For most of my 30s I was a single aid worker gallivanting around the globe working and travelling in different countries. During this time many of my friends, and my siblings, became parents – an event that I rejoiced in, and on trips home I was always excited to pop in for a visit to coo over their babies. But it didn’t really occur to me how I could best help you out.
Fast forward a decade and still a devoted aunt, I’m now also a mum myself. As I sit on the couch breastfeeding (again) discovering what is for me a new reality but for my friends very familiar territory, I’ve had a few revelations about how I must have behaved a decade ago.
At the time, I thought everything was fine, but now I’m a mother myself I’ve become aware of how little I understood what you were going through. I hope my friends forgive me as I did try really hard to sympathise, but for the following things I am especially sorry.
I had no idea how tired you were
When I turned up on my friends’ doorsteps fresh with tales from the field or exotic holidays, I’d hoped I was being entertaining. I probably didn’t notice the glazed look in your eyes that indicated severe sleep deprivation. I was also probably jet lagged but I didn’t have to care for a small person and my only upcoming decision was whether I needed a window or aisle seat on the plane back to my next duty station.
So, thanks for tolerating my endless stories – but why didn’t you tell me to wash the dishes while I chatted or even hold the baby so you could go shower?
How did you not laugh when I said I was ‘busy’?
Fitting all your work into a twenty-four hour day is impossible. I know baby clothes are small but the changes are endless, the washing piles up and small balls of dust float around the floor like tundra. Subtract hours for feeding, rocking a baby to sleep and cat napping yourself and I calculate you have about five hours left in the day. I’m amazed you could even schedule me in. Worse still if I ever complained about being ‘busy’ in my day job – how did you not roll your eyes and show me your breastfeeding tracking app to explain what busy really meant?
If I was ever late for a catch up please forgive me
Adding to the indignity of thinking I was busy, I hope I never kept you waiting for a coffee or lunch. Now I know that even 10 minutes is precious, and if you face any delays a whole feeding/burping/sleeping schedule goes out the window.
In my 30s I would have considered happy hour an urgent deadline or a restaurant booking an unmissable appointment. Nothing quite compares to the ear-splitting cries of a hungry newborn who has been kept waiting for 10 minutes. If I was ever the cause of this due to my tardiness I am sorry.
Why didn’t you tell me getting a newborn to sleep redefines ‘difficult’?
I have been in some tough situations in difficult environments. I lived in a tent in South Sudan where I lived and worked for four years. I conducted visits to migrants in Libyan detention centres, have spent time with Syrian refugees considering taking the boat journey to Europe from Turkey and advocated for the rights of refugees in spite of harsh policies globally.
I thought this was all pretty tricky until I had to rock a baby to sleep. Not singing the right lullaby is worse than my greatest diplomatic faux pas – and I’ve had a few of those. Now I understand why you sometimes never came back when you said “I’m just going to put the baby to sleep”.
How I’d have done it differently knowing what I know now
To people whose friends have become new mothers, my advice is to be as helpful as you can, even if it means being pushy. I recently had a friend insist on washing my dishes and bringing over a meal, which I would never have asked for, but it made a huge difference to my day. Also expressing your delight in a newborn baby through a visit, call or whatsapp message – no matter how brief – can help lift a new mother’s fog on a bad day.
To my friends, I’m delighted that you now share in my happiness as a mother and I’m grateful for all your advice, tips and empathy. The fact that we are all still friends demonstrates that friendship trumps all, whatever phase of life you’re in.
Although I secretly hope now that your kids are slightly more grown-up than mine, you are chuckling over a cocktail at some fancy happy hour over my change of circumstances.