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Let’s Be Mindful for New and Expecting Mothers: Lived Experiences and Tips for extended family and friends

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Written by: Dr. Matthew McKenzie | Psychologist

This month, I thought about taking a slightly different approach to how I would usually go about generating a blog article. In a conversation with a dear friend who is expecting her second child and another friend who is expecting her very first, I was reminded that psychology is indeed about each person’s unique lived experience and interestingly about the degree to which there is shared experience among several people. As a male psychologist, I have long had an awareness that my capacity for understanding the complete depth of a woman’s experience will always be somewhat limited, simply because it has never been and will never be my lived experience. But part of our growth as human beings should be about learning how to enter into the world of others (whether it be the other gender or some other facet of identity that differentiates us) and make an effort to understand their experience and moreover, respond to it in a helpful way.

Just in time for International Women’s Day 2020, I had the opportunity to sit with 5 new or expecting mothers from different countries and varied cultural backgrounds to ask about some of the things they thought about, perhaps worried about leading up to and just after delivery and what advice they would give to an audience who was interested in hearing their concerns. Most women will agree that bringing a child into the world is hard work – not only because of the physical demands inherent in pregnancy and delivery, but also the often-silent anxiety (amidst the burgeoning excitement of course) that comes from being responsible for a new little human in its most vulnerable period. Surrounded by friends and family who are equally excited about the child that is on its way, mothers can often be concerned about how these individuals show their well-intentioned support. As many of us are frequent members of this pool of extended family and friends – let us hear some of the ways that expecting mothers would like us to be mindful for them.

  1. While families appreciate the show of love, support and excitement to meet the newest member of the family. These mothers wanted others to be mindful of the massive ordeal (the delivery) which mother and child just experienced. Time is needed to allow mother and child to rest and recover. Do not be too quick to visit (home or hospital) and if you are unsure about whether it is the right time, then ask. The timing can be highly variable from one family to the next and from one pregnancy to the next. Every pregnancy and delivery is its own journey, some with more challenges than others, so it is important that we respect that the time of readiness to have visitors will vary as well. Once enough time has passed, if unable to visit then call to check in – having a newborn can feel overwhelming and well-timed breaks can be good for the mother’s mental health.One mother shared an important point, that visitors may want to especially think about how close they are to the mother of the child rather than the father. The new mother may be particularly sensitive and may appreciate more time before having visitors that she may not be particularly close with (e.g., a few weeks rather than a few days).
  2. Read the room, know when it’s time to go and do not overstay your welcome. Many of the mothers (some more than others) expressed that it was challenging to be assertive about this with extended family and friends. Some mothers are not afraid to let visitors know ahead of time what duration they can accommodate, or they may set specific times for visiting – this is a great way to establish a boundary. Other mothers have used the rough 2-3 hour feeding schedule to guide ongoing visits to a polite end with mother and child leaving the visiting space for nursing and napping in private.
  3. Do not visit expecting to be served or entertained, instead, it would be nice if it were the other way around – expressing willingness to help with something or serve in some small way. There can be so many balls in the air to juggle with a newborn in hand – offer to help wherever you think you might be able to (laundry, washing up a few dishes, etc.). Even if the mother declines, she will indeed appreciate knowing the willing support is there.
  4. Many (certainly not all) women may have had a baby shower where friends and family would have brought gifts for the baby in advance of its arrival. This is a tremendous help for many parents. Though this may have been the case, and especially if it was not the case – check to see if there is any little thing that the parents may need for the child before you visit. Once again, even if the mother declines, she will indeed appreciate knowing the willing support is there. Two of the expecting mothers I spoke with smiled and added that sometimes an offer to bring breakfast, lunch, dinner or just some special food or drink the new mother may be longing for would be warmly welcomed.
  5. For very close family members and friends be mindful that sleep and time to self is an expensive and scarce commodity in their first few months of taking care of a newborn. Offer to hold or keep a watchful eye on the baby to allow the mother some time to have a bath or shower, eat or take a nap. Additionally, when the baby develops a routine (in 3 to 6 months) very close friends and family who are willing to babysit when needed, is indeed a priceless gift.
  6. Not only in this current season of serious illness, but ALWAYS – be mindful of your own health and consider whether you are well enough to visit the baby and moreover to hold the child. If you may have a virus/cold/cough, it’s best to stay away and visit another day. Babies’ immune systems are a far cry from our own as adults, so if your health conditions are not appropriate, show your love from afar until you are certain things have changed. Even when you are well, ensure that you wash your hands and sanitise appropriately before coming into contact with the newborn and seek permission from the parents to pick them up/hold them.
  7. In this day and age so many of us are connected to various social media platforms, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, please respect that some parents do not want their children on social media. Asking permission before sharing a photo or post about their child is a common courtesy we should all exercise. Do not be offended – the culture of social media use is varied, and we are all entitled to adopt different stances.

Thanks again to all the expecting mothers who contributed to these thoughts – we hear you; we are listening. Let us take this on board and be mindful for family members and friends who are expecting. For more information on navigating adjustments and the inherent challenges of parenting, please feel free to contact us at Drop of Life Psychology Clinic.

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