The Gift of Space
I once read a feature on a woman who proudly said that for every child she brought into the world, her husband gave her a diamond, each one bigger than the last. Hmmmm, how thoughtful, I thought then. How romantic!
My baby is now 10 months old, but I remember the first few weeks of new motherhood well—sleeplessness, erratic feedings, rashes, crying, rocking, rushing through showers, scarfing down meals (babies always seem to cry just when you’re about to eat!), and then I think about that woman and her diamonds. What a laugh. Really, what would I do with a diamond? I would have truly appreciated a helping hand at 3:30am, or a visit from a friend—not just to socialize—but to hold my baby for an hour or so while I took a leisurely bath. Where would I wear the diamond, anyway, to the next diaper change?
The first month is tough, especially if people keep asking to visit. Everyone wants to come by to see the new baby, not realizing how that upsets your already taxed and tenuous rhythm. There you are, a new mommy moving from one ratty t-shirt to the next, barely getting anything done as you change diapers, take care of the household, try to get a shower, nap and meals in, and just getting used to the wonderful, havoc-wreaking addition to your new home.
These are the days when napping when the baby does is a survival tool. If there are older children to care for, it’s tough to do. If there are visitors on top of that, it becomes impossible. At the end of the day when everyone’s gone, the new mother is even more tired than before. This could adversely affect her precious milk supply and, of course, the special life forces she shares with her newborn.
The time after birth is very special, especially for a mother and her newborn. They are no longer in the same body but strive to establish a rhythm as a couple, together in many ways but smarting from the inevitable physical separation. It is a stressful time, too, as the entire family adjusts to altering dynamics and shifting roles. It is a sensitive period, especially if the birth didn’t go well or if there is an older child who must now learn to share his mother’s love and attention. Once again, a woman’s time and rhythm are bound to her newborn, especially if she is breastfeeding. I would say that the first six weeks is a most sacred time. It is time the family needs to adjust to new and permanent change.
The best gift to give a new mother is space to be—license to stay in her pajamas longer, hair piled up, with nothing but baby scents to adorn her. A new mother must be left to navigate the shape of her new role without having to worry about who’s coming over and what to feed them! There is enough on her plate adjusting to the demands of motherhood.
Though I’m sure there are mothers who welcome the steady stream of visitors, I’m sure they are few and far between (and probably don’t take care of their babies themselves and have someone else running their household for them as well). As a rule, I think everyone should give every new mother her privacy. There will be plenty of time to see mother and child, but never again will the first few weeks of a new life be replicated.
Next time a friend or family member becomes a mother, give her space. Lots of it. No other gift compares.