Postpartum Visits: How Helpful is TOO Helpful?
Dear Amy –
I am 4 months pregnant and living abroad with my husband and 18 month old boy. My husband (European) and I (American) have lived in various countries since we married 7 years ago, and I have lived away from my family the entire time (with whom I am very close to). We live in the UK, and his family is 2 hours away by plane. My family are on the West Coast in the states.
When my son was born, my mom came to visit us and stayed with us for 6 weeks. My sister had just had a baby, and my mom came to us with lots of experience and was a life-saver in terms of helping us adjust to life with a newborn. She would cook, clean, walk the dog, bring me snacks while I was feeding, help swaddle/change/bathe the baby (if we asked). She would help me with confidence issues I had as a new mother, and we bonded over the experience of being moms. Of course, we also had issues/quibbles occasionally, but overall it was a good experience.
The problem was that because she was SO helpful, my husband felt a bit left out. He acted a bit passive/aggressive about it and they had a disagreement because she didn’t understand why. Eventually it was resolved, but it was clear that between me feeding the baby, and my mom doing everything else, he did not know what his role was.
My question is regarding #2. We both know that we need my mom back to help (his family is closer but are not as supportive/reliable). My husband thinks we can manage the first few weeks alone. If the birth goes like the previous (c-section but easy recovery), and we know what to expect for the first few weeks, we can prepare in advance with food, and manage by ourselves. Then, when he is back at work (he gets a nice 4 weeks off), my mom can come and help me through the days.
My thoughts are that as much as he is helpful, my mom is just such a better nurturer than him (not that I would ever say this to him). There is a sense of calm and peace I get from her presence (and from her comfort food, and listening to her sing lullabies), and I want that immediately. I also recognize that this time we also have a toddler that will need attention and that could be hard for my husband and me to manage.
On the other hand, the first few weeks with our son was relatively easy, whereas after 6 weeks he stopped sleeping everywhere and was a bit more demanding. And I don’t want my husband to feel left out again – he is a great father and would do really well. I just think we should get as much support as possible.
I just have no idea what it is like to have a newborn and a toddler and how much assistance we will actually need the second time. And when exactly — right away, in a few weeks, months? We have only lived in our current city for 2 years, and although we have a few friends, no one that we could count on for continuous help.
Any thoughts from your past experiences of a newborn and juggling other children and additional support would be appreciated.
Second time mom, still clueless
Ohhh man, I haven’t even fully formed a strong opinion on this question and yet I already sense that I am going to end up Stepping In It. People get VERY feisty, I’ve found, about anything regarding family visiting after a birth.
Usually the popular vote comes down to: Whatever the mom wants, goes! It’s your labor/birth/hospital stay/postpartum period! You’re allowed to be a tyrannical dictator about who comes and when and for how long — nobody else gets a say and everybody else can suck it!
That said, I have some very real sympathy pangs for your husband here, as someone who has a SUPER HELPFUL yet VERY TAKE-OVER-Y mother-in-law who was both WONDERFUL and yet OMG IS SHE LEAVING YET after the birth of my various children. I always appreciated the help…and yet always felt guilty about how much I looked forward to everybody clearing out of my house so my husband and I could get on with the business of parenting our own babies.
You asked about my experiences, so here goes:
When our first baby was born, we did exactly what your husband is suggesting now: Family could come visit while I was at the hospital but then everybody had to clear out for our first two weeks at home, while my husband was on leave. It was…really pretty wonderful, actually. An incredible bonding time for all three of us. Once he went back to work, my mom and then my MIL came to help for about two weeks each. I then spent the next six weeks of my leave on my own during the day. And while I’m sure this makes me sound terribly ungrateful, the six weeks “alone” were pretty wonderful too. They were when I conquered my first-time mother fears and jitters and gained my confidence. And I realized that having people do stuff “for me” and offering their advice and opinions simply delayed the realization that oh, okay, I’m actually pretty good at this. (Obviously, this is a TOTAL YMMV experience. I’m just the jerk with the Alpha Mom login. Offering my advice and opinions. HA!)
When our second baby was born, we figured we’d need the family help from the start. Big difference from your situation, though, is that my husband was in the middle of a huge work project had almost NO time off. Maybe a week, tops, which suuuuucked. And with me recovering from a c-section and having limited mobility at first, at the very least I needed my in-laws’ help picking my oldest up from preschool and carrying laundry up and down two flights of stairs. As soon as I could, I pressed for independence and doing things by myself — specifying exactly what I needed them to do and what I wanted to handle myself. (Taking the baby to get his tongue tie snipped at seven days old, for example. Which seems kind of insane, in retrospect, that I was so adamant that my MIL not accompany me to the appointment. But I think I was already going a bit bonkers with the constant hovering and opinions and pressure to make conversation.)
But then, on the day my in-laws were supposed to leave, I was desperately ill with a fever and a sinus infection and could barely care for myself, much less my children. I asked them to stay an extra day or two and burst into grateful tears when they agreed without even hesitating.
And finally, with our third, my mom came and stayed with us for two weeks. Mostly because she’d had to miss “everything” after the second baby due to my father’s illness. As he’d recently passed away, it was a no-brainer that she should be with us and soak up some happy baby time. It was less about help and more about healing, if that makes sense. My husband swapped his leave around — he returned to work while she was here, then took a couple weeks off once she left. By that point, though, I looked at going from two to three as no big deal. Just toss another one on the pile, I was good. I KNEW how to take care of a newborn. My older kids would be fine, we’d take it one day at a time, strap the baby to my chest and take everybody to a street festival, whatevs. I was a NINJA at that shiz. (Or simply delusional with hormones. Either/or.)
So. Obviously you’re probably regretting asking me this question, as 1) your husband and I are more similar in temperament than you and I are, and 2) I’m big on the “thanks, but we got this” approach to juggling a newborn and other kids. I think the time a family spends together, as just a nuclear unit, with a new addition is lovely and wonderful, and I think it’s admirable that your husband WANTS to be hands-on with his newborn and toddler. I am pretty confident that you two would be absolutely FINE on your own during your husband’s paternity leave. (If he were going back to work right away and still insisting that your mom stay away for awhile, however, I would recommend a good slap upside his head.) And finally, I should add that it took my husband longer (comparatively, anyway) to really bond with our second baby because he had the least amount of hands-on time with him at first. (Which could be why you have a hard time picturing your husband as “nurturing” enough?)
But now that I’ve stated my full In Defense Of Being Independent & Way Antisocial Immediately After Giving Birth, let’s cover the very good points you make on your side. Whereas my personal experiences with the postpartum family help tended to drift towards stressful and intrusive after a few days, your experience was the complete opposite. Whereas I never fully felt that peaceful confidence of motherhood until I was doing it on my own, you gleaned it directly from her presence. Very, very important. Plus, only you know yourself (and your husband) best and are clearly the authority on your collective abilities and limitations. Is he prone to being overconfident, unrealistic or making promises and goals with lousy follow-through? Or do you think he would rise to the occasion and be the sort of partner you need, emotionally and practically?
So while I do think your husband’s proposal of no help while he’s on leave IS doable, I understand that going from one to two is a big question mark and can feel downright terrifying before it happens. (I think I spent huge chunks of my second pregnancy in fits of abject terror.) And as the human responsible for having another human removed from your body, you absolutely have the right to put your foot down and go with whatever will make you most comfortable. There is no dispute about that.
So I guess I’d propose a good old-fashioned compromise. You are absolutely correct that newborns tend to be pretty chill for the first couple weeks. They’re like small, portable meatloaves that poop out mustard. Yes, there are a lot of diapers and feedings, but they sleep a lot (and they sleep wherever). Then they kind of “wake up” and realize that the whole world has changed and get pretty pissed about everything. So maybe split the difference and say two weeks on your own as a family before Mom comes? With the stipulation that she come earlier if ANYTHING unexpected happens (a difficult delivery or tougher recovery, colic or feeding issues, etc.)?
Or if you really feel like you need your mom immediately from day one, you PROMISE to have a very serious talk with her ahead of time, explaining that while her help is beyond appreciated, your husband felt left out and she needs to not do “everything” this time. Then figure out a clear division of responsibilities between the baby, your son and stuff around the house. Promise him (and yourself) that you’ll make more requests from him this time, and hand the baby and baby-related tasks off to him first, instead of defaulting to your mom. You weren’t aware of his feelings last time, so this time you can both pledge to avoid the passive-aggressive nonsense and COMMUNICATE with each other. Let Mom babysit and have a date night. Have her take care of you while your husband takes your son to the movies.
(Your husband could also find out if it’s possible to take his leave later, near the end of your mom’s visit or after she leaves, thus minimizing the potential for them stepping on each other’s toes during the day.)
This is a situation where there really is no one, right answer. Some new parents can’t fathom having houseguests — even in the form of helpful family members — for the first week, or two, or six or EVER. Some new parents will swear up and down that they’d never have survived the early days without family staying with them. And some parents change their minds with each subsequent birth and sibling. You want a repeat of a good experience, your husband is trying to correct a negative one. Try to meet each other somewhere in the middle…remember to stop and realize how lucky you are that there are multiple people who can’t wait to meet this new baby.