Helping a new mum
April 2, 2011 2:41 AM   Subscribe

How do I help a friend who may or may not have post-natal depression, but is definitely having a rough time due to babies not being well or sleeping? I am not able to pop in for visits to help with babysitting, housework, etc but there must be something else I can do to help, surely?

Lately when I call to chat, she seems either depressed or anxious, comparing herself to other mums who *appear* to have problem-free children.

Things attempted or rejected already:

- babysitting: I live too far away to make this practical, and I suspect she doesn't want to disrupt their attempts at establishing sleeping/eating patterns and routines. Also she probably doesn't want to leave me with a sick or crying child (even though I wouldn't mind and would gladly do it if I lived closer).

- providing food: she's currently on an elimination diet under supervision of a dietician, as part of trying to work out the health issues.

- supportive listening: I've been trying to call for unpressured chats, but between the sick kids, randomly-popping-in relatives (who are believers in the 'just get over it' school of psychology) and all the doctor's appointments, we don't get much time. When we do, I feel unable to give reassurance or advice that doesn't sound completely vague, since I'm not a mother myself.

Also I think the phone calls just remind her that we haven't been in touch as much as we used to be pre-kids, and she feels the need to apologise to me for that. I don't care, these things ebb and flow and her plate is currently full. But if I do call, I feel like I've just given her another reason to beat herself up because she used to be the one to initiate phone calls.

The only thing that's helped so far is when I told her about the serious problems another mother we know was having. I think it made her feel like she wasn't the only one having so much trouble with her kids.

She is getting practical help from an early parenting group who specialise in dealing with the health and sleep issues her babies have got. Everyone says they're a fantastic group so I'm not worried that she'll be lacking medical help.

I'm just feeling helpless and wanting to help someone who's been there for me in the past. Am I just in the way? If so, I'll back off. I'd love advice from any parents who've been in a similar situation - what did your friends do that helped during a difficult time?
posted by harriet vane to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Phone calls like this saved my sanity as a single parent:

"Hi, how are you, how is the baby? Are you too busy to talk right now? Do you need help, money, emotional support, anything? BE HONEST! Are you too busy to chat? You are? That's cool, just wanted to touch base and let you know I'm thinking of you and don't you dare not ring me if you need help/money/a shoulder to cry on. I'm here for you."

Just let her know you're thinking of her. That's priceless.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:55 AM on April 2, 2011 [7 favorites]

And a daily text saying stuff like "You're a good mum! It gets better!" might not hurt, either.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 2:57 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Is visiting her at all possible? I don't mean babysitting, necessarily, although "Why don't you go take a shower/bath while I watch the baby?" can be a godsend. Maybe send her something funny in the mail regularly, e.g. a comic strip, etc? Something that focuses on her instead of her kids, I mean.
posted by bardophile at 3:12 AM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

pay for a housecleaner
posted by k8t at 3:43 AM on April 2, 2011 [11 favorites]

Could you research post-partum doulas in her area and have other friends chip in to pay for one for awhile?

While you may not be able to visit, a postpartum doula could do nearly all the things that someone who would visit would/should do --- some housecleaning, some shopping, some making of food (and could even follow the dietitian's recommendation for the elimination diet, caring for the babies while mom naps for an hour or takes a shower, etc.). And they have some training in the challenges of life with a new baby and some understanding of postpartum depression. They are also often highly familiar with local groups and resources for additional support.
posted by zizzle at 3:48 AM on April 2, 2011 [2 favorites]

Does post-natal depression=post-partum depression?

Does she have a partner who is looking out for her? Could you talk to the partner about your concerns?
posted by hal_c_on at 4:14 AM on April 2, 2011

I know it is simple but how about springing $5.00 and getting her a mefi account? This is a pretty awesome resource for a new parent - especially in line with is my kid normal and am I a bad mom sort of post-partum questions.

You could ask the mods to anonymise this question, wait a few days and blammo - get her an account.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:26 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

As a brand-new mom, I'd hold off on the idea of visiting unless she invites you. My own newborn, while AWESOME, is easily overstimulated and the idea of "Watch the baby while I shower!" doesn't really work out when the baby's reaction to this is "ZOMG WHERE'S MY MOM I'M GONNA YELL ABOUT THIS." which is how my son reacts to being held longer than 2 minutes by a new person. (Which, y'know, is fine when the new person is a relative who he's gotta get used to - not so awesome when it's my friend and I'm all "Yeah... just, yeah... I'll take him.") So, anyway, depending on the baby, it might not be quite so easy to go over and help by watching the wee one. Though things like "Let me do your dishes" or "Let me fold your laundry" might go a long way.

(And as mentioned, post-partum doulas can do this if you want to hook your friend up with one.)

Things I would appreciate:
- Care packages in the mail with things like lanolin cream (for breastfeeding) and tea and such. Any little things you think she might like in general, put a box together and send it to her.

- Phone calls are tricky. Half the time when someone calls me, I'm literally trapped under a baby. However, FaceBook messages, emails, and txts are nice. Let her know you're thinking about her and that you think she's a great mom.

- DVDs of things she likes would be a great gift. I find myself up at weird hours and watching movies is one of the few things I can do totally no-handed, making it an ideal thing to do while breastfeeding.
posted by sonika at 4:53 AM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

You probably CAN help with that elimination diet, which is one of the hardest parts of the whole thing. Find out what she's eliminating, and bring/send her suitable food. Research recipes, make it yourself, or just bring a stack of coconut yogurts or whatever is okay. Or send a fruit basket. It takes so much extra time to cook and eat for yourself when you can't just butter up some toast or whatever. And restaurant food usually can't be trusted... unless they advertise the kind of oil they use and label hidden dairy. (Many moms have to eliminate dairy and soy, which are in everything!)

Also, you can do an errand-running visit. Have her make a shopping and errand list, come over one afternoon, and do it all. Maybe you can even drop in laundry, go out shopping, return and put the stuff away, empty the dishwasher, etc. Sometimes it's hard for the new parents to get organized well enough to talk you through laundry, but a shopping list should be manageable.
posted by xo at 5:26 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

The only thing that's helped so far is when I told her about the serious problems another mother we know was having. I think it made her feel like she wasn't the only one having so much trouble with her kids.

The forums on were a lifesaver for me. It was incredibly helpful to have somewhere I could go to find out whether the weird things baby was doing were normal and get advice on how to deal with problems we were having. There are also sections devoted to parenting preemies, post-partum depression, kids' sleep issues, etc.
posted by belladonna at 6:12 AM on April 2, 2011

I really like the idea of a regular care package. I'm not a mother, but I've heard a lot of new mums talk about how isolated they felt in the early months. This would be a great way of keeping your friend connected to the outside world.

Things you might include:

- Real, handwritten letters on nice stationery. Your friend would probably love to hear what you've been up to, and as they're paper, she can carry them around and catch up whenever she has a minute. Make it clear that you don't expect her to reply in kind.

- Reading material. Books if she likes them, or maybe a trashy magazine or two. Vinnies and Salvos are great places to buy books if you want to keep things affordable. One of the stores near me sells all its paperbacks for $2 or less.

- Does your friend like puzzles? They're easy to pick up and work through when you have a minute. At newsagents and some supermarkets you can buy a monthly booklet filled with all kinds of puzzles, sudoku, crosswords, logic games, etc. I can't remember the name right now, but it's about the size of a Reader's Digest and called something like Brain Puzzles or Brain Puzzler. I buy it each month for my mother and she really enjoys it.

- Cuteness! Asian discount stores are full of fun Japanese homewares and things for baby.

- Even better than dvds of movies: dvds of tv shows. No ads, you can watch a whole season at once, and you get hours and hours of entertainment. I recently picked up the first season of Community at JB Hi-Fi for twenty bucks. (Highly recommended, btw.)

- If you have some time and you're crafty, you could also make something. There's tons of patterns online for almost anything you could want to make: amigurumi, scarves, baby blankets, etc.

This is a really nice thing you're doing for your friend. I hope you find some suggestions that work for you.
posted by Georgina at 6:29 AM on April 2, 2011

You're not in the way. Your world gets very small when you have a baby, especially one with any sort of health issues, so having a consistent and caring friend is extremely helpful. Even if there aren't many concrete things you can *do* (although others have made some great suggestions), or if she feels too frazzled and busy to enjoy your friendship or accept your support, I think you're doing the right thing by continuing to reach out.
posted by tetralix at 6:44 AM on April 2, 2011

Yes, nthing the post-partum doula, or a night nurse--anything to help her get more help and therefore sleep.
posted by pipti at 6:59 AM on April 2, 2011

> Maybe send her something funny in the mail regularly, e.g. a comic strip, etc?

Oooh! As someone who had PPD, I heartily endorse this.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:56 AM on April 2, 2011

It's too easy for new moms to hide, especially when they have PPD, they can just check out of contact so easily. When I had PPD after the birth of my second I would have loved it if someone had just shown up once or twice a week, folded and put away a load of laundry, made me eat something and gave me a long hug. That would have been magical help in a few dark months.
posted by pink candy floss at 10:14 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

Nthing the doula or baby nurse if you can afford it. Biased, because I've worked in the childcare field and have friends who do it, but you cannot underestimate the benefit to having someone trained and calm and capable to take over for just a little while. If you have a group of friends who can pool cash or you can afford it yourself, maybe hire one for just a few weeks, even. Seriously helped a new mom of twins I knew.
posted by OompaLoompa at 10:30 AM on April 2, 2011

As a mom of a 3 week old I can say that I basically dread phone calls. It is never helpful for me to "chat". No time is a good time. The baby is always eating, popping, fussing or if he's sleeping that's when I want to nap. Although I love my friends and family, them checking in is a hassle. I like the visits though, the best are the guests who come with a meal for us to eat together the tidy up afterwards. Otherwise email is the best way to contact the new family. As for help the idea of care packages of favourite snacks, magazines sounds great. Also netflix is amazing, get her a subscription if she doesn't have one.
posted by saradarlin at 10:39 AM on April 2, 2011 [5 favorites]

One of the absolute best things that happened to my partner and me in the first six weeks of our baby's life was receiving a care package from a friend who's too far away to come visit. She put in a new book, a pair of fuzzy socks, a bunch of really nice chocolates, and three letters. They were all along the style of "it gets better" -- two were from a couple we know who have a nine-month-old and one was from her.

The stuff was really nice, but what made it was those letters. Just the basic message of "other people do this, and you can, too," was HUGE. And because they are letters, we've been able to go back and look at them again during hard moments to remind us that we are loved and we can do this.
posted by linettasky at 11:17 AM on April 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

It's wonderful that you're such a dedicated friend. She'll remember this when her life is easier.

I agree that while calls are thoughtful, they're often not practical. Texts might be better. "Thinking of you! You ok?"

Research to see if there are online parenting resources where she is that could be helpful to her. For instance, where I live there is a very active online forum for parents. It costs $50 a year and is worth every penny to have access to thoughtful local advice on topics from serious illness to trusted nanny recommendations to how to plan the cutest birthday party. It isn't publicized beyond its membership so I didn't know about it until after my second child was born; it would have been a priceless resource for a new parent. See if there's something like that where she is.

Remind her that just because other parents tend to share more of their "our baby is such a blessing!" type stores, doesn't mean they aren't suffering right along with her. People just don't always talk about it... they like to put on a happy face... but new parenthood is HARD and she shouldn't feel bad for acknowledging that it sucks.
posted by fingersandtoes at 1:01 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Babies - twins? or toddler and newborn? Either way, what a huge amount of work, and if there are health issues, even more so. If the health issue is colic, please find a copy of the colic article that was in the New Yorker @ 5 years ago. I probably have a copy at work, memail if needed. I had a baby with severe colic, it was incredibly difficult, and resources were few and far between.

Steady stream of snail mail with cartoons, encouragement, etc.

Call 1st, and offer to grocery shop, or stay w/ baby while she shops, showers, etc. Even if baby has to be in the stroller, having somebody there so you know the infant is okay allows you to have a longer shower, run to the pharmacy, whatever.

If you can pay for a housekeeper, it's a huge treat. Or visit and do laundry, dishes, vacuum, clean bathroom, kitchen, make dinner.

People get easy babies, healthy babies, difficult babies, babies who sleep or not, babies with health issues. It's not her fault if her baby isn't as easy as that Mom from birth class. And some of the people who say their babies are easy not being entirely forthcoming.

In 6 months, offer help again. Once the baby is not so new, some of the support dries up, but Mom and baby may not be doing so well. An offer of help can be a beautiful thing.
posted by theora55 at 1:20 PM on April 2, 2011

>pay for a housecleaner

My mom and I paid for 2 months' worth of housecleaning visits after my sister had her second child, and Sis was very thankful. She said later on that she'd had little idea how challenging it would be to wrangle both a newborn and a 2.5-year-old (who was deeply irritated at having been nudged out of the first-child, only-grandchild spotlight).

>Remind her that just because other parents tend to share more of their "our baby is such a blessing!" type stores, doesn't mean they aren't suffering right along with her. People just don't always talk about it...

I can't second this enough! I have a friend who is particularly susceptible to this train of thought. Things were tough right after her son was born, though it's easing up as her son gets older and she gets reinforcement from his teachers, his friends' parents, et al., that he's doing OK.

Something that helped when I heard my friend comparing herself negatively to other moms was to say, gently, "You're comparing your insides with someone else's outsides." Other people may look like they've got it all together, but inside, they probably feel as frantic as you do.

(Note: IANAMom, but what gives me credibility with my friend is that I have depression, I have shared this with her, and she knows that I struggle with vanquishing negative self-talk as well.)
posted by virago at 1:33 PM on April 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much everyone - I really appreciate hearing from people who've been through this before. The more suggestions, the better!

So far, I'm thinking that one of the easiest changes I could make would be to switch some of the phone calls to text messages, and email her silly/cute things. She is still checking her email, not regularly, but it's not like pictures of ducklings are time-dependent.

We don't have Netflix here in Oz, but I can absolutely get her some DVDs. Silly me, I did that with her first baby and she watched them during late-night feeds. Can absolutely do it again.

When I do get an opportunity to visit, I won't come without chocolates or a trashy magazine. I'm thinking I won't ask if she needs housework help, I might just dive in and do it.

I'll look into post-partum doula type things, and online forums. The bonus of a forum is that again, it's not time-dependent - she can go online whenever she's got time, no need to schedule it.
posted by harriet vane at 7:25 PM on April 2, 2011

There are some huge detractors to internet forums, though. And that's not they're not real. Not in the way a real person coming over is real.

I had all the internet forums I wanted as a new mom. What I didn't have was people coming over. Internet forums are no substitute for people. I really wish more than anything now that we had had a post partum doula or a house cleaner or someone that I would know would stop by at some point that I could at least have a normal conversation with.

And much as many people here say that they dreaded phone calls as a new mom, I as a new mom wished people would have called me more often. I had very few people calling unless I called them. I'm sure this was partly out of respect and not wanting to disturb me, but what I needed was to know that people were thinking of me. I wanted phone calls and I wanted visitors. I had very little of either.

Everyone is different, of course, but for me nothing was worse than being left so completely alone with nothing other than a computer screen and typed text.
posted by zizzle at 6:49 AM on April 4, 2011

A bit of a follow-up here: I switched to texting more often, which seemed to suit her and she started initiating texting exchanges too. After she had been to the early parenting group, they arranged for her to see a counsellor as she did have slight depression. They've now given her some books about that, helped her figure out a routine for her littlest bub that leaves time for her to do a little light exercise and have naps at the same time as her boys, and helped her and dad work through the jealousy of the older boy for the attention the little one was getting. She says it was brilliant and so helpful and now seems tired but no longer depressed at present.

I caught up with her today to do some clothes shopping, in a big rush because she had to get back in time for breastfeeding. But she was so much more cheerful after we'd been out in the fresh air and looked at all the pretty things, had a chat about the news and so on. I've told her that if she needs me to give practical help or just listen to her vent, then I'm available any time she likes.

I feel better about it now she's seen some professionals and I've had a chance to talk to her in person rather than over the phone!
posted by harriet vane at 10:44 PM on April 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

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