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January 7, 2008

Best gifts for second-time parents

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So here I am, 31 weeks into a particularly "challenging" pregnancy with my second child. Months of complications, illness, and bed rest have given me new perspective on the kinds of gifts and support that are most helpful to women in this situation - as well as those most useful to second-time expectant parents in general. Here's what I've learned about the best gifts:

1) A gift certificate to Let's Dish for their Dish & Dash option, in which the recipient orders meals online and selects a time to pick them up, freezer-ready. Colleagues from my husband's office recently gave us this gift, and it was heaven. It eliminated planning, list-making, grocery shopping, and cooking - as well as minimizing cleanup - for an entire week. And the food was very good, with both vegetarian and carnivore selections to choose from!

2) A house-cleaning session from a service of the family's choice. Some kind and gracious cousins gifted us with this last fall, when I was sick as a dog. They pre-paid some sessions for us and we set up the actual dates for the appointments to suit our needs. Lifting the burden of cleaning tasks on a 3-story townhouse when I was so ill, our daughter needed our attention, and we both had jobs to maintain was a true blessing. (And by the way, we had excellent service from Merry Maids' Alexandria branch. They did a great job on a house that is a pain to clean.)

3) A gift certificate toward hiring a birth doula and/or a postpartum doula. Especially for those who don't have family nearby (like us), doula support is a great idea. It doesn't come cheap and is in high demand in the DC area, so booking help well before you need it is ideal. A birth doula meets with the expectant parents a couple of times before the birth, getting to know you and your preferences and hopes for labor and delivery. She then stays with you throughout labor and delivery, until an hour or two after baby's born, providing experienced non-medical support and caregiving - i.e., the things your mother or sister would do for you if she could be there, like providing massage and comfort measures, providing encouragement and companionship with a gentle touch, and supporting dad, as well. A postpartum doula comes to your home in the early days and weeks after a birth, to help out with everything from baby care and household chores to giving the new mom breastfeeding tips - or just the coveted chance to take a shower or get sleep. There are many excellent doulas and doula agencies in the Washington metro area! This time around, my husband and I are investing in a labor doula and have hired Donna Winsor of Mother & Baby Matters (who came highly recommended from former client/local mama/childbirth educator Melody Kisor). I know Donna is going to make a positive difference in my experience of labor and birth.

4) Find out what brand and size of diapers and wipes the parents prefer, and place an order in bulk from one of the online suppliers, having it delivered to the family's home. Anyone who has had a baby in recent history remembers that the constant purchase of diapers and wipes takes over your life! It may not be the sexiest new-baby gift on earth, but it sure will be appreciated in the trenches.

5) The general rule is that an expectant mother - whether it's her first baby or her third - is going to focus all resources on the little one to come. It's just what we do - Part of the job description, and necessary. We systematically stock the clothes and gear for baby, clamor to get a nursery ready, and pay endless medical bills. We stress about time off work (whether unpaid or compensated) and extra childcare. Our tender loving care for ourselves ends up consisting of a selection of (inevitably expensive and dubiously fitting) nursing bras and breastpumps. But the truth is, our bodies and minds are taxed to the limit, needing and deserving more. So if you're invited to a baby shower, consider giving something that's just for her. My in-laws have given me two wonderful presents during this rough pregnancy - A gift certificate to an upscale maternity boutique and a gift certificate to a pampering day spa. I also really love the gift boxes of organic products from Earth Mama Angel Baby, which can be ordered online. For expectant and new mothers, check out their pregnancy products, labor support kit, postpartum kit, c-section recovery kit, and breastfeeding kit. Also their guided imagery and relaxation CDs for pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Or consider sending flowers before the birth, as a late-pregnancy pick-me-up - which one of my clients and Noah's colleagues from the office have done at various times during my bed rest. A gift that helps a woman feel good in body and soul is worth a thousand onesies!

It's true that several of these ideas are big-tickets. We can't all afford to give such lavishness to our girlfriends, but they make excellent group-gifts when we pool our resources. And the helps that relieve everyday burdens - while costing little or nothing but your time - are also wonderful. Offering babysitting help for older children, or taking them for a few hours to a playground or on an ice cream outing. Bringing over a home-cooked meal or taking an extra carpool shift. These mean a lot. I know how grateful I have been for every kind gesture!

Posted by Sarah at 10:51 AM.