I’ve had two babies, and both experiences have been completely different, except for one thing: I didn’t want people to hold my baby.
Moreover, I really didn’t even want visitors. I’ll use my second experience, with my youngest, as an example.
My baby was born in October, and my husband had a glorious two weeks off from work. I knew we were lucky, and I knew we would need this time to acclimate both ourselves and, especially our oldest daughter, to our family’s new addition.
During those two weeks, I didn’t want family driving in to meet the baby. My perspective, as a sore and breastfeeding postpartum mother, was what difference is it to outsiders if they visit during this sacred two-week time period, or if they visit after? These two weeks, while crucial to us as a family unit, will fly by for everyone else, and they can come then.
When we did have people over to meet our new daughter, and to show some much-needed love to our oldest daughter, I, frankly, felt like I was giving away a piece of my tender mommy-breast when I let someone hold my newborn. Actually, she often resided during the day in my sling, and I could conveniently place her there so it wasn’t an issue. She’s sleeping against Mommy—conversation over.
Yet my oldest needed me desperately, as was expected. She needed both her mother and her father to show her that she was still loved and special, and a crucial part of our family, but nursing moms in particular are often with the newborn, by default. Having my husband and, later, our extended family over to help with the baby so that I could also be present with my other daughter was a key part of helping her welcome the baby into our lives as seamlessly as possible.
It was not a seamless and smooth transition for anyone. I had postpartum depression, but not so badly that I even acknowledged it at first. I was exhausted. Those two weeks did fly by, and I was home alone with two kids, and even if I wasn’t watching my caffeine intake, there is never enough coffee in the world for some mornings.
A few friends came over and read to my oldest. One brought dinner. My sister visited. My best friend actually flew in for a few days. My own mom and dad were there at least once a week, helping with both girls and making my whole family dinner. My husband, thankfully, has a job that allows him to be home in the evenings and on the weekends. I had support, but I was still overwhelmed.
Don’t get me wrong, welcoming my youngest daughter into our family is one of the highlights of my life on Earth. It’s absolutely true that there is nothing more magical than motherhood. It’s also completely true that there is nothing more difficult.
If we want to help new mothers, we don’t need generic lists of how to help her. What we need is to communicate openly with each other—we need to learn to ask.
There will be plenty of mothers who could read this and think that all they wanted was to have someone over to hold the new baby so she could shower, or nap, or go to the bathroom alone. There might be plenty of mothers like myself who relate fully to skipping showers and not caring much at all about it.
I offered earlier that my new-mom experiences with my two children have been distinctly separate. There is such glorious variety in personality, in the actual birth process, and in our challenges and joys with them as newborn babies.
The thing is, people are different, women are different, kids are different—and this marked individuality begins right from the start.
So, no, I didn’t want a queue of anyone, even those I love the most outside of my private foursome, parading through my house during those first few weeks. I felt like a wild animal, in my fatigue, and my physical recovery, and in my protectiveness over my oldest’s jealousy, and of my new baby. Holding my new baby made all of the difficulty we were processing as a family worth it. It may well have been hormonal, but handing her off to someone else physically hurt.
Life, at my house, has moved on. My baby is more of a toddler, and my oldest plays with her sibling like a seasoned pro. I sleep. I don’t feel raw and vulnerable like I did as a brand-new mom. Yet those experiences are stored deeply in my heart and mind—the enchanting, the challenging, and the horrific still feel close, even if they are fading into normalcy through the perspective of distance.
If we want to help a new mom—if we really want to help her—we shouldn’t assume. We shouldn’t pretend we know because we’ve been there—we haven’t. Her experience is brand new, just like her baby.
We should ask. We should care enough to listen.