Saturday, October 01, 2011

What to do when friends are expecting: A guide for friends of new parents

Your friends are having babies, and you haven't got any yourself. There are lots of guides for new parents, but few guides explaining what the friends of new parents can do. This guide will help you learn about the process, and help you deal with the change.

Fundamentals
  1. Your friends still love you the same. You would take care of a throbbing headache rather than being with friends. Having a child is similar. They need to take care of the child before being with you.
  2. Your friends' priorities will change. It might have been you, now it will be the baby. Don't be hurt by this. You will feel the same when you have children.
  3. Your friends will have zero time initially. Bringing up a baby takes a lot of time and effort from both parents.
  4. Your friends still need social contact. They enjoy social visits, but the flavor changes considerably. Mothers might have less time to meet, but they continue enjoying telephone conversations and short visits.

During Pregnancy
  1. Mom will be tired constantly. Pregnant mothers go through many physical changes. They feel tired constantly from carrying the extra weight. Be mindful of this. Moms also have to use the restroom very frequently. Don't engage your friend for any long activity. Even long conversations are enough to tire mothers. If the mother looks or sounds uncomfortable, be prepared to give her some time off. If you are on a telephone, ask her if she needs to hang up.
  2. Moms go through psychological changes. Many women go through mood swings. All this means that women's behavior changes considerably. Their behavior towards you will change too. Don't take it personally.
  3. Less time. Your friends don't have a child yet. But preparing for a child is also time consuming. There are things to buy, doctors to visit, and a house to prepare. Limit your demands on their time.
  4. Less patience. During pregnancy, your friends are going through a lot of mental and physical strain. Their levels of patience are very low. Pranks and tomfoolery are a terrible idea.
  5. Positive conversations. Pregnancy is a scary time for parents already. Do your part by keeping all conversations positive. If you have heard of a scary pregnancy or delivery: keep the story to yourself! If there is a cautionary tale, give the moral precisely while keep gory details to yourself. Try to make all emotional stories positive. Negative emotional stories trouble the mother and make her very nervous. Dads can handle emotional stories better during this time. If you need to tell an un-nerving story, tell it to the dad, out of earshot of the mom.
  6. Steer clear of stomach size conversations. Moms are worried about their health, their appearance, their progress. Our friends suggest the phrase, "You are carrying very well" rather than the variants that raise questions about the size or the rate of development of the baby. Definitely stay away from comments like "Are you sure you're not carrying twins?", or "Are you sure you're in your seventh month, you look small".  There's nothing to be gained from comparing the size of one mother's belly with other mothers. If you are concerned about the baby's development, tell the father the specific concern and your suggestions. Let the dad discuss it with the OB or the mom.
  7. You might want to ask the parents before gifting them anything for the baby. Or give them something that can be returned or exchanged. New parents get too many gifts. Make your gift an asset, not a burden.
  8. How you can help: try to visit your friends at their place. Call before starting to confirm it is a good time and don't be upset by a last-minute change of plans. Carry some home-prepared meal that the mother enjoys. Be prepared to leave quickly.
During Labor
  1. The steps in labor are: contractions or water breaking (either can happen first), active labor (pushing) and delivery.
  2. Labor takes time. Mothers may spend twelve to fourteen hours in labor, but it could easily be twice as much. First-time mothers usually take more time during delivery.
  3. Active labor itself can take a few hours and is the most strenuous activity the mother will ever do in her life. Active labor is like doing twice your capacity of push-ups every five minutes.
  4. Labor takes effort. A lot of effort. Don't expect parents to do anything during this time, even take your phone calls. In addition, don't expect them to do anything for at least four days after (for the father) and two weeks after (for the mother) as the fatigue of delivery takes time to wear off.
  5. If the child was delivered through a C-section, double all recovery times. C-sections take a long time to heal, and the dad is fatigued from his supporting role during this time.
  6. The only priority is the child. Parents are completely focused on delivering the baby. They have no time, let alone patience, for anything else. This is no time for telephone conversations, or status updates. Be patient. You'll know when labor is done.
  7. How you can help: spread the word, and ask others to hold off their calls to the parents.
After Delivery
  1. Most hospitals keep mom and baby in a different room for a day or two. This is a critical time for mom to recover and learn about baby care from the nurses. Visiting mom and dad in the hospital room is usually a bad idea. There is no space in the hospital room, and mom and dad are constantly busy. In addition, the mom is weak and worn.
  2. Mom has never been this tired. Labor drains the mother completely. Let her rest! You can speak with her later.
  3. There's a lot to do. Post delivery, the child and mother have to be taken care of. There's food, bowel movements, health checks, doctor visits, ...
  4. Limit infections. Just after delivery, both mom and baby are susceptible to infections. They will limit the number of people they meet. Give them a few weeks before visiting. if you have had a contagious disease like the flu, wait for many weeks of good health before visiting them. Be honest if you have any illness that can be spread.
  5. Zero time. Mom and dad are focused on the child. They sleep when the child sleeps, and when the child is awake, they are completely busy with the child. If you do want to visit, be ready to help with the house during the visit. Your friend might ask you to help with the laundry or with the cooking or cleaning.
  6. Prepare to hang up the phone anytime. When baby needs parents, they need to go right away. While talking with a new parent, I was once in the middle of a sentence, and my friend blurted, "Baby crying, got to go" and hung up. At the moment I thought it strange. Later I realized that it was an excellent idea rather than squirming on the phone.
  7. Zero patience. New parents have absolutely no patience. Be as frank and honest about things. Luckily both mom and dad are happy with brutal honesty at this time. (Just not about mom's appearance.)
  8. How you can help: congratulate the parents on email, and plan social visits at their convenience, not yours. If you stay close, consider helping them with laundry, grocery shopping, dishes, cleaning and cooking.

Hopefully these steps have enlightened you on the new world of your friends. Your friends might seem self-centered, and eager for your help. But this is the time they need to focus on themselves, and they need your support.

Rest assured that they will allow you to prioritize correctly, and provide the same care for you when you have children.