My firstborn was the first grandchild in our family, and everyone wanted to meet him immediately. His aunts, uncles and doting grandparents were thrilled to welcome him into our family and wanted tons of time to admire him. He wasn’t even a month old, and his social calendar was booked solid.
It was understandable, but I found the daily visits in those early weeks totally draining. Breastfeeding was really hard at first. When people were over, I found myself fumbling with my clothing, trying to awkwardly position the baby while onlookers cooed at him. I was exhausted to the bone and needed to nap whenever I had a chance. I couldn’t predict when that would be, and if people were over, it kind of screwed up my chances of getting enough rest in.
I remember telling my husband that I needed to limit visitors. He got it, to some extent, but he also didn’t see what the big deal was. He thought our friends and family were a welcome distraction from all the stress of new parenthood, and he wanted to please them. A true introvert at heart, I found the constant visitors extremely draining. It was stressful enough to have a baby, and feeling as though I had to play host to visitors only added to that.
I got through it, and the visitors eventually died down, but by the time I was pregnant with my second baby, I knew better. My first child’s postpartum period had left me feeling drained, anxious and stressed to the max. This time was going to be different. I was going to do little else besides rest, heal from childbirth and breastfeed.
And rule No. 1 was no visitors unless I approved them.
Each time a baby is born, a mother is born too, and she deserves just as much attention as her baby does.
It was hard, and I did receive some protests from family members at first. What we ended up doing was having a few family members come at once, and we told them right off the bat that we would kick them out when we were too tired. We also reserved days for no visitors whatsoever—and there were as many of those as I wanted or needed.
Let me tell you, my postpartum experience with my second child was so much better than the first time. In fact, because my husband was also able to take off two full weeks of work, it felt like an actual vacation (well, almost). Yes, the baby never slept more than an hour in a row. And yes, my breasts were engorged and my hormones were raging all over the place, but my only job was to care for my baby and rest.
When visitors did come over, their job was to help me maintain that quiet, calm, restful atmosphere. There was no hosting on my part. I could stay in bed the whole time if I wanted. Visitors brought meals, straightened up or helped occupy our older son for a while.
I came out of those early weeks feeling healthy, rested, cared for and empowered. And I wondered why on earth I hadn’t had the foresight to do something like this the first time.
In our culture, it seems like the postpartum time is tightly focused around the baby. I get it: Babies are an amazing miracle. They are cute and smell like heaven. But mothers need as much attention as babies do. Each time a baby is born, a mother is born too, and she deserves just as much attention as her baby does.
Childbirth—however it happens for you—is a huge big deal, and mothers need time to heal. And whether you breastfeed or not, the honest truth is that mothers end up bearing the bulk of baby care in the postpartum period, not to mention the fact that our hormones are adjusting and sometimes swinging all over place in those first few weeks.
So listen up, and listen good. Whatever the mom needs in the first few weeks postpartum, she gets. We should all be doing everything in our power to take care of her so she can take care of her baby.
That means that moms should get to control their environment. They shouldn’t feel guilty if they need to limit visitors, or have none at all. Moms should be the ones who get to decide who comes, not anyone else. And honestly, if the visitors aren’t there to help, or if it feels like they have to be entertained, moms should know that it’s really OK to just say no. Better yet, a mother’s partner should advocate for her and say “no thank you” to unwanted guests.
I know that some people will have a problem with this, sometimes a huge one. There are family traditions that dictate who should care for a mother postpartum, and even if that’s not the case, some people might think it’s rude to say, “Sorry, you can’t come over today, tomorrow or maybe for a few weeks.”
But you know what? Screw them. If you just had a baby, and you feel like you need to limit visitors, just do it. You’re the mom. What you say goes.