Unsurprisingly, a birth brings a lot of attention to the new baby. I totally get it, and I’m guilty of it, too. When I visit a friend with a newborn, my typical response is to fuss over and complement the baby. Then, after I’ve spent sufficient time obsessing over their soft hair, round tummy and tiny fingers, I turn my attention to my friend to check in, ask how she’s doing, and commiserate over postpartum life. However, if my own birth experience taught me anything, it’s that there’s one compliment every mom needs to hear after giving birth.
It's not that a mother doesn't like hearing about her adorable baby. As a matter of fact, I would argue every new mom is so infatuated with her newborn, she's more than happy to hear about their cuteness ad nauseam. Still, those compliments, however kind, aren't what a new mom needs to hear. Instead, a woman who has just given birth needs to be told how incredible and strong and brave she is for bringing a baby into the world.
All she needs to know is that her nearest and dearest recognize that she just went through a major, life-changing experience that, for some of us, quickly gets added to the list of hardest things we’ve ever done.
It doesn’t matter how she did it, either. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference if her birth was vaginal or a c-section, medicated or unmedicated, at home or at a hospital, in the back of a car or on a blanket in a forest surrounded by woodland creatures. It doesn’t matter how this particular, and oh-so necessary, compliment is said. Personally, I’d love to hear something involving the words "awesome" and "goddess" and "badass warrior," but something more along the lines of, "You’re amazing, you did it!" or, "I’m so proud of you!" or, "Holy sh*t, I can’t believe you made a human," would work, too.
All she needs to know is that her nearest and dearest recognize that she just went through a major, life-changing experience that, for some of us, quickly gets added to the list of hardest things we’ve ever done. For me, giving birth for the first time was right up there with getting my wisdom teeth pulled while conscious, forcing myself to try calamari, and watching that final episode of How I Met Your Mother that we’d all rather just forget about. (Just kidding, but only kind of.)
Moms are still whole and complete people, and it feels good to know that we’re seen as such.
Seriously though, if you’re close enough to another woman that you are visiting her and her newborn, you’re probably close enough to care about her physical and mental wellbeing. So, making it a priority to ensure she feels seen, and cared for, and important in light of what she has just endured — and to show that you recognize the undeniable strength that’s necessary in order to birth a child; a strength she clearly possesses — will probably give her a much-needed boost of self-confidence and self-assurance. New moms are not exempt from feeling the positives a well-intentioned, genuine compliment can provide.
While I think complimenting a new mom should be the priority, and should come before acknowledgement and squealing over the baby, I totally get how amazing it is to see a new baby, too. I know it’s not necessarily realistic to see a newborn and not give him or her your immediate attention, especially since, as a culture, we've been conditioned to somewhat ignore mothers the moment their babies are born (unless it's Mother's Day, apparently). I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a new mom who didn't feel a little empty and alone directly after she had her baby, when everyone's focus shifted drastically. I think you'll have even a harder time finding a mother who admitted she experienced those feelings, and wasn't almost immediately shamed for being "selfish."
Which is why complimenting a new mom, and only that new mom, needs to happen. Moms are still whole and complete people, and it feels good to know that we’re seen as such. At least, it did for me. While I was feeling an entire spectrum of emotions when it came to delivering and meeting my new baby, I was also feeling the aftermath of what was arguably the most physical, overwhelming, and significantly painful things I’d ever done, too. It was nice to know that my loved ones — the people who I always turn to for support when feeling those big kinds of feelings — recognized that, too.
I must admit that I'm not the best at taking my own advice in this particular department. In fact, I would have to say I'm so-so at best. I often can’t help myself from blurting out all the best things I can think of to say about a baby, as soon as I’m in the presence of a baby, and somewhat ignoring the incredible woman that brought that baby into the world. In fact, I made this very mistake this past weekend, when a friend brought an infant to my son’s birthday party.
I know the time it takes for them to say, "You've just done a truly incredible thing," will make all the difference in the world.
However, I’m trying to remember that the baby has a lifetime of compliments ahead of it. Not only that, but the baby has no sense of what I’m saying, or in what order I’m saying it, or why I'm saying it. That new mom, however? Yeah, she’s more than aware of what's going on, and how the reactions of others can have a powerful impact on how she views herself as a once-pregnant, been-through-labor, now-new mom woman. She might not be sitting there, waiting for me to shower her with compliments so that she can feel more grounded in her new role, but she will notice when I do.
My second child is due to arrive in a few weeks, and I’m now at the point where excitement is the biggest emotion I have (followed closely by love, nervousness, anticipation, and also with a slight dash of, “OMG what have I done? ” sprinkled on top). I also know my partner and my son, as well as my kids’ grandparents, our other relatives, and some of our closest friends, are getting excited to meet our newest family member. I’m looking forward to watching them meet her for the first time, and to enjoying and appreciating their reactions. While I don’t expect everyone who visits the baby to check in on me immediately, I know I will appreciate it when any one of them turns to me and truly sees me. I know the time it takes for them to say, "You've just done a truly incredible thing," will make all the difference in the world.