I never really knew what to do when my friends had babies before I had my own. Sometimes I sent a card. More often it was an email and maybe the vague, unhelpful offer of "Let me know if I can do anything." I certainly meant to be helpful but I simply didn't know what a new family truly needs. It took me a long time before I thought to ask a new mom what she really wanted and she said, "A friend to drop off some food and then leave immediately."
When I had my first son, I felt a sense of near shame as I was surrounded by mothers who propped me up and did things for me that I never knew I needed. Lend an ear. Bring me a taco. Shower me with hand-me-downs that would have cost a small fortune had I paid for them myself. Give me a look that said "I've been there and are you okay?" Send me a gift that was just for me. But then as I slowly got myself together and other friends had their children I realized this is just how it is.
Most don't learn what a new mom really needs until they've experienced it firsthand. Like the time I met a new mom friend for lunch and I heard the hysteria in her voice over the phone as she said "I parked but I can't UNFOLD THIS FREAKING STROLLER!!" I knew too well how in the first month or two, everything is stressful, triple that for things done in public. I left our food on the table and exited the restaurant to go find her and unfold the stroller for her and say "I totally get it." We went back to the restaurant and had a lovely meal.
But it's more than just purging and proselytizing, when you help a new mom out. It feels like something rather ancient, something women have been doing since they started having babies.
Then there was the time when a new mom friend foolishly invited a few friends over for dinner. Having been there ourselves, we knew what to do. We were like a SWAT team. We assessed the situation, attacked it and were out quickly. We swarmed with pizza and salad and dessert and wine and paper plates, ate, cleaned it all up (plus the dishes in her sink) and took out all the trash in the house. I considered it one of my greatest missions to date.
Sometimes paying it forward can be selfish. It feels good to spout off what you've learned and feel wizened. It feels great to get old clothes and furniture out of your house while pretending like you've helped someone.
But it's more than just purging and proselytizing, when you help a new mom out. It feels like something rather ancient, something women have been doing since they started having babies. A baby comes and there is help. Someone lightens your load because somebody lightened hers and then you lighten someone else's.
Another friend had a baby recently. She was having a hard time and I told her the same things my friends told me my first time around. It's hard. Don't feel bad about it being hard. All your emotions are valid and normal. It will get better but knowing that doesn't help in the moment. I also sent her a frozen Chicago pizza and a subscription to People. She thanked me profusely. I told her, "I'm just doing what you're going to do for your mom friends when it's your time to pay it forward."