- Rest: Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to get straight back into work (if you can of course), or cleaning for God’s sake, or even cooking. And yes I’ll throw in the disclaimer that every mother is different and different things work for them. But I’m talking about a mother (first-time or not) who has just been through hours of the most physically painful task that she will ever endure in her life (or undergone a major operation i.e. a caesarean), and is now expected to keep a human being alive by feeding it. So I say to you, just rest. Don’t try to be a superhero and do everything on your own. Trust me, there will be PLENTY of time later when doing EVERYTHING will fall on you. For now, just be easy on yourself and give yourself and your body time to heal, to adjust, to reset. For all those hormones to do their thing, for your uterus to shrink, for your tears to heal, for your stitches to heal, for your aching and full breasts to adjust to the milk, for every muscle in your body to fall back into their place. Just, rest.
- Support: In saying that, a crucial prerequisite for a mother with a newborn to rest is having support from family/friends/community. Obviously she cannot simply rest if there is nobody around to take care of the older children, or the housework, or even cooking food to feed herself and her family. The state of post-natal care in this country is already miserable, and what doesn’t help is the increasing distance between family members and friends, the lack of sincere concern, the unwillingness to sacrifice one’s own time to help someone in need because we place ourselves, and our work, first. So if you know someone who has just given birth, swing by their house once a week and drop off food, or clean their house, or play with the other kids, or just keep this woman company. Trust me, she needs it.
- Wisdom and Tact: To add to this, a VERY important prerequisite to supporting a new mother and being there for her, is to do it with wisdom and tact. If you are going to be there everyday judging her every move, or being insensitive to her struggle with her child, or feel the need to offer your “advice” on how to rear children, or you constantly throw out your observations on how skinny the baby looks, or you KISS THE BABY ON THE FACE, or don’t give the baby back to mum WHEN SHE ASKS FOR HER CHILD who is CRYING, it’s best that you just stay away. Just don’t visit. It will do her much more harm than good. I will say here though that as mothers, we really need to learn to be more relaxed and not so hyper-sensitive about everything. We also need to stop acting like we know everything the second we give birth just because we’ve read an article on the internet about how to (or how not to) put your baby to sleep etc. etc. We should be wise enough and dignified enough to take on the sage advice of our own mothers, or more experienced mum friends/family, and not offend them by constantly asserting our ‘knowledge’. That we got from the internet. What needs to be simultaneously happening though is that the support network (grandparents, aunts, friends etc.) need to take a step back and allow the mother to just be a mother. To give her space to consolidate her new role as a mother, to figure out her relationship with her baby, and even to just figure out the baby. Like I said above, wisdom and tact is necessary on behalf of the support system.
- The Father: The husband really needs to suck it up and pull his weight more than usual. The early phase (and when I say early, I really mean the first 6 months at least) is a turbulent time. Your wife IS going to change. And if you think it’s wrong or weird that she is different, well I really only have this to say to you…DUHHHH. Your wife has literally just been a conduit for life and you expect her to be the same girl she was when you married her? Not happening. And you shouldn’t expect her to be. You should expect her to change, to grow, to mould into a different self. One that will be defined wholly (initially) by motherhood. More than this though, there will be difficult moments when your wife is irrational, moody, hypersensitive, and so on, because she is so focused on keeping this creature alive. And whilst I’ve already given my warning to mothers about being hypersensitive, what I would say needs to happen on the part of the husband is to simply muster your patience and let. It. Go. Don’t try to nitpick her every moody moment every single time. Know that she is trying to negotiate a very tough phase, and hey, she is literally keeping YOUR progeny alive. Give her a break. Later (like, MONTHS later), you can tell her how mother-lion-y she was. And you can laugh about it. Maybe. I think a crucial point to keep in the forefront of your mind for both mother and father at this time is that you are in it together, and you should both be helping each other to navigate through it. I am emphasising the father’s role more heavily here though because evidently, it is the mother who experiences the most upheaval during this time, and is the one who needs more support, care and attention.
- Perseverance: This one is mainly for mum and dad, but can be for everyone involved in supporting and raising baby. Those early days are tough, and unless you have been blessed with some angel baby who feeds well and sleeps through the night, let me tell you, you are going to have to steel yourself and utilise some perseverance. When we brought home our first child, we had NO idea what we were doing, nobody told us anything really, and our baby would not sleep for more than 20 MINUTES AT A TIME. At night. And we were already on barely any sleep what with the labour lasting all night and so on. I’m telling you, sleep deprivation is literally a torture method and by the end of the first week, my husband and I were insane and questioning every decision we’d ever made that led to having this baby, including marrying each other. For reals. Throw into this the fact that for me, breastfeeding was pure torture. The only thing I can say to our credit about how we handled this time, was that we persevered. Through every sleepless night, and every painful feed, we pushed ourselves to keep going. And eventually, as the weeks passed, things got easier. We learnt our baby. So my advice, particularly for first time parents, is that the labour is one hurdle, but bringing that baby home is quite another, drawn out hurdle. Prepare yourself by steeling your nerves and endurance. And know that things WILL get easier. I promise.
- Thankfulness: Lastly, but certainly not least, a crucial part of surviving this tender phase is ensuring that we have shukr, or thankfulness and gratitude for the baby that you have been blessed with. It can be very easy to get caught up in the difficulties, the struggles, the lack of sleep, the complete change in our lifestyles and even our bodies and throw into this mix the crazy things happening with your hormones. One thing that I have learnt in retrospect, after having two children, is that there will never be a time like the newborn period. Your baby will only for around 6 months of their entire lives be a being of pure light and sweetness, of overwhelming fragility, of tiny toes and hands and heavenly newborn smell. So take a moment or two to just be thankful, to marvel over this perfect creature that you helped bring into the world. The struggles will still be there, but it will allow you to capture the magic of this time, to soak it all in, and therefore to give you the resilience to get through the difficulties.
Featured image is of me (editor Saltanat) with my first born in her newborn phase. Tough times. Don’t be fooled by the cute pic.