Allow me to set the stage for this week’s post: My husband and I are new parents, bringing our baby home from the hospital. We are tired, worried and find ourselves asking, “Well now what?” as we try to settle in and find a new routine at home. Our phones are lighting up like New Year’s with congratulatory texts from family and friends who are are all asking us the same things…
1- How are you settling in?
2- Do you need anything?
3- When can we come visit?
That last question is the one I should have addressed with some serious authority from day 1- but as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20.
Allow me to say right off the bat that I recognize how lucky we are to have such wonderful family and friends who all reached out to us. They offered to bring us food, help out however they could and were so very excited to visit him. Our baby doesn’t know it yet but he’s got a whole tribe of people who love him to the moon and back and that’s a truly magnificent thing for a child. I love how much everyone loves him.
But with all of this love floating around I didn’t stop to set appropriate boundaries for my own health and well-being. I was so excited for our family to come see what we had made and to “ooh” and “ahh” just the way I did non-stop; I didn’t see that I was about to hit a ditch emotionally, mentally and physically, and that would be exacerbated by the flood of people coming to our door.
First I must say there is nothing that can really prepare you for postpartum depression (PPD); you can be made aware of what it is and how it’s affected other moms but nothing I read in blogs, books or heard in prenatal classes adequately prepared me for how it would personally affect me. (or what I needed to get through it).
PPD hit me day 3 of being a mother, while still in the hospital. I was an emotional wreck; we were struggling with breastfeeding (my supply sucked, my baby had great difficult latching/sucking and I was feeling like a failure from the start despite all the support I had from medical staff and my family), I was exhausted and foolishly, I was setting myself up for more meltdowns to come by not trusting my “mama bear” gut and asking for some space for our new family of 3.
“So-and-so is wondering when they can come visit? How about tomorrow? Oh, and so-and-so would like to come visit too. What about the so-and-so’s on your side of the family?” my husband asked; we began scheduling people for their visits to see the baby and our calendars quickly filled up with at least 1 visit per day in addition to the scheduled home-visits from the public health nurses.
Mistake 1: I already was not looking forward to this schedule but didn’t say anything to my husband about it. (I consider myself to be an ambivert, or “performing introvert” as I often joke. I’m really great in front of a crowd, public speaking, making conversation on the fly in groups but I prefer to meet with small groups of people and absolutely need uninterrupted down-time away from people to re-charge my batteries at least 3x per week. What I was doing was scheduling these visits as though I was an energetic extrovert.)
Mistake 2: I also didn’t set time-limits up-front with visitors or communicate to my husband that I was only comfortable with people, regardless of who they were, staying for a maximum amount of time.
Mistake 3: I didn’t set up the expectation with my husband that if I gave a certain cue that it meant I was done having visitors and it wanted him to start to usher people out the door; I needed him to be my “bouncer” to this very private and precious club that was being a new mom.
Mistake 4: I didn’t take my postpartum depression seriously. I treated it like a minor physical wound that just needed time to scab over instead of serious ailment that needed all kinds of TLC. (New moms: if you burst into tears after visitors leave because you are so tired of people you need to say something to your partner and get those boundaries up now!)
To give you an idea of my circumstances here was a typical cycle, repeating non-stop, looked like those 1st couple of weeks:
- Baby is hungry
- Spend 30-40min total trying to get my baby to latch
- spend 30min total nursing once latched
- spend 30min total pumping (single pump machine)
- Baby needs burping (10min minimum effort)
- Baby needs changing (2-4min depending on the contents of the diaper)
- Baby sleeps for 2 hours
- meanwhile while baby sleeps….
- I have a bath to soak my stitches (20min 2-3x a day)
- Go to the bathroom, eat and drink something prepared (20min)
- try to sleep for at least hour and half until this cycle starts all over again!
- meanwhile while baby sleeps….
Notice that nowhere in this cycle is me cleaning, cooking, doing laundry or anything remotely non-baby? (MANY MANY MANY THANKS TO MY HUSBAND FOR TAKING CARE OF ALL OF THOSE DOMESTIC TO-DOS!!) Something else of note about this cycle is that the only place where I could make time for visitors was from my bath time, when I would eat/drink/use the washroom or the time I would be sleeping. And going through this cycle non-stop meant that the little time I had to take care of myself was VERY precious to me. When visitors arrived I felt obliged to be present to chat and show off baby which in turn meant while they were visiting I wasn’t taking care of myself.
We had so many people coming in succession that one day (after about two weeks of having visitors coming 10 out of 14 days) I sat on the couch holding the baby, I looked at my husband and started crying. I had enough visitors and now needed serious me-time. Between nursing being such an up-hill battle, feeling like a failure all of the time because of my PPD and supply issues and having almost no time to be alone and rest, I had finally hit that proverbial ditch I mentioned earlier. I broke down and told my husband I was sick of seeing people, I didn’t want any more visitors for a while and if people wanted to visit when I was ready we would have no more that 3 scheduled visits per week. No more. I explained how having all those people coming and going all the time affected me and the lack of rest I was experiencing alongside with the postpartum depression was giving me a run for my money. (I don’t know if he truly understood but he agreed- this was clearly hard on me and I wasn’t getting enough time to take care of myself so visits were off-limits until I said so.)
Following that ban (about 5 days) and the permanent visitor maximum set, not only was I getting more sleep (oh glorious and precious sleep!), but I had more energy and patience to work through my supply issues, helping my son develop a better latch, stronger suck and actually enjoyed being a mom MUCH more than I had before. You know what else happened? My PPD was much more manageable- not entirely gone like magic, but manageable. I didn’t burst into tears when someone left the house. I didn’t feel like such a flop of a mom. I was actually getting some rest fairly consistently!
So looking back on these 4 BIG mistakes what would I have done differently? I would have talked to my husband about what I needed and would start with something like:
1- Tell my husband that this is a HUGE change for me, my body healing, working through PPD which meant no over-crowding of visits and what seems like a reasonable amount of visitors one week may be too much the next. And ask him to communicate that with the people wanting to visit so they know up-front what I need.
2- Communicate that each visit comes with a maximum time limit (45minutes for me) and when the buzzer on my phone goes off I would be taking the baby to our room to nurse/burp/have baby/me time.
3- Decide on a “magic word” or visual cue with my husband so that he knows if I sneeze twice, or ask him to make me a cup of tea or mention the queen of England then regardless of how much time has passed in the visit, I’m about to hit a wall. He would need to steer them out the door in a nice way.
4- Pay attention to how PPD was kicking my butt and be more open/honest with my husband about how it was affecting me instead of having to explain myself through tears to him.
Notice a theme of my “if only’s”? COMMUNICATION!!! I just sat on my feelings, wants and needs until my hand was forced and I broke down. If I could go back I would have set some expectations with my husband around what I needed.
Now I know advice and opinions are like a$$holes- everyone’s got ’em, but hopefully you new mamas can save yourself the trouble I went through. Or if you have already gone through this or something similar, find comfort in knowing you aren’t alone in your experiences.
Take care of yourselves mamas; you are worth it!