Say Goodbye To Postpartum People-Pleasing

by Jessica Ribera
MilosStankovic / iStock

Yes, of course! I’m bleeding, and my swollen breasts are actively leaking. Now would be a fantastic time to visit! What? We haven’t hung out together for months? Doesn’t matter AT ALL. Just get over here and touch my newborn while applying the latest rhinovirus to his head. Well, duh! Naturally you need to sniff that new baby smell!

I mean really, people. What new mom actually wants to see anyone but her own special list of guests after a new baby has been born? Where did this thought come from? “Oh! Susie Q had her baby! I should go over there right now!” After the birth of my most recent baby, No. 4, I still got the cold-call visits and text requests to come see the baby. I really thought we as a society had moved past that by now. Hasn’t everyone read enough posts about how to treat postpartum women? Have we not realized yet the significance of all that the postpartum body is going through?

Don’t get me wrong. There are so many ways one can help a friend or acquaintance after delivery. Most of them involve the word “delivery,” as in pizza delivery, Thai delivery, grocery delivery, pretty-much-anything-edible delivery. With three other children, the meals that came were more help than ever before. My community was great at that, and I loved all the Facebook posts and congratulations that dinged on my phone.

I still struggled, though, with how to respond to requests to see the baby. I am sure that some parents really do want to show off their newborn. Maybe some moms need anyone who is willing to come hold the baby for the sake of a shower or nap. I’m all for help that is actually helpful—from wanted visitors. But many moms don’t know that they don’t have to accept help or welcome visitors. Heck, it took me four tries to finally realize that I was not obligated to entertain guests. It’s always laughed at, but that old “now hand over that baby” employed by so many mother-in-laws and aunties usually stings the mother about as much as those perineal stitches.

Two things helped me to protect my time with sweet baby No. 4: my doula training and a bout with chronic illness. In my doula training, we learned all about how to protect that mama. We learned all the reasons that a mother and baby should be given time to bond. While attending births as a doula, I saw firsthand the stress put on new mothers by pesky visitors. Mother-baby pairs, who were cruising along great when I left them, were suddenly falling apart and exhausted by feeding difficulties and watching their babies cry in the arms of—from the baby’s perspective—strangers. Again, sometimes you definitely should hand that crying baby to someone else in order to rest and heal, but so many do it because they are simply afraid to offend.

Around the time my third child turned 1, I developed postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome that, at the worst times, left me bedridden. During the best times, I was forced to learn how to protect myself, my energy, and my stress levels in order to stay as healthy as possible for my family. With so much at stake, I got really good at that little “no” word. People-pleasing finally showed itself to be just that, and I realized that every “yes” I gave to something I didn’t want was probably a “no” to something that I did.

With my new self-preservation skills and a head full of regard for mother-infant bonding time, I definitely wanted to say a resounding “yes” to every second I could of soaking up those newborn cuddles. My time with baby No. 4 would always be subject to the demands of an already-busy life with three older children. Those postpartum days with my partner at home were crucial and special, and I knew it.

Postpartum is a crazy time. You never know what challenges are in store unless it ain’t your first rodeo. The hard stuff will happen, but lots of really great stuff happens, too. I had already watched my first three babies turn into kids. Enjoying babyhood the first time around is a rare skill. I loved the snot out of my first, but most of my memories are fuzzy at best, and otherwise, a little rough. I was determined to protect the sweet moments with Baby No. 4, and I did.

No, I didn’t use that sarcastic stuff from above—though sometimes I really wanted to! Here’s the standard response I gave to any visitor I wasn’t ready for (many of them were dear friends who told me later how glad they were that I had learned to stand up for what I needed and trust them to want what’s best for me too):

Thank you for thinking of us! I’ve been doing a great job of resting and just doing what is best for Baby and me. So far, visitors still feel a little disruptive. Rain check?

Do yourself a favor: Take people-pleasing off the postpartum list of things to do.