I've been so lucky to have recently had offers from family and friends to help out before, during and after our new baby is born. I had the same offers last time around and rarely took anyone up on them, because I was afraid of asking too much of people and I just wanted to be polite. I like to think that I can do everything myself, and I feel guilty asking others to do things for me. I quickly learned that politeness can result in total exhaustion and a much longer recovery time. I've given it much thought, and here's a list of things I've come up with that might help out the Lyme mamas out there:
1. If she has other children, offer to babysit while she goes for check-ups, or maybe even bring her to one of her many doctors appointments. Lymies often have triple the doctors appointments of an average mom, and it can be hectic trying to arrange childcare during exams or even drive if she's having a sick day
2. Give her a call to see how she's feeling. You'll never get the full story via email or Facebook, and though it's easier to send a note, it's just not as personal. A quick call from a friend will really make her feel like she has a good support system. (Even on days when I feel grumpy and antisocial, and I debate whether to throw the cell out the window, I never regret picking up and spending 20 minutes talking to the person who called me.)
3. If you live close and are out running errands, ask if she needs anything. There were many times I was craving something specific and was missing an ingredient or two, or sometimes I'd realize too late that I was all out of dog food. Little outings most don't think twice about can sometimes use up a whole day's worth of energy for someone with an illness. A little saved energy here and there makes a world of difference.
4. Offer to come over and entertain her young kids for an hour or so, so that she can rest, or even hang out with all of you without having to get up and chase after the little ones when they get rambunctious. (I'm the best mom in the world when I'm interacting from the couch and someone else gets up to retrieve my one-year-old as he takes off like a lightning bolt across the house and out of eyesight.)
5. Make her laugh. She needs it.
6. Bring over a meal. I thought this was only standard for moms just returning from the hospital, but I swear, the day my neighbor came over with a delicious cooked breakfast (I hadn't been motivated enough to scrounge up more than crackers or cereal in months), my six-month pregnant belly was the happiest it's ever been, and my neighbor's kindness made my entire day wonderful.
7. Don't expect too much from a Lyme mom or Lyme mom to be. It's not that she doesn't want to return your email right away, or that she's purposely canceled plans the last five times in a row. It's really hard for us to predict how each day is going to unfold, and often times it's hard to keep up with the daily pace of active people, especially while pregnant. We try really hard to do everything we can, but sometimes we fall short.
AT THE HOSPITAL
1. Wait for an invitation before you drop in for a visit. There's no telling whether the couple views the hospital as a private time to bond with each other and baby, whether they're getting bombarded with guests already, or, here's the big one--how mom is feeling. My son was born in the evening, and I felt so horrible after 24 hours of labor and a c-section, that I held him for maybe thirty minutes before I was completely out for the night. I can't imagine anyone but my husband being there as I lay there in pain, crying to the nurses for a percocet, still loopy from the drugs already in my system. By all means, let the parents know you'd love to visit, but let them tell you the appropriate time if they're interested in visitors. (My inlaws were so good about this last time--I'm still grateful for their consideration. Even this time, my mother-in-law emailed to tell me that even though they will be in town beforehand, they'll do their own thing until I'm coherent enough to enjoy company and they'll just wait to get the call. So sweet.)
2. When you visit, please hold off on the perfume, hairspray or other chemicals. A.) As it is, many Lymies are extra sensitive to smells, sounds, and tastes B.) There's nothing worse for a mom than seeing her brand spanking new baby get coated with flowery odors, or even worse, cigarette smoke. Washing hands is not enough. Make sure you're clean and as smell free as possible. When Wyatt was born, I didn't have the guts to reprimand the nurse doused in Clinique Happy. She should have known better, but she also dispensed my pain meds, so I wasn't getting on her bad side! However, my husband got an earful when he and a buddy went outside and had a celebratory smoke and trailed it back into the hospital room. Both boys were banished to the bathroom to wash up before they went near the baby. It's uncomfortable all around to have to tell someone they reek. Just be mindful.
3. Tell the mom she looks awesome and did a great job, even if you're lying! ;)
4. Ask if she needs anything from the outside world. (I'm already craving the Starbucks iced coffee someone is going to get stuck bringing me!)
5. Don't be offended if mom isn't up for long visits. Some Lyme moms give birth and feel great, and others struggle with symptoms right after delivery. It's really based on the individual. We know you're there to see that cute little new bundle, but be respectful if Mama needs a nap. (I was more social than I thought I'd be and really enjoyed company. I'm also lucky enough to have a family that knows 5-hour marathon visits would wear us out.
1. If you are invited over to visit and want to bring a gift, supplies are the best. Diapers, formula (if not breast feeding, of course), wipes, bottle brushes, etc. Not that stuffed animals aren't cute and appreciated--it's just that many of us struggle financially, and the everyday stuff helps more than you'll ever know. (When someone hands me a box of diapers, my heart flutters with joy. A can of formula is like gold. Seriously.)
2. Offer to watch the baby so one or both parents can take a nap. Overnights are a little personal, but offering an hour or two during the day is enough to help recharge a parents' battery for a good while. I say parents, because dad or partner is going to be up all night as well in the beginning, especially if mom is extra fatigued and struggling with Lyme stuff
3. Dinner is always appreciated. It's a great old tradition, and it's really just a nice thing to do
4. If you want to help with household chores, don't ask, just do it. No one wants to say, "Sure, wash my dishes and take out the trash! And you can wipe down my counters and bathroom sink, too!" It's embarrassing, and that whole politeness thing gets in the way. It's not that moms don't want the help--on the contrary--it's needed and genuinely appreciated. It's just hard to be put on the spot and rattle off a list of things we want done. Better to just get in there and help, because many of us will say, "Oh no, that's OK," when we really mean, "For the love of God, it looks like a bomb exploded in my kitchen and I need some help!"
How about you? Any advice for people who want to help out a mom struggling with Lyme? Anyone do something special/memorable for you during your recovery?
I am a mother and writer with Chronic Lyme, on the road to acceptance and recovery. I was bitten in 1996, diagnosed 2008. I am living proof that it is possible to live meaningfully and have happy, healthy children while battling this terrible disease.