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 descendant, 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.
[Addendum. In response to so many vehement concerns, 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…]
There’s usually such a fine line for new mamas who want to shelter their littles from the world and show them off at the same time. The problem is not so much the conflict for the mama; it’s the behavior from others who simply have no idea of how to behave when visiting new babies and mamas. Here are some suggestions you can share with friends and family for a better understanding.
1. As our writer said, do not visit if mama says not to. Period. There are no excepts, buts or only-ifs when it comes to this. Mama saying not to visit means you don’t, even if you’re blood and that’s just that. The *only* exception we can think of (and this is with mama’s FULL approval) is if she’s participating in the tradition of Lying In, and in that instance, you’ll know. Otherwise, just don’t.
2. If mama has said it’s okay to visit, NEVER do it unannounced. Always, always, ALWAYS arrange a time and be sure to be there then. And don’t overstay. If baby is awake, she’s sure to be sleeping soon and mama will want that rest time too. Let her have it.
3. We cannot even believe that something like this needs to be put on a list, but…it seems it still does. DO NOT VISIT IF YOU ARE SICK. Even if it’s just a sniffle, or allergies, or whatever else you think it may be before you realize it ended up being the Bubonic Plague. It’s not worth it to risk visiting a newborn unless you are the picture of health.
4. In that, don’t bring kids! Kids carry all sorts of germs, and even if they’re not sick, who knows what they’re bringing? Unless you’re family and mama has specifically okayed it, consider giving mama and new baby several weeks of microbiome development before bringing kids around.
5. Do not post your pictures on social media unless given permission. Seriously, don’t even take them unless given permission. You may be all about showing your little one off on the book of Faces, but new mama may not. Get permission for photographs, and CERTAINLY get permission for posting anywhere.
6. Wash your hands. With soap and water. New mamas may likely have antibacterial pumps all over for those who are going to hold the baby, but go straight to the sink and use soap. Scrub well, and let her know you want to use soap and water because that’s the best protection for baby. Don’t shame her if she’s got the wipes and the antibacterial gallons everywhere—just know you value her and her baby enough to do what science recommends to protect from germs.
7. Remember big siblings. It’s hard to bring a new baby into the family. If you’re visiting, remember a little something to let them know you understand their worlds are changing too, and you want to help support them as well. Mama and they will thank you, for sure!
What would you like visitors to know during the first week of your baby’s life?