The baby is a few weeks old. For the last few weeks, friends and family have come to visit, meals have been provided. But the glow has soon worn off, and everyone leaves the new parent or parents alone to tend to their child.
There are often things that are forgotten in the afterglow of a healthy baby’s birth. It seems rare that people ask how mom is, or how their partner is doing. From personal experience with a difficult birth and recovery, a social worker did come to check on me in the hospital. She noted that I was coping well. I was also in a hospital where I was surrounded by people helping me, and also on rather powerful painkillers as well. Anyone looks ok when they are on enough Vicodin.
But at some point, you aren’t at the hospital and people stop coming. That’s when the real stress and difficulty of parenting begins. There are rarely people coming by or even calling to check in on you anymore. Social isolation often sets in. Depression. Loss of identity. That’s just if you stay home and have a way to stay home with the baby. Otherwise, you are working on little to no sleep and still recovering from the baby and go home to take care of a newborn. There is no time for you anymore.
There are often cursory mentions of these things in the news media or on blogs: postpartum depression is a serious problem, yes, and yes, the United States should provide better maternity leave. However, nothing new seems to be done but talk.
I don’t have any clear suggestions for large government policy here, because there is enough written about that. In the reproductive justice and birth space, there are things we can do to ameliorate this. Don’t downplay the potential difficulties of a new child, especially if it’s a first one. Talk seriously about the changes to one’s life and how hard the adjustment will be with expectant parents. Hospitals should avail the opportunity to make centering groups turn into new parents’ groups. Do not make all of the support just be about breastfeeding the child. Turn part of that support around for the mother’s well-being instead of just feeding her stats about how breastfeeding and bonding are good for her health. Remind her that she is still a person and that her needs matter, too.
Finally, if you have a friend with a new child, if you really want to be a friend, hang out with them. Be ok that you guys probably aren’t going out to party anymore, but maybe just sitting at someone’s house for a few hours. Talk to them about their baby if they want, but remember there’s more, especially to a new mom, than the baby. Remind her that she is still a person beyond the diapers, the laundry, and the current monotony of life. Trust me, such a simple thing might be the best thing you can do.