I rediscovered this note recently, sent to me on my first day back at work by a dear girlfriend who knew just what I needed to hear—and she hadn't even had kids yet! I am not similarly blessed in the perfect-words-on-demand department, but my research for The Fifth Trimester has taught me several more....
"Don't worry about calling me back!" Call, email, text, do it all to show her that you're thinking of her—but always include the clarification that this is a message of love, not one meant to be added to her to-call-back list.
"Can I give you a ride?" I surveyed hundreds of new moms and found out that their commutes were measurably more stressful during their first few months back at work. If you can give your friend a ride, offering her found time so she can pump in the passenger seat, or do a work call so she can leave a bit early, or grab a nap, or just talk? That's lifesaver territory.
"There's no one 'right' way to feel right now." Some new working moms are wracked with guilt about working. Others feel guilty for loving the (very adult, nicely clothed, actually-hot coffee-sipping) escape that work provides. However your friend feels, help her know that it's normal.
"I blame America." Here's how this one goes: She complains about her boss, or her husband, or her mother. You listen, of course—these can be really fraught relationships during the Fifth Trimester. It's tempting at this moment to fuel her boss-bashing with a rising chorus of "hell yeahs." But if that just makes her angrier, are you really helping? After all, she has to face this person tomorrow—and do good work for him/her. So instead do what one reproductive psychiatrist I interviewed suggests: Listen, tell her she's right to feel the way that she does, and then go macro. Help your friend see that the inequities she's dealing with are not normal out there in the rest of the universe, where paid parental leave and nursing in public are standard. She's the sane one. American culture is to blame. (And by making it through the Fifth Trimester, she can help change that culture from within.)