Being a mother is life’s greatest gift and a miracle to be celebrated. The incredible experiences of expecting a baby, childbirth, and caring for a newborn make mothers rockstars who deserve all the credit in the world.
With all the excitement and happiness of expecting a baby, sometimes we don’t adequately prepare women for what to really expect as a new mom. In addition to all the diaper changes, there are dozens of other changes that come with motherhood but are seldom discussed.
New mothers experience changes in their emotions, bodies, relationships, careers, and lifestyles. Since becoming a new mom myself a few years ago, I’ve thought a lot about what did and didn’t help me adjust to the most important job of my life. Our own needs as mothers are often overlooked because of the excitement of a new baby. And it’s up to everyone — from ourselves to our communities — to help protect moms so that they can give their best to their babies.
In honor of Maternal Mental Health Awareness Month and Mothers Day, I’ve put together this Bill of Rights for new moms. Whether you’re a mommy-to-be, a mommy of one, or a mommy of ten, this list is a useful reminder of all the worth women should feel each time they earn the title of Mom.
If you’re a new mom or the family or friend of one, I hope this Bill of Rights reminds us all how to take care of our mamas and celebrate the precious gifts they give our world.
It’s true: motherhood is a part of life. Women have babies every minute of everyday in every corner of the world and have been doing so since the beginning of time. I think because of this, childbearing has become such a regular, commonplace event, the novelty of which has almost worn off. But the fact is that childbearing is HUGE! A woman growing and birthing a human is a miracle and a tremendous accomplishment that should be celebrated!
When I first became a mom, I went to a weekly infant yoga class and a new mothers’ group run by a wonderful doula named Kelly. She had extensive training in prenatal and postnatal care and imparted age-old wisdom to our little tribe of new mamas which helped us navigate motherhood in an often insensitive society.
One of the most profound things Kelly shared still sticks with me to this day. She explained that in many other cultures, mothers are celebrated and revered as heroines and goddesses after childbirth, but in our society the focus is all on the baby. When showers are thrown they are all about baby items, and friends and families anxiously await the chance to visit and hold the new baby after he or she is born. Mothers are not the focus in our culture, despite the incredible act of bravery and selflessness they just carried out.
Every mother — whether she is a first-time mom or a mother of seven — has the right to be recognized as the champion that she is! Families and friends must try to enjoy the excitement of the new baby while still making mom’s feelings a priority. I distinctly remember two things which gave me confidence during my son’s birth: that my obstetrician was a wonderful coach and cheerleader, and — not to throw my whole family under the bus — but that my Dad was the only relative to say “I’m so proud of you, you did it!” afterwards. It was such a simple compliment but I still remember and appreciate it to this day. I realize that everyone else was just excited to meet my son, but my experience was exactly like what Kelly explained often happens in our culture.
Every new mom has the right to recognition. If our society can shower athletes and rockstars after great performances, we can learn to hold our incredible mamas in the highest regard after they deliver the ultimate gifts!
Although motherhood is the happiest gift, it usually comes with a plethora of new emotions and life adjustments. New moms have the right to feel supported by friends, families, caregivers, and our society in general. From being open to listening to them to embracing breastfeeding in public, moms have a right to support on both a micro and a macro level. New mothers who feel supported at home and in their communities can be better mothers to their children and healthier in the long-run.
In my years as a therapist, I’ve met so many families who struggle to see the difference between hearing and listening. Part of true listening in relationships is the key step of validating the other person’s feelings. Validation makes someone feel that others were listening and recognized the value of what they feel.
Motherhood is one of the most important times to feel validation. Many new moms doubt themselves in the overwhelming responsibilities of their new role. When their families and friends listen to their feelings and concerns and then validate why they’re important, this gives Mom the confidence to trust herself more and know she has support around her.
No matter who you are or what you’re working on, the power of positive reinforcement is incredible. A simple, “you can do this” may help anyone tackle the biggest tasks. And with no greater job on earth than motherhood, words of encouragement should be constantly present.
It’s so important for families to remember to cheer on the new mom in their brood. Just because the tasks of being a mother are expected and often mundane, Mama still has the right to hear how great she’s doing at them! Simple encouraging words like, “I know how tiring it is but you’re doing awesome” can really turn a tired mom’s day around. I remember after having her first baby, one of my friends told me how flattered she felt when both her mother and grandmother simply told her, “We’re so impressed at what a good mom you are.” The simplest compliment meant enough to her to share it with me and it also encouraged her everyday in her new role. The power of positive encouragement makes for happier moms and happy babies!
I met with a lactation consultant when my son was about three weeks old because he initially wasn’t gaining a lot of weight. She was a wonderful nurse who had such a kind, calming way about her. She came to my house, and after quick introductions sat on my couch next to me. We looked at each other and the first thing she said was, “Wow you look wonderful!” “I, uh, what, ” I laughingly replied. “Your eyes, your whole face, you actually look so well-rested!” I of course was not well-rested, and I was surprised at her mere suggestion that I looked good. But I still remember what she said, and how her compliments put a big smile on my exhausted face.
No matter how superficial this may sound, compliments on a new mom’s appearance make her feel wonderful. And every new mom has a right to feel wonderful! A woman who in many instances has just gained an unusual amount of weight and tossed all modesty aside in front of a dozen strangers in a hospital room needs to feel like a human again! New moms also get zero sleep, have little time for makeup, and are lucky if they get a shower in, so self-esteem isn’t at its highest these days. Ignore the top-knot and focus sincerely on her natural beauty. Tell her she glows . . . her eyes are bright . . . her smile is beautiful. When the rest of the world only cares about how cute her baby is, your attention to her beauty may do wonders for her.
Your sister just had a baby and you are now obsessed with inhaling the newborn scent of your adorable new niece’s peach-fuzz-covered head every chance you can. We get it, you love her. But unless your sister has requested steady help from you, showing up at her house everyday (or even asking to come over everyday) is not cool.
Every new mom has the right to space. Motherhood is a huge adjustment, marked most obviously by the total lack of alone time. Constant visitors only makes this adjustment harder. I remember during my hospital birth feeling invaded by the revolving door of staff that were constantly in my room. I just wanted time with my new baby. After I almost bit off the head of a poor Eucharistic minister who came to bring me Communion, I asked my nurse to put a note on my door and limit the visitors. Space is every mama’s right!
So if you have a new baby in the family, respect Mama’s wishes. If she asks for everyday companionship, that’s a different story. But remember that occasional space is important for us all, and a new Mom and her baby truly need it to bond with each other.
7. Personal Parenting Preferences
Co-sleeping or a crib. Breastfed or bottle fed. Disposable diapers or cloth. There are countless choices to make as a new mom, and they are all quite personal. Hopefully, most moms make their decisions based on research and have thought about what is best for their child and for their family’s lifestyle. It is not anyone else’s right to judge a mom’s parenting preference. As long as children are cared for, safe, and loved, Mom has the right to know she is in charge here.
8. A Ban on Unsolicited Advice
I remember starting to hear unwanted opinions as early as my first trimester. Pregnancy seems to make some people think they are entitled to offer women their opinions on everything from childbirth to childrearing. I actually had a male co-worker who practically attacked me when I shared that I was going to have a natural childbirth!
There is nothing more personal and unique than all of our experiences becoming mothers. So in addition to her personal parenting preferences being respected, a new mom has the right to protect her ears from the toxicity of unsolicited advice. Advice that is doled out without request is not just annoyong, it can be very damaging to a new mom. Having multiple opinions swimming around in her head often drowns out the most important voice to which she should listen: her own. When a new mom has the opportunity to listen to her own maternal instincts, she grows and builds confidence as a mother. People who feel compelled to dispense their own opinions and instructions run the risk of sabotaging that growth. To put this bluntly: know your place.
9. Some Slack
Motherhood is the most challenging job on earth, and it definitely does not make a woman perfect. No mama is perfect, but she is perfect to her child. Mamas make plenty of mistakes like everyone else. So while every mom should strive to be her best and take the best care possible of her baby, every mom also has the right to be cut some slack. If you see a mom having trouble juggling, don’t judge or criticize. Instead, ask an open-ended question, like if there’s any way you can help.
10. Her individuality
Motherhood is the greatest gift of life, but it should not mean a woman forgets the dreams, talents, and interests she has always had. Moms have the right to put their children first while still keeping their sights on their goals. Pursuing her dreams with her children will only make them more of a reward!