Post-Baby, Postpartum Visiting Pitfalls
I really need advice from a sane, reasonable parent — I have no kids, none of my close friends have kids, and my dad is even more socially inept than I am. (Love my dad, but his advice leads to stories that are only funny after several years and a LOT of bourbon.)
I dated this guy in college and we broke up when I moved out of the country for work. He found a wonderful lady soon after and they’ve been together ever since. This guy and I have stayed pretty close friends and I’ve spent a couple of really good visits hanging out at their new house. I don’t know this lady super well, but she seems fabulous and makes my friend happier than I’ve ever seen him. Last week they had their first kid. Mom and baby are well and new daddy seems thrilled to pieces. My friend has asked me to drop everything and come out ASAP but I’m really worried about stepping on toes. She said it’s fine, but my feeling is she’s sleep-deprived and saying yes to be nice.
I guess my question is this: at what point would you, as a brand-new mom, have loved to have someone show up, make dinner, babysit or whatever, hang out, and actually enjoyed the experience?
Any guidance would be really appreciated. Thank you!
Something Clever Here
This is SUCH a good question. Thank you for asking it. And for setting me loose on it with ALL MY MANY OPINIONS.
So yes, spread across my three brand-new-baby postpartum experiences, I indeed had some WONDERFUL experiences with friends and family coming to visit. I also had some of the…other kind. The not-so-enjoyable kind. The kind where you’re smiling so hard it hurts because you’re using every possible facial muscle to suppress your overwhelming urge to scream at someone to GET OUT OF MY HOUSE ALREADY.
Don’t Make These Two Mistakes
Basically, there are two major pitfalls that an early postpartum visitor can make, I think.
1. Acting like a houseguest and expecting to be entertained, served and generally fussed over.
I feel like the first one should be fairly obvious, but judging from the number of ZOMG GOING TO MURDERIFY SOMEONE letters I have gotten from new moms about everyone from mothers-in-law to mothers to BFFs to their husband’s uncle’s roommate, I guess it isn’t obvious ENOUGH. I’m guessing YOU, the lovely OP, know this already, but for the sake of posterity: If you go to visit brand-new parents, please do not expect them to wait on you, cater to you, or entertain you.
Do not ask them to play tour guide or whine about their cable line-up or dinner options. You want to go see the city or eat out instead of ordering pizza for the third night in a row? Knock yourself out. Rent a car, fire up the GPS and ask your hosts if you can bring anything back for them from the store while you’re out. Clean up after yourself. Find your own damn towels. Make coffee in the morning; figure out where most of the dishes go so you can help unload the dishwasher. Offer to run a load of laundry, provided you can do it without asking a bajillion and one questions. Remember that someone needs to hold the baby so Mom can take a shower. Remember that while Mom might certainly be down with watching The Price Is Right with you, she might also want some time alone with her baby. When the conversation starts seeming a little forced or draggy, it might be a good time to head to your room with your iPad or go take a solo walk to Starbucks so she can have some downtime. But make sure she knows that you are ready and willing to lend a hand when/if she wants/needs one.
(For the record, I was never a big napper, even when totally sleep-deprived with a newborn. So sometimes it bugged me when people assumed that the ONLY thing I wanted to do all day was take naps, to the point where they were practically ordering me to. “I’ll take the baby for a walk, you nap!” “Why don’t you take a nap?” “The baby looks tired, let me take him and you take a nap!” Most of the time I just wanted to cuddle WITH my baby and watch TV, and not have anyone judging my programming choices, which were legitimately terrible.)
2. Acting like a live-in housekeeper with zero boundaries, taking over EVERYTHING and not giving the new parents their space.
This one is harder to explain. You don’t mention sleeping arrangements, so I’m not sure if this is an overnight, multiple day sort of thing? If that’s the case, remember that there’s a fine line between being “helpful” and being “completely intrusive and take-over-y.” And it’s a line that can be PAINFULLY obvious to the newly postpartum (and only to the newly postpartum). My husband was never aware of this line. “But she’s just trying to be helpful!” he’d say. “BUT SHE’S FOLDING MY THONGS IN THE LIVING ROOM IN FRONT OF YOUR DAD ZOMG!” I would shriek back. “I CAN’T WALK INTO THE KITCHEN WITHOUT BEING INTERROGATED ABOUT WHETHER I’M HUNGRY OR NOT AND OFFERED HEALTHY VEGAN SNACKS THAT I DON’T WANT BECAUSE I WENT IN THERE FOR LEFTOVER PIZZA THAT I PLANNED TO EAT STRAIGHT FROM THE FRIDGE.”
So, basically, you’re there to help, but you are still in someone else’s home. Offering to do a load of baby clothes or towels is great. Don’t go into the master bedroom and start sorting the whites, you know? Know when to make yourself scarce instead of being right in the middle of everything all the time. Support without smothering, I guess.
If you have sleeping arrangements elsewhere, I think you can easily avoid overstaying your welcome and ABSOLUTELY, I’d be thrilled if someone showed up with dinner (homemade or Indian takeout, I ain’t gonna be picky). Offer to babysit, but don’t push or be surprised if they turn you down — lots of couples just aren’t comfortable with leaving a newborn behind for any length of time, with anyone. Your friend sounds like he mostly just wants to show you his baby because he wants EVERYONE to see his baby. I know this feeling! I also felt compelled to inflict my baby on the entire world. Luckily I had a website to help with that.
Touch Base With the New Mom
The only possible additional hiccup is that yes, you ARE an ex-girlfriend. Let us not ignore the fact that in her postpartum mind, his wife/girlfriend might be thinking, “The HELL? You’re inviting your EX-GIRLFRIEND to come stay with us five minutes after I had your BABY?” Perhaps you should contact her directly and privately — email? — and say you’d like to touch base/chat about the invite and make sure that she wouldn’t find it intrusive and maybe set up some expectations that you are aware of both of the pitfalls we’ve discussed here. Give her the opportunity to say “no” in a safe way, basically, in case she was only trying to be nice.
“I’m soooo happy for you guys and of course I’m dying — dying! — to see your beautiful, best-ever baby, but the last thing I’d want to do is intrude. I know Ex-Boyfriend invited me but he’s not the one who just gave birth, so is a visit really something you’re up to right now? I’d totally be down with coming and helping out — making dinner, babysitting if you want a break, etc. — and I would NOT expect you to entertain me! But I completely understand if it’s just too soon for you right now. Say the word and I’ll tell Ex-B that the timing isn’t great for me right now, no worries. And we can just Skype for now so I can see the baby doing amazing things, like yawning and sleeping and stuff.”
If she personally extends the invitation, go for it. Bring a Miracle Blanket, a bottle of wine, earplugs and a return ticket home for a specific date. You’ll be fine!