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When my friend Lara told me in confidence that she was a few weeks pregnant last March, it was as if she were carrying my child. I doted on her, fluffed her pillows, sent her sweet-nothing texts brimming with baby name ideas and nursery themes. I made her promise to call me to take her to the hospital if she went into labor and her husband wasn't around.
Lara gave birth in December, and this first month has been a rough road. Her 7-year-old daughter has been resentful of the attention directed toward her baby sister. Her husband is seemingly inclined to be as unhelpful as possible. Lara and the baby have thrush that no amount of antibiotics seem to be helping. She doesn't have time to shop and cook so she's not eating well. And colic is preventing her (and the baby) from sleeping well.
In short—despite having an older daughter—she's a new mom.
The good news is that I'm not a new mom. My girls are 4 and 7 and I'm done having kids. With the benefit of a little time and space, I've realized the best gift I can give Lara right now is to listen to her.
Even if you have a baby who never gets sick, sleeps for long stretches at night and generally acts cherubic, the first year—and especially the first few months—is hard.
I threw her a baby shower in the fall. After she gave birth, I came by the hospital with the bottle of rosé she made me promise over the summer to hook up to her I.V. I brought lunch to her home a week after the baby was born. But I also recognized that what she needed more than gear, food and keepsakes was empathy.
Even if you have a baby who never gets sick, sleeps for long stretches at night and generally acts cherubic, the first year—and especially the first few months—is hard. Whether you have older kids or it's your first, an expanding family always experiences growing pains.
Not helping matters for Lara, either, is that most of our friends are in the same situation as me, which is that we're pretty much done having babies. Our kids are a bit older and we're out of that newborn/sleepless/breastfeeding/colicky phase that can leave you feeling as if you're losing your mind and have no control over your body or schedule. She feels a bit left behind and not inclined at the moment to try and make a second set of friends who have babies as young as her new one.
The good news is that my younger daughter isn't so old that I can't remember the early days. I'm also far enough removed from that era so I can listen—just listen—without needing to chime in with any of my own anecdotes.
While some may try, you can't wish away the first year. What you can do, though, is talk through it.
I can't sleep for Lara or nurse for her. And I can offer to grocery shop and cook, hold her sleeping baby so she can shower, take her older daughter for an outing or knock some sense into her husband, although those are all Band-Aids. What I've realized I can do best, and what she really seems to need, is to just to be an ear (and a shoulder) for her to talk to, cry on, complain and commiserate.
Another friend and I were worried Lara might be suffering from the baby blues or even postpartum depression, although while we'll keep being alert to any symptoms, it seems as if she's just plain overwhelmed. And she can hardly be blamed—caring for a brand new life is staggering.
While some may try, you can't wish away the first year. What you can do, though, is talk through it. I can't put it in a box and tie it up in a bow and she won't be able to put it in a baby book or wear it around her neck or wrist, but the cheapest and most effective way for me to help Lara right now is to give her the gift of listening. And hopefully making it through the early months with the help of friends will be just as meaningful.