What I Know Now…
I was talking to Wendi the other day and she exclaimed, “Oh, the things I know now! I know how much more helpful I would be to new moms now – the exact ways in which I would be more helpful, the things I would do.” She just gave birth to a son two weeks ago.
I remember in my new moms group, one of the moms said, “I feel so badly now – how little help I was to my new mom friends before. It’s embarrassing, really, how little I knew, or the useless things I bought them for their baby showers.”
I gave Wendi two books: The Baby Book and After the Baby’s Birth. They didn’t get any oohs and ahhs at the shower – heck, they didn’t even get passed around the circle – but later Wendi told me: “Thank you so much for those books. They’re great! I just feel like they’re so helpful already, like they’re giving us the tools we’ll need when the baby comes, and that we will grow into them.”
I have been thinking a lot about how inadequate our rituals are around a new baby. First, it’s only about the baby. A baby shower, at which the baby is given a bunch of stuffed animals and onsies. Usually the partner or father (and anyone of the male sex, unless they themselves are a baby) are excluded… Where are our rituals for the family – the one that is becoming and forming right in front of us?
I can see reshaping the baby shower to become a Family… Blossoming, and the partner of the woman would be present and the people (not just the women) in the couple’s life would attend, offering gifts and advice and nourishment and real help, like a meal tree, errands, babysitting, massages, cleaning, for after the baby comes.
And after the birth, maybe at six weeks or twelve weeks, there could be a Family Welcoming, where the family is reintroduced to their community, as a family. A party with food, maybe an opportunity for a portrait, a time for blessings and acknowledgement that from here on out, everything is different, and that the people before us are connected in a unique way and that we are connected, too, and we support them. People could bring symbols of connection and family… milk, oak leaves, whatever.
I was talking to my husband about this idea, and we had the hardest time coming up with symbols or gestures or rituals… he commented, “That’s because our gestures are usually focused on giving people STUFF.”
Oh, the stuff! It’s so true, all the baby gear that exists! It’s obscene, really… sure, some of it makes sense and thank goodness for it. I remember me, eight months pregnant, offhandedly telling my friend, who had two toddlers, “Yeah, we’re not going to get a bunch of stuff.” She told me, “Well, you can go camping without camping gear, too, but how much fun is that, really?” She gave us a changing table and every time I did not have to bend down on the floor or the bed and regather all the changing supplies, I thanked her for it.
But it’s almost as if we make up for the lack of really useful and touching gifts and insight we might give to parents with plastic and electronic gismos that mostly serve to keep the kid at arm’s length. What I really needed to know before I gave birth was:
You can do this.
You baby will need to be held, a lot.
This, too, shall pass.
Open your heart, expand your wit, and be prepared to grow.
You will learn, and when you do, you will do better.
And that will be okay. You and your baby are in this together.
I didn’t need to know any of the practical stuff. I needed the heart stuff. Anyone, given time, can learn the tools (diapers, bulb syringe, ear thermometer, snap pants, et al), but almost no one can do it feeling like they’re only one who has ever done it before.
As independent-minded and educated as I was about anything concerning my baby, as soon as I heard another mom say, “Oh, me too.” or “My baby does that, too.” I breathed a palpable sigh of relief. Why is that?
We’re not meant to family (yes, it is a verb) alone. We’re not even meant to family only with other families (though this helps). We’re all in this together. We all got here the same exact way; when will we start acting like it?
© 2004 Stacy M. Lewis