A precautionary tale: don’t visit a newborn if the mama urges you, even politely, to stay away. She means it.
My husband’s grandmother left a message saying she was coming over. Right. Now.
I’d been putting her visit off. I wanted the first week with our newborn to be a closed circle made up only of new mother, new father, and new baby. Benjamin was a wonder to us with eyes that hinted (I swear) of ancient wisdom. This time was our initiation into family life. It felt sacred to me in the way that life-changing experiences can. I didn’t want it muddied with polite conversation or awful clichés like “you look great.”
I was also exhausted and overwhelmed, as many first-time postpartum moms can be. We wait three-quarters of a year to see the baby we’ve been gestating. Plus we’re dealing with sore nipples, interrupted sleep, and estrogen levels that drop 100 to 1,000-fold in the first week after giving birth. I knew plenty of other new mothers who thrived on connecting soon after birth. Not me. I wasn’t feeling remotely sociable.
When his grandmother arrived my resolve melted a little. As she leaned over to kiss our baby’s cheek the gentle wrinkles on her face twanged my heartstrings. She was looking down at her descendent, a boy who would grow up into a world beyond her time. My tenderness, however, instantly evaporated when she snatched him out of my arms with a thief’s deftness. Her perfume-doused wrists cradled him closely. He started to fuss almost immediately but she refused to hand him back.
“I know babies,” she said, surely trying to reassure me. I was not reassured.
His eyes crinkled in pre-cry mode. She hoisted him to her shoulder, his precious face against her sweater which had, I kid you not, fake rhinestone decorations pressed against his skin. Immediately I reached out for him but she turned and, bouncing him up and down, walked to the other side of the room. The baby started to cry for real.
I hustled up to her with the ferocity of a mother grizzly bear. The hair on my arms stood up and my scalp prickled. My mouth swung open and growl in my throat threatened to roll out. I’d never experienced such a primal reaction, a surge of body energy that transcended emotion. I managed to sputter a few words instead of actual growling.
“I need that baby back RIGHT NOW,” I said, “or I can’t be responsible for what I’ll say.”
She, who had bestowed the fond nickname of “sweet little girl” on me when I first dated her grandson, looked shocked. She had no idea that, in this moment of postpartum rage, I was close to sinking my teeth in her arm.
I grabbed my crying son, hustled off to the bedroom, and closed the door. Adrenaline still coursed through me. Nursing him calmed me, but not entirely. I stayed there until she was gone. When my husband carefully turned the knob and slid the door open just a bit I realized even he was a little afraid of me.
I’m sure I could have handled the situation better. Honestly, she could have too. I know the incident taught my husband that he needed to do everything possible to preserve our family boundaries in a newborn’s early weeks—skills that were essential as we had three more children, some with serious medical problems. It also taught me that nothing is more powerful than a new mother’s impulse to be with her baby.
I guess there is a moral to my story. Don’t visit a newborn if the mama urges you, even politely, to stay away. She means it.
What would you like visitors to know during the first week of your baby’s life?
[Addendum. In response to so many vehement comments I’d like to add that I am dedicated to our extended family on both sides. My mother-in-law (her daughter) lived with us for 10 years, my kids always made handmade gifts for relatives, and I continue to host most holidays. Other than a baby’s first week, I’m pretty welcoming…]