New Motherhood Is Hard Enough: Say No to Visitors
Until I had my son, it had never occurred to me that the first days, weeks, and months of being new parents would be sheer hell. I mean it. I don't envy any of you who are currently trying make it through the first two months of parenthood. It's difficult. Don't believe anyone who says otherwise. They're lying. It's beyond difficult. For us, it all started when we took our son to his first doctor's appointment.
When our son's pediatrician told us how much weight he had lost because I thought I was breastfeeding him, I broke down in the exam room. I don't think you're lactating, she said. That was enough for me to have an I-feel-like-a-horrible-mom-I-don't-think-I-can-do-this type of breakdown accompanied by an uncontrollable sobbing fit. It happens, his doctor said. It happens? Why was it happening to me? Not breastfeeding wasn't a part of my plan.
She told us that we had to get him started on formula. Formula! What good parents start their child on formula? Bad parents! Well, at least that's what I had always said before I gave birth, and here we were getting ready to stock up on Enfamil and bottles. Then, the very next day, my milk came in, and I had to deal with engorged milk ducks that felt like hard and fiery pebbles stuffed under my chest. I panicked and called my doctor. You have to pump every two hours, my doctor said. Keep pumping. Be aggressive about it so you increase your milk supply, she added.
In the evenings, after Jeremy would get home, I'd take long and cool showers. It was my only time alone. I'd sit there under the running water feeling numb while trying to remember a part of me that existed before I gave birth. It was as if I couldn't remember doing anything else with my life besides operating a breast pump and taking care of a colicky infant. Did I go to college? Had I lived in New York? I actually had the time to write? I taught college students? Was I able to enjoy a glass of wine while reading a decent book? What was it like to hangout with my friends? What was it like to sleep through the night?
Shortly after we would make it in bed to get some rest, we'd wake up to the cries of our baby. I'd reach for the breast pump to place the suction cups around my scabbed nipples, while Jeremy would warm the milk I had pumped earlier to feed our baby. We'd change his diaper and try to put him back to sleep. Of course, he wouldn't immediately go back to sleep. We'd rock him in his bassinet as he'd continue to cry. His incessant, relentless, high pitched cry. Then I'd start to cry out of frustration of not knowing what I could do to ease the unpleasantness of each passing night. Then, he'd finally fall asleep only to wake up again in less than forty minutes for us to do it all over again.
Of course, things didn't seem to get easier. Each day, I progressively began to produce less milk. I felt like I was failing at the one thing I should have been able to do as a new mother. I decided to meet with a lactation consultant, invested in herbal teas full of promises of increased milk supply, read a lot of books on breastfeeding, and continue to pump, pump, pump!
While we dealt with all of the craziness that had ensued our lives, our friends and family relentlessly insisted on visiting us to meet our son. Visitors meant that I had to look somewhat presentable by finding something decent to wear. Something that would fit my postpartum body and not make me feel like an overstuffed sausage link. Visitors meant that I had to put on a little bit of makeup to feel less insecure about the dark circles under my eyes. It meant that I had to quickly fix my hair and figure out a way to make it look like I didn't have a fuzzy animal sitting on top of my head. It meant that I had to pick things up off the floors with the very little energy I had to spare.
If I weren't feeling like I was falling through a postpartum black hole where I couldn't get a grip of my life, I would have told all of our family and friends that they had to wait until I was emotionally and physically ready to accept visitors. I would have told them that if they wanted to meet our baby, they should come with food or cook for us. I would have told them to grab the mop, scrub the toilets, and do a load of laundry.
The last thing Jeremy and I needed were visitors to stop by our house to meet our baby. What we needed were friends and family to come over to help us with the chores around the house, take care of us.
The truth is, I didn't feel comfortable with people being around my baby because it made me feel anxious. I only felt comfort with Jeremy and my mother. For the most part, I wanted time alone with my baby. I wanted to close my bedroom door to cuddle with him for hours, kiss his little cheeks, and smell the nook of his neck while feeding him. Most mothers I spoke to told me that they also felt this nauseating protectiveness toward their newborns. I never met or heard about a new mother who wanted other people to take care of their newborn while they keep themselves busy with the chores around the house. It doesn't work that way. At the very beginning, nothing else matters about the life that surrounds you besides attending to the needs of your baby. At least that's how I felt at the time.
Those who aren't parents don't realize that a newborn doesn't need anyone except their parents, mostly their mother. What's interesting is those who've had children many years ago forget what it was like being new parents. Selfishly, everyone gets caught up in wanting to meet your little bundle of joy. They want to hold them and play with them. People don't realize that they could be much more helpful if they ask about what they can do to help to ease the pressures new parents feel.
Don't get me wrong, we had people kindly volunteering to help us. My dear, dear parents traveled from Turkey and stayed with us to cook, clean, and do whatever else we needed to get done around and outside of our house while we took care of our child. Unfortunately, not all of our guest were as understanding and helpful. Two weeks after I gave birth, we had a particular group of visitors who flew in to spend a long weekend with us and didn't volunteer to do anything to help us during their visit. While our baby took naps during the day, they sat around the living room and played games on their cell phones.
In fact, with my husband's help, I cooked them a full-blown breakfast and dinner. The day before they left, after I finished cooking, I started to wonder why I was putting up with our guests' rudeness. Instead of acting like an outraged maniac, I walked upstairs, grabbed my breast pump, settled on my bed, and called my mother.
"Why make things awkward when they're only around for another day?" my mother asked after I told her about our guests. "I mean, it could be worse," she said. "At least you don't have a mother-in-law who knocked on your door early in the morning to tell you to dust her furniture, wash her laundry, and cook dinner the week you gave birth."
I know I shouldn't say this about my Turkish grandmother, but she was apparently the epitome of that mother-in-law you wouldn't wish upon your enemy. "Just be kind and calm down," she said. I listened to her advice.
Obviously, I wasn't anywhere near the ruthless mother-in-law situation my mother had to endure. Sure, I'm Turkish, but I wasn't my mother either, the timid little Turkish bride. At the time, I should have realized that being kind is different from not speaking your mind at all. Without losing my temper, I should have spoken my mind. I should have told our guests that they were being rude. I should have told them that if they wanted to stay with us they had to help. I didn't do any of that. I remained completely quiet.
If there is one thing I've learned about being a mother so far, it's that I have to address my needs. It's the only way people can alter their views, behavior, and expectations. Otherwise, I know I will spend the rest of my life as a frustrated people pleaser who was never understood. The recipe to becoming a parent isn't bottled and sold over the counter next to ibuprofen or coffee (surprise!).
Once you become a parent, it takes a long time to figure out what works for you and your baby. You go through many mental and physical changes that enable you to adjust to your new life. It's impossible to find a new norm overnight. Nothing makes this process harder than saying yes to everyone and not expressing your needs and feelings. I now know that it's perfectly okay to say no without fearing that I'll offend my friends and family.
I don't need the label of super mom who receives compliments of, "I can't believe you just gave birth! Nothing slows you down!" The thing is, I gave birth. I've slowed down a bit. I'm not the same. I'm still trying to figure out what works for us and our baby. From this point on, I will do my best to make sure everyone else understands that as well.