Step Away From My Newborn. Right. Now.

Let new parents bond with newborn.
The first few days are especially vital for bonding. (CCo public domain, gaborfejes)

I am dedicated to our extended family on both sides. My mother-in-law and brother-in-law lived with us for 10 years, my kids make handmade gifts for relatives, and I continue to host most holidays. But I learned to warn others to leave us alone for at least a full week after a baby’s birth. I became fervent about this after my husband’s grandmother ignored my plea to let us have this time to ourselves.

It went down like this.

Three days after our first child was born, she left a voicemail. She was coming over. Right. Now.

My husband and I were just settling in to the new circle we’d made of mother, father, and baby. Benjamin was a wonder to us with eyes that hinted (I swear) of ancient wisdom. This time was our initiation into family life. It felt sacred to me in the way that life-changing experiences can. I didn’t want it muddied with polite conversation or awful clichés like “you look great.”

I was also exhausted and overwhelmed, as many first-time postpartum moms can be. We wait three-quarters of a year to see the baby we’ve been gestating. Plus we’re dealing with sore nipples, interrupted sleep, and estrogen levels that drop 100 to 1,000-fold in the first week after giving birth.  I knew plenty of other new mothers who thrived on connecting soon after birth. Not me. I wasn’t feeling remotely sociable.

When my husband’s grandmother arrived, my resolve melted a little. As she leaned over to kiss our baby’s cheek the gentle wrinkles on her face twanged my heartstrings. She was looking down at her descendant, a boy who would grow up into a world beyond her time. My tenderness, however, instantly evaporated when she snatched him out of my arms with a thief’s deftness. Her perfume-doused wrists cradled him closely. He started to fuss almost immediately but she refused to hand him back.

“I know babies,” she said, surely trying to reassure me. I was not reassured.

His eyes crinkled in pre-cry mode. She hoisted him to her shoulder, his precious face against her sweater which had, I kid you not, fake rhinestone decorations pressed against his skin. Immediately I reached out for the baby but instead of handing him back she turned and, bouncing him up and down, walked to the other side of the room. The baby was now crying for real. Squalling. Those desperate cries that activate every nerve in a new mother’s body.

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.

“I need that baby back RIGHT NOW,” I said, “or I can’t be responsible for what I’ll say.”

She, who had bestowed the fond nickname of “sweet little girl” on me when I first dated her grandson, looked shocked. She had no idea that, in this moment of postpartum rage, I was close to sinking my teeth in her arm.

I grabbed my crying son, hustled off to the bedroom, and closed the door. Adrenaline still coursed through me. Nursing him calmed us both, but not entirely. I stayed there until she was gone. When my husband carefully turned the knob and slid the door open just a bit, I realized even he was a little afraid of me.

I’m sure I could have handled the situation better. Honestly, she could have too. I know the incident taught my husband that he needed to do everything possible to preserve our family boundaries in a newborn’s early weeks–skills that were essential as we had three more children, some with serious medical problems. It also taught me that nothing is more powerful than a new mother’s impulse to be with her baby.

I guess there is a moral to my story. Don’t visit a newborn if the mama urges you, even politely, to stay away. She means it.

What would you like visitors to know during the first week of your baby’s life? 

Laura is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending and Free Range Learning, a handbook of natural learning. She lives on a small farm notable only for its lovestruck goose.