Home Home About Zen Mama Contact

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Postpartum Visitors (How to Be a Good One...and a Bad One)

As you may know, I planned a homebirth, but 20 hours into labor I transferred to the hospital and 14 hours later had a c-section. (You can read more about it here.) I did NOT have a smooth recovery, to say the least. And we didn't have an easy time breastfeeding. (Read more about that here.) Basically, the first couple of weeks was a mix of pure bliss and pure struggle.

To add to the bliss, one week postpartum, my sister-in-law dropped everything to drive four hours to our place and take care of us. She did laundry, dishes, took a nap with our son while I took my first shower in the whole week. She swooned over him, was the perfect mixture of helpful and out of the way, was just everything I could've ever wanted in a visitor. I have never loved and appreciated her more than I did that week and will always be indebted to her.

In stark contrast and to add to the struggle, was my mother-in-law. She came in the same day as my sister-in-law, but she did it uninvited. I never would've asked her to be there (well, I never would've asked her to come period, but...) a week after I'd just had a new babe and major surgery. She arrived, declared she was on vacation, stayed for an entire week, never once lifted a finger to help with ANYthing, made messes in my kitchen with the junk food she brought for herself to snack on, held our son only two or three times, refused to look at me as I breastfed, never spoke to me, and sat in one of my two favorite breastfeeding chairs every single time she came in. In short, she was a nightmare.

My mother came two or three weeks later, after consulting with us on when would be a good time. She brought groceries. She made dinner. She cried over the sight of her new grandchild. She stayed at a hotel nearby so as to not overwhelm us. She did more laundry (it's amazing how much the laundry piles up when you have a new child...I had no idea!). She kissed his little head as he breastfed. She told me how proud she was of me. She, like my sister-in-law, was the perfect visitor.

Folks, when you visit a new parent, here are some guidelines:
1) ASK first.
2) Bring food.
3) Do chores.
4) Love the babe and the new parents.
5) Don't overstay your welcome.
It's just that simple.

Partners, when someone visits and finds themselves in violation of any of these guidelines, YOU get to run interference. And by "get to" I mean MUST. I don't care if it's your little ol' granny...you take care of your partner and new babe first and foremost. In hindsight, one of my husband's big regrets is that he allowed all of that to take place with his mother. Whatever small fissure there was between me and my mother-in-law before that "vacation," has now widened to one beyond repair. Don't let that happen in your home.

In short, helpful guests are good, unhelpful guests are bad. I would've thought this went without saying, but, clearly, it does not. Learn a lesson from these three women. Take the good, dismiss the bad. Next time you find yourself in a position to visit someone postpartum, be a good visitor, a helpful one, a conscientious one - if you can't, please, for the sake of the new parents, stay home and send a lovely greeting card instead, maybe even include a gift card for the grocery story or something helpful like that.

New babies are miraculous. Everyone wants a look, a chance to ogle the new life. It's important to remember, though, that while this is an amazing time for the new family, it can also be a stressful time and adding to the stress is, obviously, not helpful. Follow my simple guidelines for being a good visitor and you should be on your way to having a perfectly lovely visit with that perfectly lovely family about whom you care so deeply, I'm sure.

(Note: I would've added a picture of my mother-in-law holding our son, but we only have one from the few times she actually did hold him and it's this odd hold where he's kind of just laying across her lap as if he were a blanket for her cold legs instead of a child being snuggled, so I left it out.)


  1. I had to finally offer my parents lunch as we all sat in the living room and it was getting later and later. (At one week pp I think?) Even though I kept mentioning that I was dizzy and had trouble standing up too long (this happens to me after birth for a good month or more), I stood in the kitchen and made everyone grilled cheese sandwiches while they cuddled my baby. I didn't offer or bring a beverage to anyone. Hint not taken whatsoever. At least when my inlaws came they brought food and picked up after in the kitchen the best they could.

  2. Hi Amy. I read this and once again went back to my postpartum times... we were not in our house, but in my parents-in-law... My relations with my mother-in-law didn't fully repair after that period... At the end I never fully breastfed my lovely baby and partially because of terrible PPD and no support at all, and even discouraging from everyone including my husband and first of all my mother-in-law... God forbid her and me for whatever I told her back then... But all I really regret about is that my little one witnessed all that stress and didn't get enough of breast-milk... Yes, there are really good visitors... My mom and sister - FOREVER!!!! And really bad visitors... Sorry, not putting may name here. Just AM

  3. I am a total control freak so I hated having people help out unless I asked first or was desperate. My in laws came 2 weeks pp and were very loving of our new baby, stayed out of the way and tried to help but I was miserable the entire time. I was exhausted and sore and not in a visiting mood. next time we will ask that they come later lol

    1. This is here rule #1 comes in as most important. Ask, ask, ask.

  4. Another thing to add here is "don't pass judgement".
    Mum is doing her best, she will ask for advice if she wants it.

    You're not there all day and dont understand what else might be going on for the new family (traumatic birth, feeding problems, other stresses). You only see the moments you are there for and it's likely to be staged to appear as if everything is fine.

    Postnatal hormones made me extremely receptive to criticism.
    I was tired enough without staying up all night crying about comments about my parenting style from the MIL.
    It has taken me lots of time and self analysis to forgive their ignorance and move forward with the relationship.

    1. I'm convinced some people are incapable of this, thus they should simply stay at home.

  5. My mother-in-law stayed with us for a couple weeks after birth as I thought it would be helpful. While it was nice that she cooked, cleaned and did laundry, she wanted to hold my son too much. The only time she would offer to give him back to me was when he was hungry; at that point she had been holding him for two hours. This resulted in me not wanting to let her hold him at all. I felt she was inconsiderate of my need to be close with him and wanted to take over. I would have rather not had her help in exchange for that stress.

    1. I agree with you. I can understand wanting to hold the newborn all the time, but it's completely thoughtless of you and the baby's needs.

  6. I hate that this very issue is still causing problems between me and my husband 19 months later. My inlaws made themselves a general nuisance for months starting from the first week of my daughters life. When she was six days old I started pumping, nursing and supplementing on an around the clock schedule due to tongue tie, poor latch and her tiny weight. My inlaws showed up that night at 7:30 pm with dinner for all of us and proceeded to sit on my couch and wait for me to emerge from the nursery so I could set out plates and we could eat together. MIL held up an empty plastic salad container asking if I wanted to rinse it out and recycle it. Then was flummoxed by a too full garbage can and wandered aimlessly about my kitchen mumbling about where I kept the garbage bags. It took both of them to accomplish changing the bag. My husband was out in the yard gathering eggs from our chicken coop and closing them in for the night. I I thought he left to go to the bar he was gone so long. MIL eventually was told not to bring anymore food since she couldn't make anything without calling a million times to ask what she should make and what I couldn't eat because I was breastfeeding. Which left me to cook all of our meals. And since dd was born 3 weeks early I was unprepared and my husband needed his shirts ironed for work. He asked her on Friday to do it and she said she'd have them sent to the cleaners which did us no good since he needed one for Monday. So like a jerk I broke down and ironed them one week to the day that dd was born. And much like a previous commenter's parents they would sit for hours at our house until we finally had to break down and feed them while they never moved or lifted a finger. So long story short I can't get over this, they still are coming over or trying to come over at dinner time even though they have been told not to. Any advice on how to deal with this and let it go? Books, meditations? We are still arguing and I'm being told I'm taking my anger too far because I just feel they are so self centered and don't care.