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How To Be The Village

I absolutely begged the universe for this beautiful, smiling-in-his-sleep baby boy, and I absolutely was out-of-my-mind exhausted after his arrival.

How To Be The Village

1.    Show up.
2.    Bring food.
3.    Then leave.

~Annie Flavin

***

I am 26 years old and newly engaged to my (now) husband.  He and I go out to relaxing dinners and then text our friends, who’ve just had their first baby, to see if we can come over and hang, like we did all of the time before they had a baby because we think, “What’s the big deal – we’ll just hang with them and the baby now; there’s no difference at all.”  They always say yes, so we show up again swinging our arms (that is, with absolutely no food or drink for them) to sit on their couch and gab while holding their perfect little babe.

I look back fondly on that time.  And with great horror.  We’d play house and baby with them and then, at about 11p.m., we’d hand their precious baby back to them and stretch our arms and legs with an obnoxiously exaggerated yawn.  We’d walk out the door to go home to our clean beds and wake up whenever our hearts desired.  I mean, we THOUGHT we had stuff to do the next day: I was in my third year of law school, my husband was building a new company.  We certainly were busy.  But we were in charge of ourselves, our time, our bodies.

I look back in horror at the lack of anything helpful we provided our friends.  We brought no food with us.  No, let me correct that: ONE time we brought food and then we ATE IT with them.  We never said, “Here, give us the baby.  You both go upstairs and sleep.”  Or, “Give us the baby and go out to dinner yourselves.”  Or, how about just a text to them that said, “There is food on your porch.  Enjoy.”  I console myself at our ignorance at the time by remembering the ONE time we babysat overnight for their babe and the many 6-packs of beer we brought over.  The babysitting was real; the beer was most assuredly drunk entirely by us.

We were pathetic.  But, after having 3 kids of my own in 5 years, I accept the blame for my ignorance while realizing our culture is just not always aware of what new parents need.  So many of us are pathetically wanting to help but not knowing what “help” means to a new parent.

When Pat and I brought our first born home, everyone and their brother (and we have a lot of brothers – my husband is one of nine children) wanted to stop by and SEE the baby.  They usually had a gift that they felt bought them the right to enter our home, some adorably tiny outfit that I’d put on and then take off as quickly as he spit up or pooped explosively onto it.

All of these people with adorably tiny outfits just had to drop off the outfit in person because they just had to see the baby.  I just couldn’t get it: it’s just a baby, I wanted to scream.  Of course, I watched his inhales of breath as if no baby in the history of time had ever breathed so wonderfully well, but to everyone else who wanted to see him?  I just needed some space.

My butt hurt so bad after he was born that I couldn’t sit down.  So I didn’t sit down.  For days.  I remember one person coming over to “see the baby” and commenting about how good I must’ve felt because I was up and around.  I just smiled, but I so badly wanted to tell her that my “up and around” was due to the fact that the only place I could be “down and still” without hurting was where she was sitting at the moment.

The more children I have the less I know about parenting, but I have become an expert in one area of which I once had no knowledge: how to be the village when someone has a baby.  How to help when someone needs help.

Bring food.  Good food.  Food that they like.  Text them and give them options and tell them you will drop it off on their porch.  Let them pick between three days.  And then drop that food on their porch on the day they picked before dinner time.  Like at 4:30.  Because when you have a baby there is no dinner time or lunch time or awake time or asleep time.  It’s just time.  Time that you are hungry and tired and need a hand.

Drop off that food and leave.  You will want to knock because you will want to see the baby and you will want for them to get the food before a raccoon does, and you will want to knock for a million other reasons, the biggest reason probably being that you worked your buns off to make or pick up that food and you want some sort of slight acknowledgment.  Please just leave.  She will acknowledge you and talk about your goodness and your kindness and your ability to leave her alone while being good and kind.

She will tell you when she wants visitors.  And then she’ll only want them for short bursts.  Babies are on 1-2 hour cycles all throughout the day; I say that because even if you’ve had a baby, you forget.  You forget how all-encompassing the newborn days are.  If it’s her first babe and she can still nap when the baby naps, please leave the home when that baby is napping.  She’s tired.  Yes, she wants interaction, but only in short baby snippets.

If, after trying not to come in, you see that she really does want some company, go on in.  Take off your shoes first.  Stop at the sink and wash your hands.  I call it “Leave No Trace” visiting.  Please don’t pretend you’ve just washed your hands or that your hands aren’t dirty.  Just wash your darn hands before you touch that precious newborn baby.

Wear no perfume because no new mom wants to smell you instead of her newborn baby when you give her her baby back.  This is assuming you get to hold the baby.  This is assuming the new mom offered for you to hold the baby.  Please don’t ask to hold the baby.  This is her baby. She waited 9 months for this precious baby.  She is the boss of her baby, even if you used to be the boss of her or that baby’s daddy.  If she chooses to let you hold that baby, say only sweet, beautiful words about her baby.

If you want to talk to the baby’s mama, please don’t talk to the baby in baby talk about what you’d like to say to the baby’s mama.  Talk only kind words to that new mama.  She’s soft and fragile from pushing a new life into this world.

What I’ve learned most from my youthful ignorance and subsequent newborn baby days is that parents of new babies need help.  Even when everything is mostly good and easy, a little help can make their world so much better.  You can be the village for them.  And they will never, ever forget it.

This piece is dedicated to all of the people that did wonderfully amazing things for me after the births of each of my kids, especially those who never received a thank-you note.  Thank you for being my village.

2 Comments
  • I still fondly remember coming home from the hospital after being there for six days with my first born. It was a rocky delivery and I was so exhausted. We lived in an apartment below our wine bar on the secluded Sonoma Coast. Steve Martin & Bonnie Hunt were customers that day and I was too much of a wreck to even come upstairs and meet them. My husband held down the fort upstairs while I tried to hold it all together downstairs. My best friend called from "town" (27 miles inland) and asked if I wanted or needed anything. She brought a large pizza with my requested toppings, hugged me, looked at the baby and left. I still remember that pizza and her brief delivery. It was one of the nicest things anyone has ever done for me. Your words and advice, as always, ring true.

    July 23, 2014 at 4:45 pm
  • Many thanks for sharing this information so freely. You must think about writing a book.

    February 7, 2015 at 7:52 pm

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