What To Say To A Postpartum Woman Besides, "You Look Great!"

I am so lucky to leave near family, so we never felt isolated when our kids were born and we needed some extra hands. Though the volume of visitors tapered off considerably by the time our newborns were 1 month old, we still had folks coming to see us and meet the babies. Out of their mouths came the requisite, “Wow you look great!” It was wonderful to hear (even though I didn’t really believe it), but there were plenty of other things I needed to hear when I was postpartum.

Before I had kids, I remember visiting friends who had just had babies and feeling kind of weird about it. I mean, they had just had a life-altering event take place, and I was bringing them a pound of bakery cookies. I know the mere act of showing up is a good thing, especially when, as a visitor, you are obsessing over this precious new bundle and your friend, the new mom, is beaming with pride because you’re holding the fruits of her 20 hour labor. However, as a visitor it’s hard to just fall into easy and casual conversation, even if it’s with your BFF, with a newborn in the room. I remember feeling the whole chemistry between us was different with this 7 pound baby in her arms. Like nothing I could say would matter, even if it was to say how proud I was of her for bringing this awesome little kid into the world. How do you put into words your feelings towards a new mom, when she is still getting used to the idea of being a mom herself?

When I was on the other side of that visit, as a new mom, I recognized the occasional awkwardness of these new baby visits. And, though I valued the effort all my friends and family made to come see me and meet our new little ones, I did crave a bit more from them at times and when all they could offer were little white lies about how great I looked. So, with that in mind, here are some things I really needed to hear when I was postpartum:

"Wow, You Made A Person"

I would have loved to have heard this more often. I know people have babies every day and it’s literally nothing new, but after spending my entire adult life trying not to get pregnant, it’s pretty damn amazing to see that when you want it to work, it (in my case, although not always) does. My body did its thing and grew a human and that human was pushed out of my body and now it is the most adorable thing you’ve seen all day. Please tell me I rule.

"Here Is Some Food"

Next to a healthy baby, food that someone else has prepared is the best part of being postpartum. In my Queens neighborhood, we set up “meal trains” for each other. In other words, when someone welcomes a new baby a friend sets up a delivery schedule where people can sign up to bring the new, exhausted family a meal.

As a new mom, who was not thinking ahead in regards to meal prep, our meal train provided us dinner for weeks, as people I knew (or was meeting for the first time, with foil trays of baked ziti in their arms) dropped by to see the baby and make sure we were fed. I was so grateful for our meal train, and I love signing up for ones, as I know firsthand what a huge help it is for tired families tending to their tiny new roommates.

"I’m Going To Do This Laundry"

Yeah, don’t even ask me. Just tell me. I don’t even care if you separate the colors from the, um, no, wait, I do. I may be an exhausted new mother with a new set of priorities, but the Type A laundress in me just won’t die.

"I’ll Watch The Baby If You Need To Do Something At A Time That Is Convenient For You"

I know the intention is good, but when people say they can watch the baby, they usually mean they can watch the baby when it works for their schedule.

I should just be grateful and take what I can get, right? Sure. However, having a baby shouldn’t make me feel like I’m a second-class citizen who needs to subsist of the scraps of time available to me after everyone without childcare responsibilities books their appointments. It is really thoughtful to have someone else offer up a favor at my convenience, and not just theirs.

"She Looks Really Smart"

Of course she’s cute. Of course she’s precious. Can I get a shout-out for her intelligence or some other quality that I had a hand in crafting that maybe doesn’t have to do with her looks, which, beyond genetics, are totally out of my control? I know people would be lying if they were commenting truthfully on whatever intellectual abilities my newborn would be displaying in her first few weeks of life, but just say it anyway because I’m over having our kids constantly judged on their appearances.

"I Want To Hear Everything…"

Childbirth is weird, especially if you’ve never gone through it before. There is nothing else in life to compare it to as it is a unique experience, from the way your body just takes over (or doesn’t, when it totally needs to), to the range of emotions you go through, up to and including: fear, anger, joy, anxiety. So, getting the invitation to just recount the whole event, uncensored, is a terrific release for this first-time mom who is still pretty confused bout how she walked in the hospital pregnant, and walked out 48 hours later with a whole other person.

"...And I Won’t Talk About Myself Unless You Ask"

It was great to get visitors to see us (well, to see the baby) when I was home on maternity leave. It was less great being a captive audience for them as they downloaded me on everything going on in their lives.

While I would welcome topics of conversation that had nothing to do with kids later in my mom career, during those first few weeks of motherhood, all I wanted to talk about had to do with parenting. I honestly didn’t care very much about things that didn’t have to do with breastfeeding or diapers.

"Here Is Some More Food You Can Put In The Freezer For Later"

Yes, I’m still talking about food again because it’s that important to postpartum life. With people dropping by twice a week with food, thanks to the meal train a dear friend had set up for us, we were able to stash some in the freezer to eat a later date. Having food on hand took the pressure off figuring out all the non-baby stuff in our life while we adjusted to becoming parents. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” may be good advice, but I was better off following the “eat when the baby eats” directive.

"Want Me To Take A Really Flattering Picture Of You And The Baby?"

Some people stage photo shoots for their baby announcements and I’m in awe of their planning and presentation abilities. To wash your hair and get three adorable outfits together for the baby (who will inevitably soil the first two) so this very arty, and probably expensive, photographer can snap at least one decent picture of your family in that tiny window of time you have booked, when you hope the baby isn’t crying, feeding, or pooping is a pressure I never wanted. I would have loved if one of my visitors took some time to snap a few pictures of me and the baby if I was feeling ready for the camera that day.

"You Make An Awesome Mom"

When I was pregnant, I heard “You’ll make a great mom” often. I feel most women get that remark, when they announce a planned pregnancy, and are fairly decent people (defined by tipping at least 20 percent, not leaving their clothes in the washing machine after the cycle ends, refraining from bringing stinky lunches to eat in their open offices).

However, it’s easy to speculate that someone is going to be great. I wanted to know I was actually living up to people’s expectations. And more so, that this new role of motherhood fit me. Having never been someone’s mom before, I had no clue and no yardstick for how I was measuring up. I didn’t remember how my own mother parented me when I was a newborn, so to hear someone say that I was doing a good job, even if it was just to stroke this fragile postpartum mother’s ego, would have meant the world to me.