A while back I was seeing one of my women on day 3 postnatal. She had a forceps delivery after a long old labour and was feeling rather shattered. Feeding wasn’t going well; her baby was very irritable due to the delivery and he wasn’t latching on and her nipples were cracked and bleeding. And to top it all off her perineum was incredibly sore and could barely sit down, lie down, manoeuvre herself to the bathroom. You get it she was in a bad way. But one thing really struck me about the scene I was witnessing. The people in her home.
Her parents were there. Her Mum, trying to be helpful getting extra cushions to support her when trying to feed her screaming baby. Her father hiding in the kitchen not really wanting to hear his daughter discuss her sore bottom and bleeding. Her sister, sister’s husband and 2 young nieces hovering in the living room ‘just wanting one photo of the girls with their new cousin to send to Granny’. And her brother who had driven all the way from Newcastle but won’t stay long, just wants a little peek at his new nephew. All in all there were waaaaay too many people in her small terraced house. It got me thinking. Who is really benefiting from all these family members being there? The 3 day old irritable hungry baby certainly didn’t need those extra hands touching his sore little head. Her husband was feeling undermined by his wife’s slightly overbearing Mother making annoying comments like ‘What he needs is a good walk in his pram’. And what about the woman, the centre of all of this bravado! She was a hormonal mess unable to express how she really felt, not wanting to push people away so she let all her family members bombard her. *
So what is the right thing to do when hundreds of friends and family are desperate to come over and see you and your new baby? How can you manage the endless texts and phone calls? Rachel from When The Baby Sleeps shares her experiences and tips when visiting new parents.
Visiting new parents is a minefield, and if you’re not careful you can really mess it up. You can leave traumatised by a gory birth story, riddled with guilt because you took totally the wrong things or, worst of all, blissfully unaware of the havoc you have wreaked. Becoming a parent for me meant apologising to my friends-with-kids. Primarily because on that first visit to meet their firstborns I had no idea. I mean I didn’t rock up with wine breath or anything crazy like that.. but you know, I just didn’t quite know how to behave. But I do now. Here’s how:
Take food. Yes, it’s that important that it gets three mentions. Take a staple, take a luxury, take something that can be stuffed in your gob while your friend does three things at once. Don’t text asking what they need and expect an honest answer. Just turn up with some stuff. It will be cherished. Seriously, you remember the bread & milk gifts as clearly as the cool gifts for baby. I learned quite quickly that if you take food, essentially, you rock.
Don’t stay too long. Now one person’s too long is another person’s warm up, right? But when it comes to new parent visits, limit yourself to 45 minutes to one hour absolute maximum. Unless you’re throwing in a bit of cleaning/putting out the rubbish/taking the baby out type activity as a bonus (see next point), which earns you an extra 15 minutes. Energy is limited and there’s a hit-by-a-bus vibe in the air for a good couple of months so be mindful and vigilant. Even if you catch parents on a good afternoon it is highly likely they will wave you goodbye and then quite literally want to lie down on the floor with exhaustion. Most parents will generally be too polite to say ‘please fuck off I’ve started to hallucinate again.’ Pay heed.
Be Helpful. Depending on the closeness of the friendship ‘helpful’ can range from rinsing out your own tea cups to doing a full clean of the kitchen or putting out the rubbish. Make it your mission to do something and do your utmost to ensure it gets done and not rebuffed in a brilliant show of English awkwardness. Offer specific tasks and embrace them with aplomb and beaming. You may have to literally shoo your visitees back to their seats and kidnap the washing up until its ass is wiped, but it will be worth any awkwardness. Definitely offer to take the baby out for a walk if they’re passed the ‘DON’T LET THE BABY OUT OF MY SIGHT!’ phase.
Listen, but not too hard. If you visit in the first month then you’ll probably hit the ‘birth story’ phase. There will be details extraneous, things you don’t understand and the couple will almost certainly disagree or argue over some aspect of what happened and in what order. We couldn’t agree on specifically which swears I’d invoked at one key moment (I swear it was ‘ow, ow, fucky fucky ow ow’ but apparently I wasn’t this coherent.) Nod, pay attention but do feel free to drift off a little if anyone mentions something a bit too gross, particularly if you’re planning on procreating yourself. A well placed ‘hmmm’, ‘ouch’, ‘oh wow’ should cover you. And remember, it’s all part of the fun.
Don’t take flowers. Yes, flowers are lovely to look at, but remembering to tend to them and throw them away before they die isn’t easy. When you’re prostrate, low on energy and riddled with hormones then the changing of the flower water just doesn’t happen. Said flowers become rank quite quickly, and soon your living room resembles a flower mortuary. The flowers’ rapidly decaying visage becomes a direct representation of your utter failure as a mother and member of the human race and circa 3am they haunt and disturb you as you navigate your new life feeling as vulnerable and weak as the shadows they cast. Don’t put anyone through that, alright?
Don’t take alcohol. Again, booze is all fine and dandy but it’s just not on the agenda for new parents. That bottle of plonk, while a lovely way to celebrate what is essentially the happiest event in your life, will instead come to resemble either your past, carefree life of grog and gayness, or the future that you know lies ahead of you but just seems so far away. There will be a time in the not-so-distant future when you will wear clothes, go about your business at normal hours of the day and then sit down, like a grownup, and have an alcoholic drink, but in the early days such activities seem baffling and unlikely. So give it a rest would you?
Be careful what you talk about. I met a brilliant mum of twins who told a harrowing story about some guests who spent 10 minutes decrying the difficulty of tracking down a particular size of Brabantia bin liner and their epic quest to get hold of said bin liner on a particularly hectic Saturday morning shopping trip. Six years down the line she remembered this event in excruciating detail, so painful and galling had it been. Poor, brave soul. Another friend spits bile whenever she recounts how a colleague turned up with a ton of office ‘news’ when she was still on Day 7 confusion. Don’t rock up with a load of office gossip or woeful tale about sourcing Brabantia products and expect anyone to give a shit, is essentially my advice here.
Don’t panic. You may be freaked out by the state of your friend, now he or she has crossed the divide and become one of them. Please don’t panic. Your friend will return, even if in a slightly different, stranger format.
On that first visit you may see and hear strange things. You may catch glance of your first nipple shield, pumping device or god forbid a maternity pad. For this we can only apologise. Your friend may say things that are utterly unforgivable totally batshit crazy and she or he may not even pretend to listen to a word you say. They may tell you to wash your hands every five minutes or even ‘shush’ you particularly harshly if you have a barking kind of laugh… all of these things are normal, I’m afraid. And they too shall pass.
And that, dear reader, is it. Easy. You can thank me later.
Trouble is that now I have to take a toddler with me when I go visit new parents and that’s a whole other minefield. All advice welcome before I make a total hash of it…
*This is a fictitious story of a senario and was used as an example to describe an event. No persons mentioned are real.*