Golly! There are so many boundaries with helping each other, aren’t there? So much fear? So much insecurity and uncertainty? Whenever a friend of mine is postpartum, my mind whirs.
Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Am I overwhelming her? Are the things I’m doing the things she actually needs, or just the things I think she needs? Am I even the person to do this for her?
In my dreams, I am what Heng Ou calls the Fantasy Visitor. I show up at a new mother’s doorstep at a time she knows I’m coming. There’s a meal in my hand (and muffins, and homemade bread!) that I tuck into her fridge for later. I step in quietly and keep a peaceful atmosphere. This is her and her baby’s time for quiet and rest. I give my friend a gentle squeeze and gush with her over her new beautiful baby.
I know what you’re thinking: this is all pretty easy and natural so far, right?
Without her asking, I go to the sink to wash my hands to hold her baby (but only if she wants). While I’m there, I wash the dishes. I already know what gets hand-washed and what can be placed in the dishwasher. I know where to find extra dish soap. When I’m done, I gently take baby and mom gives a small sigh of relief as she stretches out her shoulders. We sit on her couch; her living room is in upheaval but she already knows I don’t care and doesn’t fuss over it. She melts into the couch and we discuss how things are going. I ask: does she need to process her birth experience? How is nursing going? What’s been her biggest challenge? I don’t ask if baby is sleeping through the night. I don’t ever ask if baby sleeps through the night. It’s not the right goal for a newborn mother.
About 45 minutes into my visit, mom yawns and I rise to give her the baby. I suggest she go and rest. I’ll let myself out. As she ascends her stairs to cocoon in bed with baby, I sneak into her front closet to find her broom. I sweep her kitchen, then I quickly clean her bathroom. I make sure everything is tidy, put out some dishes for dinner that her husband can find when he gets home, and slip out the door.
This postpartum support. This nourishment. This freedom to have her needs met. This ability to not welcome “guests” but true friends that help out is what mothers need when they’re fresh from childbirth. But this vision? It takes work. It takes time, intention and effort. You can’t just bounce into someone’s life and say: “We’re friends; show me the broom!” That kind of social connectedness requires finesse. And maybe years of friendship. You may desire to be there for a new mother you know, but the abruptness and intensity can be awkward.
I recently brought a meal to a friend of mine who was 9 days postpartum. Friend is a loose term. I adore her and want to become closer. We met at church and our relationship is just – new. A meal and quick chat were appropriate. I did my best to encourage her and bring her joy. But, I’m new to her life; it was my first time in her home. If I were to start rummaging around in her kitchen to “help out,” I might do more damage than good by making her feel uncomfortable. Perhaps I could do the dishes. But anything beyond this basic chore requires foreknowledge that is acquired over time.
At any rate – whether we have the closeness we need for postpartum support or not – we need intention. Things don’t happen magically. But one way to at least get acquainted with a new mother’s home is to throw her a prenatal nesting party!
Now, does it really make sense to throw another baby shower for a mom going on her third, fourth or fifth child? This isn’t exactly her first rodeo. But don’t we still itch to celebrate her? She’s having a baby! Her family is about to change and grow and that deserves recognition. What is more, the larger the family, the larger the need. She’ll need friends who know their way around and are comfortable in her home. So, when your friend is pregnant, ditch the baby shower idea and instead throw her a nesting party:
Before the Party
- One month before: Invite all of mom’s closest friends and tell them to wear their cleaning clothes. This is not a day to look your best; it’s a day to nest with mom.
- One to two weeks before: Before the day, meet with mom and discuss what goes on to maintain her home. Go through the different sections of her home (you can use our master list for guidance – here) and break it down, including rooms mom doesn’t want touched. That’s ok, too! You’ll use this information to set up a nesting board that her friends can choose from.
- Also, see Note below.
- The week before: Get artsy! Make a nesting board using a foam board, colorful index cards, and tape (or use our nesting cards: here). During the party, people can choose a card and perform the outlined tasks. Seriously, the house will be clean in a half hour!
- The hours before (set up at mom’s house):
- Set up your nesting board where you’ll welcome and intro guests.
- Set up water and cups in the kitchen.
- Set up a laundry basket in a central area for people to put items they’re unsure of; mom can sort through this basket later.
- Throw bed sheets and bathroom linens in the washer! Beds will be remade and towels folded and stowed later.
Have the Party!
- Welcome your guests and have them choose a nesting card. Invite them to have water, do a short overview of where all the cleaning supplies are, then let them loose to clean, clean, clean!
- For more involved projects, like the kitchen, encourage people to pair up and work as a team. This way, one person won’t be inundated with a daunting task!
Note: The first obstacle you may run into is mom feeling awkward. Oh my gosh, people are cleaning my house and I feel so BAD! This is a normal modern-day reaction. Besides the fact that she’s embarking on the most wonderful and trying experiences any woman can go through, she might still feel like she doesn’t deserve this kind of support. One way around this is to ask her to prepare something for after all the cleaning is done. Baking muffins or preparing her favorite dish to share. She could make tea or coffee or smoothies (or mimosas!)! When her house is sparkling, you can all sit down and enjoy whatever mom prepared. This may appease her sense of giving back to the community that wants to support her while nourishing her friends and giving everyone a chance to hang out. Remember: if you have a kitchen card on your board, maybe pull this one aside to do all together once you are finished eating and chatting.
Beyond these ideas, the party is your oyster! There’s no real formula as long as the house gets cleaned and the group gets acquainted with mom’s house. You could set up a schedule for bringing meals and invite her friends to sign up. You could even do favors for everyone as a way to say Thanks for helping out! You could do more Blessingway style activities. Or play your favorite baby shower game. Do whatever would support and encourage mom and help her prepare for baby.