Earlier this week I received a Facebook message from an acquaintance in Brooklyn- asking what resources I could recommend for someone looking to be as supportive and helpful as they can for their best friend who’s having a hard time during pregnancy. I was so glad she reached out asking this question, because for women who haven’t had a baby before, this whole baby-having stuff is like a foreign territory. By being so thoughtful and attentive to reach out to a professional for recommendations shows she wanted to be the best support she could for her expecting friend.
I responded to her, and thought I’d share my response with you all as well. So often pregnancy and the birth of a new baby is portrayed with gentle, loving, and soft images. Advertising and the media tend to romanticize pregnancy, with a good dose of horror stories thrown about. When these are the anticipated images a woman has around pregnancy and new motherhood, and then her experience is quite different, it can be startling, or she may feel like she’s doing something wrong. When in reality, many moms-to-be feel anything but graceful, serene, and content. What’s racing through many minds is an endless to-do list, a bit of overwhelm at the prospect of becoming a child’s parent, and a good dose of fear about childbirth, or life with a newborn, or… both.
As a doula, I embrace all these multifaceted feelings moms experience- some are even a bit ambivalent, holding two conflicting emotions at the same time. For instance, a mom my feel over joyed, with her heart bursting open at the thought of meeting her daughter for the first time, while simultaneously being frozen with fear that her whole life is going to change. Pregnancy is a process, thankfully giving us about 10 months to prepare for a baby’s arrival. And the emotions of excitement, anticipation, fear, depression, and even sadness are very real.
If you haven’t experienced the transition through motherhood first hand, either personally or through professional work, it can be quite confusing, or unsettling to jump in to offer a helping hand, supportive ear, and provide educational support or resources. So what I shared with my acquaintance on Facebook, I’ll share with you now- in case you’re a kind sister or friend searching for this advice. She has asked for any book recommendations, or information she should seek out to educate herself, to be the best support person she could. While these recommendations are wonderful for expectant parents, and I share them with my doula clients- these books and resources in particular are very helpful for someone who’s looking to provide support to their pregnant friend or family member.
Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth by Ina May Gaskin- Ina May’s Guide is a wonderful book for parents seeking a natural birth. Additionally it’s a good book for those looking to learn more about pregnancy, childbirth and how to be supportive because she explains the common procedures during pregnancy and birth. The second half of the book is filled with birth stories- so you’re able to get a sense of what pregnant and laboring moms need to feel supported.
The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin- Penny is the mother of the professional doula movement- she’s one of the original doulas to emerge as a profession and trained providers. Her book provides excellent detail on procedures, and in depth coaching on how to be truly supportive of pregnant and laboring moms. She even has resources for non-birthing parents.
Expecting Better by Emily Oster- Emily’s book focuses directly on studies and statistics, and debunks many commonly held beliefs around safety during pregnancy and birth. For instance she questions the recommendation to avoid sushi consumption during pregnancy.
Little Mother’s Helper by Rebecca Egbert- Rebecca wrote and developed a gorgeous set of cards that is filled with useful and practical information for a new mom, right after the baby’s birth. During a time when reading a book is too much- these colorful cards are fun to sort through.
Research on perinatal mood disorders- Researching perinatal mood disorders is particularly helpful if you’re supporting a friend or family member who’s feeling depressed, anxious, or overly euphoric. Having the tools to recognize the warning signs of perinatal mood disorders could facilitate them getting the help they need sooner, rather than later. Many moms are not able to see the warning signs within themselves, so having your support here can be key.
Being a supportive friend or sister will mean so, so much to your expecting friend or family member. If she’s feeling a lot of overwhelm, and chances are she IS, by taking the initiative to do some research on your own, without asking her what will be most helpful, at first, will really build trust and show her just how much you care to be there for her. Once you learn a bit about pregnancy, birth, and new motherhood, you’ll have a better sense of what detailed questions might be good to check in with her about.