I was on the train the other day, and I was sat behind a group of young women who were discussing one of their sister in laws, and how she’d recently had a baby. The girl leading the conversation was very put out that she’d not been able to visit to see the baby yet (a week after it had been born), and that her mother in law was devastated to have only been allowed to see the baby twice. They were very focused on the fact that apparently she’d had an straightforward birth, and unanimous in saying that when they had a baby they would be wanting everyone to see it. The phrase no-one has a right to stop people visiting was used more than once.
Now, this may have touched a nerve with me, but I had to bite my tongue to stop myself saying something. I think until you’ve had a baby (and it was clear from the conversation that none of these women had children yet) you just don’t understand the brutality of those first few days and weeks. Birth is a miracle, but it’s not a magical one; it’s a physical and very primal thing which requires a long time to recover from, no matter how straightforward your labour was. Whether you had a ‘normal’ delivery or a C-section, you are sore everywhere, bleeding, and trying to get your head around the fact that you’re responsible for a teeny being now. Just waddling to the toilet can feel like a huge accomplishment! And let’s not forget that a C-section is major surgery and requires 6 weeks to recover from.
I was lucky to have two very quick and straightforward labours, and yet the first one left me absolutely destroyed. Despite a technically quick delivery, I had been in slow labour for days, so by the time we finally walked out of hospital, I had been awake for 3 days straight. The birth was great, but the postnatal ward was another story. By the time we left I was verging on delirious and I’m sure I’ve never looked as rough in my life. So you can imagine my horror when we arrived home and just 5 minutes later my parents, my sister, her husband, and my grandpa all turned up! I know that after almost 2 whole days of not meeting the new addition to the family, they were desperate to meet him, but it really would have been much better to wait until the following morning. We would both have been better rested and better settled into being at home. And I’m very close to my family – I can only imagine how different it must feel if it’s your inlaws, or family that you’re not particularly close to.
I understand how hard it must be, particularly for grandparents, who are so excited to meet their new grandchild, to be told that it’s not possible to visit just yet. But so much has changed with how women give birth these days that it’s a very different scenario. Back in the 70’s and 80’s women were used to staying in hospital longer after birth, and being far more looked after. These days it’s normal to be discharged the next day, or even the same day if everything is well. When I spoke to my mum about her experience in hospital, she told me that the babies were all taken to the nursery overnight and looked after by the midwives, just brought into the ward occasionally for feeding. Compare that with me; staying up all night as my baby would only sleep on me, and too terrified to sleep myself in case I crushed him.
The reality of those first few weeks is so different now when it comes to feeding too. Breastfeeding is the norm now for the first few weeks at least, and to get feeding established properly it’s pretty much essential to feed around the clock and get as much skin to skin as you can. It’s basically sitting on the sofa with your boobs out all day! And feeding a newborn is a totally different ballgame to feeding a baby who’s got the hang of things – it’s not the discrete breastfeeding that you’ll see in your local Costa. Feeding in the early days is one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to do. Particularly the second time around, feeding, and even the mere mention of feeding, had me in floods of tears as it was so agonising. I’m not sure there are many people (if anyone!) that I feel comfortable sitting next to in that kind of state.
The complaints usually focus on missing out on bonding with the baby. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but the reality is that the only person a newborn baby needs to bond with is their mother. They don’t want to be passed around – it’s stressful for them and often stressful for their mother too. Of course there will be bonding to be done, but that can happen just as easily further down the line. The baby can hardly even see at this stage – he or she won’t remember you in years to come.
You should know that the way you treat the mother in those early days will stay with her.
Your hormones are all over the shop in those early days, and you’re getting your head around the fact that your whole life has been turned on its head. I think so often, especially when it comes to the inlaw relationship, people get so excited about seeing the baby, that the mother can feel pushed aside and insignificant. It might seem a small thing, but in a state of hormones raging, these are things that can trigger anxiety and depression in new mums. I hear so many things from mums where they are still bitter years down the line about how people behaved to them during the first few days of their baby’s life – these are big life changing moments, and all emotions are heightened, and things that happen during that time can lead to harbouring resentment and even to the breakdown of relationships.
Of course, some women absolutely do want visitors, and do want to show their baby off to their friends and family, and that’s absolutely fine. We’re all different after all. But to me, it’s so important to recognise that it’s a tough time for a woman, and to take her lead in when she feels ready to have visitors. So if you have a family member expecting a baby, please be considerate, offer your support and let her know how excited you are and that you’d love to visit when she’s ready to see you. If you’re patient and supportive, you’ll get to visit when everyone is ready, and it will be far better in the long term.