Navigating life as a new mum: Is it a good idea for a family member to stay?

It’s reported that Meghan Markle’s mother Doria Ragland (pictured with the Duchess in September) will move in once her grandchild is born. [Photo: Getty]
It’s reported that Meghan Markle’s mother Doria Ragland (pictured with the Duchess in September) will move in once her grandchild is born. [Photo: Getty]

Becoming a new mum is an emotional rollercoaster. Sleep deprivation, physical recovery and the stress and anxiety of navigating the challenges of new parenthood can be a daunting combination.

For many, having one or both parents stay to help out can be a lifeline. Even Doria Ragland is rumoured to be staying with her daughter Meghan Markle after she gives birth to her first child next spring. Although unlike the rest of us, though, she may have the option of staying in a separate wing of the royal couple’s home when the baby’s crying gets a little much.

Many grandparents are happy and eager to help out, which may mean staying on a sofa bed or in a spare room for a few weeks.

But is having a parent move in always a good idea? And is it too much to ask of them?

“My mum as good as moved in after my son was born,” says Philippa, 30, who gave birth last year. “In other cultures grandmothers, aunts and others all pitch in.

“It’s only in this country we somehow expect women to be literally torn in two one minute and then look after a tiny precious being the second. Nothing prepares you for how terrified you are. Literally the first week of my son’s life was me crying and begging my mum not to go,” she adds.

“So much pain, so much exhaustion and yet at the same time the most responsibility you’ve ever had in your entire life, plus no prospect of sleep ever.”

Lianne, 34, says her my mum and dad stayed for a week after she gave birth. “I don’t know what I’d have done without them,” she says. “They were patient, cooked, did food shopping, and while they gave me support, they let me find my own way with the baby. I was sad when they had to go home.”

“I think it depends on your relationship with the person or people staying to help as it is such a momentous and tough time,” Lianne adds. “My parents held down the fort while we got used to the needs of a baby and left once we had a (sort of) handle on things.”

Having a baby can mean having numerous visitors popping in but despite this, the weeks after childbirth can be a lonely time. In 2017, a survey of 2,025 mothers by the video parenting site found more than 90% of mums in the UK admit to feeling lonely since having children.

Having someone stay, even if it’s just to put the kettle on, can make a world of difference. Although Philippa’s mum didn’t take over childcare duties when she came over, she was there for a chat and to reassure her.

“Obviously he was feeding 24/7 so I still did everything myself, but I needed the company,” she says. “You just can’t cope with being alone. I couldn’t anyway.”

What happens after birth is rarely discussed and it can take weeks to recover physically, or even longer for some as it depends on the each woman’s birth experience. It goes without saying that it’s difficult to recover from childbirth, look after a newborn and carry on with basic tasks, such as preparing food.

“My mum stayed for three weeks after I had a C-section. Absolute godsend as I couldn’t walk around for long to do the cleaning, cooking,” says Nilufer, 43.

“I think it is definitely for first time mothers as they are still finding their feet and might feel nervous going it alone once their partner returns to work.”

Having a baby also brings a huge period of adjustment, too, which can take its toll on emotional wellbeing and mental health. Postnatal depression affects more than one in every 10 women within a year of giving birth and a traumatic birth or invasive procedures during childbirth have a serious impact on thousands of women.

According to the Birth Trauma Association, as many as 200,000 women experience trauma after childbirth. Having support, therefore, is crucial – whether it’s from a parent, friend or a professional.

Obviously, though, whether a someone wants to move in for period and help depends entirely on the relationship with their daughter, son, daughter-in-law or son-in-law. And indeed, some might argue that asking someone to stay in-house after you’ve given birth is a big ask, particularly if they’re retired, or have expressed no intention to help out with a baby.

But as Laura* points out, they can always say no. “I wouldn’t say it’s unfair to ask parents,” she says, adding she struggled when her mum moved in for a week after she gave birth. “My biggest regret is not asking my sister as she would have been brilliant despite not having had babies herself – she’d just be chilled and easygoing.

“If it is for a short period I’m sure most parents would be flattered and happy to help. And I guess it harks back to time when generations would all live close by and pitch in.”

It also depends on your need and how far away a parent lives, Nilufer adds, saying her mum lived too far away to pop in and help out.

And help doesn’t always mean having a parent move in. Emma’s mother-in-law wasn’t able to volunteer to help out in person, but she still supported the couple. “She did, however, buy us vouchers for a cleaner for a month and also for a meal delivery service for two weeks which were both much appreciated, and demonstrate how help can be sent in different ways,” she says.

And even if a parent does stay for a while, there’s no guarantee it will make life easier. Even those with the best intentions can be trying at times, particularly when you’re struggling with exhaustion, anxiety and stress – and trying to work out a routine for your baby. Tempers may flare and disagreements can ensue.

For Emma*, 40, having her mum stay with her for three weeks after the birth of her first child led to a number of arguments.

“She cooked a roast dinner every night, and I was struggling to keep my food down,” she says. “We only had a two bedroom house so when the baby was crying at night there was no where for either me or hubby to take a break.

“And her views were so old fashioned, we clashed on everything. She never actually asked if we needed her either, she was just there when we got back from the hospital,” Emma adds. “It was hard because I appreciated that she wanted to help – I thought that aspect was heroic.”

You can read more about the services and support available to new parents on the NHS’ website.

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