Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Newborn baby visitation etiquette...

I am about to write a post about something which I have no firsthand experience, and yet I feel compelled to share.  I just read an article about a woman's experiences after giving birth to her first child.  No, I have never given birth myself; yet I found myself really empathizing with her as I read about her visceral reaction to visitors after she had her first baby.  She has since had more kids and even has a couple of in-laws living with her.  They presumably all get along just fine most of the time.  Still, Laura Grace Weldon writes that after childbirth, she needs at least a week before she can deal with visitors.

Weldon describes how her husband's grandmother-- great grandma to the new baby-- called and left a voicemail three days after the baby was born.  Great Granny said she was coming over "right now".  She didn't ask if she could come over or if it was a good time.  She simply stated that she was coming and then showed up at the new parents' home, expecting to see the new addition.

Great Granny arrived wearing a lot of perfume and a sweater with fake rhinestone decorations on it.  She took the baby from Weldon and he began to fuss.  Granny insisted that she "knows babies", but the baby was not relaxing.  Instead, he began to cry and then started to squall.  Weldon was getting more and more upset until she demanded the baby back from Granny, who was left shocked by the new mom's outburst.

I posted about this on Facebook and a lot of people felt this mom's reaction was extreme.  Personally, I have no problem understanding why Weldon reacted the way she did.  Again, I certainly can't speak from personal experience when it comes to childbirth, but I do know what it feels like to be exhausted, overwhelmed, hormonal, chemically imbalanced and emotional.  I also like my privacy.  While many moms are perfectly fine with seeing people after they have a new baby, not everyone reacts in the same way.  Weldon happens to be one of those moms who needs a week to bond, regroup, and recover.

Lots of people don't see it that way, though.  They think Weldon completely overreacted to Great Grandma's intrusion.  Apparently, she should be fine with people coming over uninvited and handling her baby without asking permission.  I will admit, Granny likely meant no harm and was almost surely only excited about seeing the new baby.  But doesn't a new mom have a right to peace, quiet,  and privacy in her own home?  Shouldn't new parents have the right to make the rules when it comes to visitation of their offspring, especially right after birth?

When I read this story, I was reminded of the many other mammals I've seen just after they've given birth.  It doesn't matter the species.  Dogs, cats, horses all tend to be very protective of their newborn babies.  It's an instinct thing.  They way Weldon describes her reaction reminds me of that...

The hair on my arms stood up and my scalp prickled. My mouth swung open and growl in my throat threatened to roll out. I'd never experienced such a primal reaction, a surge of energy that transcended emotion. I hustled up to her with the ferocity of a mother grizzly bear and managed to sputter a few words instead of actual growling.

This, to me, sounds like Mother Nature at work.  It doesn't sound like someone being rational and acting like a properly socialized human being.  But then, I wouldn't necessarily expect a brand new mother to act the way she might have in the months before she's had her baby.  There's a lot going on after childbirth.  Some people can bounce back with no problem and can take or leave company.  Others need time alone.  Others need help and support from friends and family.  Everybody's different, though.  I would think the first days after childbirth, especially when it's a first baby, would be mentally, physically, and emotionally draining.

As I was reading about this, I was reminded of another situation after which people might need peace and quiet, though friends and family might have other ideas.  Back in 2007, Bill was deployed to Iraq.  After he came home from Iraq, we were going to pack up and move to Germany the first time.  Bill was slated to come home in August and we were to move in September.  There was a lot to be done and, though he wasn't as exposed to as many of the harsh realities of war as much as some of his colleagues were, it was still a stressful time for us.

One of my sisters decided that August would be the perfect time to schedule a family reunion.  She reasoned that we could celebrate our mother's birthday and Bill's homecoming.  And she wanted to do it at a local amusement park where she and I and another sister had once worked.  I demurred when she made her suggestion.  I had several reasons for doing so.  At the top of my list was the fact that our family reunions are usually disastrous.  But I also felt that it would be inappropriate for several other reasons.

I like amusement parks fine, even if they are tourist traps.  Bill is not so fond of amusement parks and neither is my mother.  August in southeastern Virginia is typically insanely hot and uncomfortable.  I knew from working there years ago that the amusement park would likely be very crowded and it would definitely be expensive.  I'm not sure what she thought we'd all be doing together at the park, but I can't see how much bonding would have been going on as we were walking through it together, especially since not everyone moves at the same speed or likes the same activities.  Good luck getting my mom or Bill on a roller coaster, for instance.  I thought the idea was ridiculous and told her so, which earned me a hostile response from my sister, who couldn't understand my viewpoint.  

I think my sister chose the amusement park because she has a young son who would have fun there.  My feeling was that if the gathering was intended to honor Bill and our mom, she should organize something that they would actually enjoy.  Aside from that, the time right after combat can be a very difficult adjustment period for some people.  Those who have been heavily involved in the business of war need time to decompress and relax.  They may or may not be up to seeing a lot of friends and family right away.  They may not want a homecoming party.  People need to respect that.

Maybe nine months of pregnancy and the resulting birth is, in a weird way, kind of like coming home after war.  Homecoming from battle or giving birth is the big climax after months of build up.  It can be overwhelming and the aftermath may not be what anyone expected.  Both pregnancy and time in combat are situations involving a lot of stress, anxiety, and sudden changes.

Please note-- I am not comparing pregnancy to war per se...  just that after having a baby or coming home from battle, a person often needs time to rest, recover, and regroup.  Some people are able to accomplish that faster than others are.  Friends and family members should be respectful of new parents and give them space if they need it.  That means they shouldn't leave a voicemail saying that they're "coming over right now".  They shouldn't show up uninvited on the front doorstep expecting to come in for a visit.  They shouldn't demand to hold the baby, especially if the mom is reluctant.

I think Laura Grace Weldon was brave to share her story and she related it in an even-handed way, even stating that she could have handled the situation better.  She writes this now, not having just given birth and not being under the influence of exhaustion, hormones, and emotion.  Other people are reacting to her story and, perhaps, not thinking about the state this woman must have been in to behave in what she describes as an uncharacteristic manner.  Great Grandma had even called Weldon "sweet little girl" before this incident.  Obviously, Weldon is not normally a nasty or hostile person.  Fortunately, her husband understands that immediately post-partum, his wife needs time and space with her baby.  Give her a week; then let the friends and family come over.  I think it makes sense and I, for one, don't think she overreacted at all.    

I know Bill Cosby is not exactly the most popular person these days, but I was immediately reminded of this scene from The Cosby Show...

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