“I just want my mom, and we agreed today that she has to cancel her plane ticket.” An expecting mom we’re working with broke down last week sharing how her last remaining plan for postpartum support had unraveled. Among the many pieces of normalcy lost during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the most heartbreaking is the ability to be there in person for new moms.
Whether you planned to help after the birth of a niece or nephew, a grandchild, or your best friend’s newest baby, your plans have likely changed. Now, the freshly postpartum mom whom you love is at home with no outside support. But with a little creative thinking, you can still provide her with meaningful help. We are two sisters who have turned our postpartum doula and new parent educator training into a business, meant to address the gap in support available to expecting and new families. As we’ve worked with parents - in person and virtually - we’ve learned that there are lots of things friends and family can do that make a big impact when a baby is born. Here are five ways you can strengthen your bond with that sweet baby and support a growing family from afar:
Photo above: authors Candy Baracat-Donovan and Tiffany Miller, two real-life sisters who now work together supporting new parents
Be aware of the four areas where new parents need the most help: mental health, sleep, food and their support system
You can find ways to help a new parent in each of these areas. If they indicate they need it, help them find a therapist or other care provider that provides telemedicine visits (that’s really hard to do for yourself when you’re struggling). Buy gift certificates for a sleep coach or online sleep class (if the parents say they’d be interested in that). Send restaurant gift cards or order them delivery from afar. Pick up their curbside grocery order. Offer to text or chat with them during early morning or late-night feedings.
A mom we know (whose partner had to immediately go back to work after their baby was born) says that the best thing her friends did for her was to start a group text chat where she could vent, ask for advice, or just share her feelings about being a first-time mom.
Say the right things
We’ve all been there – the well-meaning phrase you use comes out sounding….totally wrong. Choose your words carefully, as expecting and new parents are especially on edge right now. Instead of “Women have given birth under all kinds of terrible circumstances,” say, “This must be pretty stressful for you; do you need a listening ear?” Replace “The goal is a healthy baby and a healthy mom,” with “Your mental health is as important to me as your physical health, and I’m always here for you.” Giving birth or welcoming a new baby during a global pandemic is uncharted territory for us all, and unless you’re specifically asked for advice, err on the side of listening more than you talk.
Respect their boundaries
You likely wouldn’t drop in on new parents without calling first. In the same way, don’t expect them to accommodate a chat just because you felt like calling. Make technology work without it becoming a stressor for the new parents. While FaceTime, Skype and video conferencing tools are handy, they can quickly put more on your loved one’s to-do list than is manageable.
Make dates to connect virtually just like you would if you were there in person. When you do talk, let them pick the topics of conversation. Steer clear of stressful things like the news, and keep things positive while making it clear you’re available if they need to vent or share concerns.
When we had our most recent babies just months apart, we scheduled a twice-weekly FaceTime date for when all our kids were napping, and it was a bright spot to look forward to in the monotony of feed baby/change diapers/repeat.
The good news is that your loved one just wants you, quirks and all! Every new parent needs four types of support people – which one can you be?
- The rock - this person answers middle of the night “SOS!” texts, provides non-judgmental support, and offers advice only when asked
- The Type-A wonder – the organized, thoughtful friend who drops off a new mom’s favorite takeout dinner and texts only as they’re driving away
- The cheerleader – the moral supporter who encourages the new parents and reminds them that they’re doing a great job
- The distractor - the one who might now have a lot of (or any) parenting experience but who can offer a welcome distraction or funny meme when mom or dad needs a laugh
Bond from afar
Share in the mundane details of new parenthood! Make it clear that you want to hear about the diaper blowouts, the funny expression baby makes while sleeping, and how the dog is adjusting to the new addition.
Does the family have older kids? FaceTime with them to give mom and dad a break, or record yourself reading stories (our parents have done this for our kids during the quarantine, and those videos get played constantly in our homes!). Offer to help with schoolwork or play games via Skype.
Use apps that allow you to record video or audio messages for your loved ones to listen to when they’re up for middle-of-the-night feedings. Technology that allows you to connect on their schedule is so amazing for new parents!
Remember, the new parents in your life just want to know that you’re still there for them, even if you can’t be there in person. Show them that you care from afar, until the day you can hold their new baby in your arms!
Photo above: our 90-something grandparents have learned how to FaceTime so they can sing to our babies in Virginia from their home in Florida