have all the answers at the ready for her. But remember—there are a lot of mysteries when it comes to babies. They cry for reasons we don’t know, they want to feed at mysterious times of day, and their sleep schedules can sometimes be all over the place. Even if you’re a “baby whisperer,” sometimes you’re going to feel completely duped on this little bundle, and that’s okay. Whether you’re a veteran mama, a friend without children at home, a volunteer, a postpartum doula, or a grandmother, sometimes we just don’t know the answer. So if Momma asks you a question that you have no idea how to answer, it’s okay to say “You know, I don’t really know about that. But I can reach out to some other folks for you!”You may also find that sometimes, you’ll encounter some really raw times in postpartum where Momma shares feelings of frustration, isolation, exhaustion, and even despair. You don’t need to know the answers here, either; just keep in mind that it’s enough to be there for her, to validate her feelings, and to offer a hand or engaged presence. In these tough and trying times, remind her that she is incredibly strong, that she is doing a great job, and that, above all, she is not alone in trying to figure out this mother thing.
When we give mothers the time to recuperate and regroup following the transformational experience of birth, we strengthen the family unit as a whole. Not just letting mothers know—but showing them—that we are there to support them creates a culture where women feel respected and appreciated for all the work they have done in laboring and caring for their newborn.