Extreme? Maybe. But for me, it was necessary.
As an introvert, it’s difficult for me to host visitors even when I haven’t just pushed a living, breathing human being out of my body. I need my own space. A space to escape to. Space to breathe. Add to that the life altering experience of bringing home a new baby and it just makes things even more of a challenge.
Having visitors at the hospital was an absolute no. There was no way I was going to sit there and smile, cramping and bleeding into my mesh panties, while everyone passes around the child who I desperately want to have back in my own arms. I wanted privacy and I wanted time to bond only with my new little family.
I know that I’m certainly not alone in my desire for those early days of bonding without a stream of visitors. I frequently see posts in groups and on message boards from mothers-to-be who are worried about all of the family and friends planning on coming to the hospital as soon as labor commences. The family member who is insistent on being present for the actual birth. The visitors who show up as soon as they get home from the hospital. I see all these posts asking for advice on how to handle these situations, because they feel like they can’t say no. These are women who feel like they don’t have a say. Women who wrongly believe that birth is a spectator sport and all must be welcomed.
Then, when you bring your newborn home, there is a completely new “normal” that you have to get used to. It takes a while to get into that groove and form a routine. Post-birth, my husband and I developed a sleep schedule, alternating our “on duty” waking hours in shifts so that we could catch up on as much sleep as possible. As exciting as it is to see a new baby, visitors need to remember that new parents are tired. Soul-crushingly tired. We needed quiet. We needed zero interruptions. It took those first couple of weeks to gain our bearings and adjust to our roles as new parents. I wanted to figure out how to be a mom without any external advice or opinions.
Postpartum depression is also very real. I struggled almost immediately after the birth of my first and it didn’t subside until I stopped nursing. I remember those first few weeks after birth I would sometimes get an overwhelming urge of sadness, and just burst into tears for no reason. One time I failed to remove myself from the room in time and ended up crying uncontrollably in front of some of our family. As someone who prefers to handle my emotions in private, or only with those I’m extremely close to, this was humiliating and degrading for me.
I also had a very hard time with others holding my crying newborn. Whenever my baby would cry, I wanted to be the only one holding her. Whenever she was crying and someone took her from me, I could feel the overwhelming panic rising inside of me and it was all I could do not to grab her back and run crying from the room.
Honestly, there is a whole host of reasons why having visitors after giving birth can make things incredibly stressful for mothers. Learning to breastfeed is one of them. Nursing is hard, stressful, and can oftentimes be painful. My firstborn had a severe lip and tongue tie that went undiagnosed until she was almost two months of age, so nursing was exceptionally frustrating for us in the beginning. A nursing cover wasn’t an option because I needed to help her re-latch repeatedly. The most comfortable position for both of us was on the sofa with a pillow pressed up against the arm rest. But every time we had a visitor, we were resigned to hiding in the bedroom, my exhausted arms falling asleep while trying to hold her up to my breast, with a nursing pillow that I could never seem to get the hang of using.
I have read a lot of articles on rules for visiting a new mom and they always seem to include a recommendation to offer help. Empty the dishwasher. Run a load of laundry. Fold the towels. Cook dinner. Honestly the thought is always appreciated, but it’s misleading to insinuate that all moms desire this help. Personally, I have very specific ways of doing things and when others try to do them for me, it just stresses me out even more. But how do you say no to well meaning friends and family who are just trying to make your life easier?
I have expressed my views before regarding visitors after birth and of course I have been met with the comments telling me that I am selfish. That “it takes a village” and that I shouldn’t have kept those closest to us from visiting in those early days. But those comments are in the minority. The vast majority are women who say they “wish” they could have done what I did. I’ve been called “brave” for not allowing visitors the first two weeks. One woman told me she wished she had my “courage.” There is something wrong with this mindset. It shouldn’t take courage and bravery for new mothers to set boundaries. It is not selfish to know what we desperately need and to ask for it.
Take as much time as you need, Mom. The visitors can wait.