When I stumbled upon the piece “Realistic Birth Announcements” by Riane Konc in the New Yorker last week, I knew I needed to share it with all of you! My favorite line is…
“On September 8th, my wife brought baby Jax into the world. I love him more than I have ever loved anything, but if you subbed him out with any baby from the nursery I honestly would not notice.”
We have all been on the receiving end of an overly beautiful birth announcement that you know couldn’t possibly be telling the whole story. But when you are so used to receiving this kind of altered reality, when it’s your turn to make the announcement, you’ll likely follow suit.
A few years ago I had a patient whose last baby was born with 11 fingers. Perfectly healthy in every way, but an extra little digit dangled outside her right pinky. This is actually much more common than people think, especially in the African American population. When her mom came in to see me to discuss her next pregnancy, she began the conversation by saying “Why does everyone ask you if your baby has 10 fingers and 10 toes?” An excellent question that had never crossed my mind. It wasn’t a problem that her baby hand an 11th finger, but the more she had to address it, the more upset she became.
When it comes to welcoming a new baby into the world, what do we share as new parents and what do we ask as friends? Typically, asking questions of someone is a great way to show that you care. But with sensitive topics and emotional times, the last thing you want is for your friend to feel trapped in the line of fire.
Tips for new parents:
- Don’t address anything you do not want to. If someone asks you about something that you do not want to go into, simply don’t. This is your life and your experience, and you don’t owe anyone a certain amount of detail.
- Its ok to tell the truth. Your birth experience likely had really high highs and really low lows. Parts may have gone according to your carefully crafted birth plan, and other parts (or the whole thing) maybe had no plan at all. Its ok that is wasn’t perfect. Its ok that it was scary. And if you were expecting perfect, it’s probably because social media lead you to believe that perfect births were normal. By being truthful yourself, you normalize the experience and inspire others to share their truths as well.
- Say what you need. Everyone that is coming to see you likey has the best intention, but they might not know how exactly to help. People typically respond well to being given specific tasks. I need my floors vacuumed. I need the laundry done. It might feel pushy at first, but if you’re honest, the help you receive will be the help you actually need and your friends will love knowing how to lend a hand. And if you decide what you need is space, that is perfectly acceptable too.
Tips for visiting friends:
- Ask open-ended questions: Give the new parents the space to decide how much information they want to share and what details they do not want to go into. When you allow someone to simply tell their story without going through your list of questions, I bet you’ll be so pleasantly surprised to learn things you never thought to ask. (If you want to know how many fingers and toes the baby has, offer to change a diaper and get a quick count!)
- Try not to talk about yourself or your experience. There are actually two reasons for this one. First, when you make it about yourself you stop making it about them. They’ll appreciate your restraint- it’s just natural to want to talk about yourself. Secondly, when we talk about our own experiences or opinions we may come across as judgemental. This is probably not the intention, but it happens anyway. Your job as a friend is just to support unconditionally, so keep a focus on that.
- Give them space. It can be hard to find the balanced between being helpful and being a burden. So tell your friend that you realize this. Remind them that you are there to help in any way you can, but want to give them space. Tell them they can call you every day if they want to, but to feel no obligation. And if you feel like you need to check in, consider sending a text that they can get to when it’s convenient.
If anyone had a true realist birth announcement to share, I would love to see it! Just like most things in life, the unedited version of the truth is much more interesting! And if anyone has stories of excellent or awful post-birth visitors, please comment below so we can all learn from each other.
Realistic or not, I absolutely love receiving birth announcements or updates from families I have worked with. If you want to drop one to me online or in the mail, I guarantee it will make my day!