When we open our mouths and say things to new mothers, the stakes are high.
Maybe our words will soothe their nagging postpartum anxiety or maybe we’ll offend them so profoundly, our inadvertent insult will haunt them for the rest of their days. We often forget how powerful what we say to our friends, coworkers, daughters, daughters-in-law, and sisters can be at such a surreal and vulnerable time.
So, here are ten actually helpful things to say to new mothers, both because these things are universally true and, in a country with such dismal paid maternity leave policies, new mothers need all the love we can give.
You did it. You totally did it!
Having a child is bananas, whether you shove it out of your vagina, open your stomach as a service exit, or endure the rigors of a lengthy adoption process.
Whatever a new mom did to have that baby, she could probably use a little credit. Shake your head and marvel at her. Sure, that baby is great, but your friend has decided to be that baby’s mother, FOREVER. Do not let the new mother go unsung.
You look beautiful.
Because she does! She probably doesn’t look like the way she did before the baby was born, but to be beautiful is not to be the same forever, it’s not to be rigid and unchanging.
She’s a new person now. And sleeplessness, love, worry, devotion, and every hormone in between are remaking her into something that’s aglow with life.
See that in her. And tell her you do!
What a perfect baby.
Look, you don’t have to lie and say that her baby’s cute if he’s not. But you don’t have to point that shit out either!
We see things and we want to say what we see, to assess them, categorize them, convince ourselves that by taking in all of that baby’s physical features, we truly know them. But squint and you’ll see more than the baby’s features. You’ll see a tiny being very new to earth, you’ll hear its sweet breaths and surprising farts, and you’ll likely be endeared to it.
The point is, don’t talk about how her baby looks. Her baby is perfect, and so is she, and so are you.
No, you don’t smell like milk. Nope, not at all.
She does, though. Because, of course she does!
Whether it’s leaking out of her breasts, or through the broken lip of those weird bottles everyone says are the best, or straight out of her baby’s mouth onto – goddammit – your white silk tank top (why would you wear that to go meet a baby anyway?), she is deep the milk weeds.
So, get a grip, and tell your friend she doesn’t smell like anything and move on to another topic. Talk about this bonkers election. Talk about how you’ll never be over avocado toast.
JUST MOVE ON.
I will not be insulted when you ask me to leave, so please ask me to leave whenever you want, and I will leave immediately.
Nobody wants a lingerer, except when they desperately want you to linger.
Your friend might be deep into season three of “The Great British Baking Show” and need you to bounce so she can get back to the pie episode in order to abate the terror she feels about whether or not her kid is getting enough milk.
On the other hand, she might need you to stay for two hours just to remind herself that the existence of other adult human life is more than just a lucid dream she had during a 5 a.m. cluster feed.
The postpartum struggle is real. Prostrate yourself at the altar of her particular terror.
Do you want to watch “The Great British Baking Show” while I do dishes and hold the baby?
Do those dishes!
Or, if she’s been existing solely on takeout, simply sit next to her in silence and watch together, the way you used to. And when you accidentally eat one of the croissants you brought over for her, silently hope she doesn’t notice and then quickly say,
I will be bringing more croissants.
You should have brought at least four! She needs them.
Watching amateur bakers with soothing accents roll butter and dough together is not the same as eating them. Breastfeeding burns 300-500 calories a day and mixing and sterilizing bottles is no savasana either.
If it’s summer, skip the pastries and bring a watermelon. Cut it up in her kitchen, but please: remind her that you carried a watermelon only once – twice max – since she either carried a child for 40 weeks or will be carrying a 25-pound toddler soon enough, and neither of those lead to hydration or a slow grind with a hot dance instructor.
Send a text featuring the baby emoji, followed by the smiling poop emoji, followed by a question mark.
Use a variation on this text every few days to make sure the baby is pooping, and that your friend is doing okay, without asking her the dreaded: ARE YOU OK?
Maybe she wants to talk. Maybe she just wants to text back and forth for thirty minutes using only emojis, bitmojis, and gifs from the TGIF line-up back in 1993. She’s simultaneously sustaining a human life and mourning the loss of her youth and the people – namely Steve Urkel – who were an integral part of it.
Just get on board.
Nothing will ever be the same and I’m so glad.
Maybe this new mother used to go to happy-hour karaoke with you and get charmingly loopy after half a gin and tonic, or maybe she was your baby a long time ago, or maybe she married your baby, or maybe you shared a room with her when you were a baby.
No matter what your relationship is, this whole becoming a mother thing is going to mess it up. Or, rather, refresh it, maybe even enrich it.
Go with the “enrich it” version. Buoy the new mother in your life, and show her how you’d like to be buoyed when you’re at your most raw and in need.
I’ve scheduled an in-home massage for you, and nobody cares if you pee a little bit on the table.
Women of earth have birthed every single one of us. Let’s be kind to each other and to ourselves.
New motherhood (and regular motherhood) is a trippy, glorious, mind-bending shitshow. The least we all can do is hire somebody who’ll temporarily relieve the weight of the world these new mothers – and all mothers – carry on their shoulders every single day.