‘People tried to warn us about baby visitors. I wish I’d listened’
Some bring food and stay for 20 minutes, others want to sit for hours talking about themselves
Tanya Sweeney with her baby Isola Cregan: The public health nurse made a suggestion I only wish I’d heard weeks previously. ‘Why don’t you just have a Meet The Baby afternoon instead?’ Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
People tried to warn us. “Try and hold the visitors off for a few weeks until you catch your breath,” was the general consensus. “Just tell people they can’t come over for a while.”
But being an innate people pleaser, keeping folks away from a box-fresh baby is harder than it looks.
For the first seven weeks of my daughter’s life, we had visitors to our house every single day. Some days, it was like People Jenga. I had no idea I even knew that many people.
“Oh, I just couldn’t stay away,” people would sigh. And then, it made more sense to get through the list of visitors than not.
They are aware on some level that your life is different now, but oddly, they expect your time together to stay exactly the same
There are many pluses to this endless stream of people. I’d never seen my home so full of cuddles and coos and warmth in general. It felt wonderful to be part of a community, and to have people I know and love (and sometimes even like) meet my daughter. Friends brought presents embroidered by their mums, or gifts knitted by well-meaning neighbours. Who knew people could be this nice? Pregnancy can be oddly isolating, and it feels amazing to be enveloped by a community like this.
But good lord, the baby visitors lark is knackering stuff. As part of my ‘I’m right on top of this’ shtick, I insisted the house was at least presentable, and that I had showered. Both huge tasks when you’re getting to grips with a newborn.
Visitors, you see, come on a spectrum. On one end, you have those who arrive early or without warning and thrust a Penneys babygro into your arms, declaring, “you can never have too many of these” (everyone says it, and everyone buys the babygros, so you do the maths here). Then, they proceed to sit bovine on your couch while you scarper around the kitchen with your gammy, post-C-section body, rustling up tea and cake (“I’ll have coffee if you’re making one yourself. Yep, two sugars. Oh, I don’t do Jaffa Cakes”).
They give the baby a cursory cuddle, pose for the obligatory selfie and then sit for three hours talking about their new exercise regime, the new restaurants you’re not getting to, the ongoing feud with their brother, or whatever else is bothering them. They are aware on some level that your life is different now, but oddly, they expect your time together to stay exactly the same.
Meanwhile, you’re panicking at the laundry that needs doing, the baby that needs to be put down for a nap, the sleep you’re being deprived of. On one occasion, I darted off for a nap and came downstairs an hour later to find my friend still having the same conversation with poor B.
About herself, naturally.
If you’re in a similar position or about to be, I’m suggesting a house rule so that you can save yourself
As a visitor, I’m sure I’ve not been without sin either in the past. Keen to show that at least I gave a monkey’s about a new baby, I showed up early enough. I likely outstayed my welcome, sure that my friends would appreciate a communiqué from the outside. I also do recall buying baby drum-kits and floor pianos as presents (I should be flogged raw for this, honestly. Pass-agg or what).
Thankfully, there is the other end of the spectrum. Those who stayed away for a while, then came with Dine In For Two meals from nice supermarkets. Those who made their own coffee and did the washing up afterwards. Those who stayed for 20 minutes.
Those who offered to cook and presented me with babysitting IOUs. Those who took the baby and told B and I to head out for a local drink, only wanting to know how the TV remote control worked (which we did, although we sat like two haunted creatures washed ashore and probably talked about poo non-stop).
If you’re in a similar position or about to be, I’m suggesting a house rule so that you can save yourself. Anyone who comes to your house to meet the new arrival within the first few weeks has to either bring dinner, or do a household chore. Most people will appreciate the opportunity to help. It’s a good way to whittle the fairweathers down from the true dependables.
One afternoon, possibly noting a manic top note to my default thousand-yard stare, the public health nurse made a suggestion I only wish I’d heard weeks previously. “Why don’t you just have a ‘Meet The Baby’ afternoon instead?’” she said. “Just set aside two Saturday afternoons and get everyone to bring a potluck dish instead of a present.”
Learn from my mistakes, people.