Mine All Mine

a mother holding a newborn in a personal essay about not wanting to share your baby

When You Don’t Want To Share Your Baby

But literally everyone wants to hold them.

Originally Published: 
The 2023 New Parents Issue

Before I had my first daughter, I was excited for hospital visitors and fantasized about hosting people when I got home, so they could all welcome my baby to the world. And I did! I vacuumed, and I made sure we had the big Costco muffins out on the counter, and I dressed my brand new girl in something extra cute — often in an outfit the visitor had bought for us when I was pregnant. They’d text me and ask me what I wanted from Starbucks, and I’d put on some mascara and a fresh breast pad in my bra and would wait, excited to show off my girl to the people who already loved her. To let them snuggle her and rub her head and hold her fingers. But then those people would actually arrive at my house and… it turned out that what I really wanted was for everyone to just sit over there and glance our way and smile and maybe bring me a muffin while I held my newborn like a Mary Cassatt painting.

I had been waiting to become a mommy since I was 2 years old. With each pregnancy, I was so proud of those big bellies, and once each one of my three girls were born — all in wildly different ways — I could not wait to hold them and kiss them and press them against my chest. And then, every time, once it was time to introduce that gorgeous baby to my family and friends, I was… so not ready to let anyone else hold her or touch her.

She was mine! I had been carrying her, blissfully, for nine months, and now that I could actually see her, I wanted to hold her.

And that bothered me. I felt selfish. People kept offering: “Let me know when we can stop by! Can’t wait to hold her!” they’d text me — and I’d recoil. Nothing sounded less appealing. What excuse could I give? “Sorry, I don’t want you to come over because I just want to hold her myself”? Why did that feel so difficult and wrong to say? I worried so much about hurting others’ feelings that I would reluctantly hand my girl over to a loving family member or friend or neighbor and try not to seethe with jealousy as they relaxed on my couch, fully rested and caffeinated, watching her purse her little rosebud lips.

It’s not that I was worried for my babies or thought someone would drop them. I’m not generally an anxious person, and I’m lucky this has always extended into my postpartum phases. I didn’t have difficult pregnancies or deliveries that made me want to recoil with my infant into our bubble. Each time, I just wanted my baby. She was mine! I had been carrying her, blissfully, for nine months, and now that I could actually see her, I wanted to hold her. To stare at the little waves in her hair, to marvel at her tiny fingernails, to nurse her and then stick my nose into her warm neck and smell her sweet, milky scent.

In the hospital, I wanted people to take pictures of me holding her, instead of passing her around like a photobooth prop, family members hoisting my newborn up in the air as if she was a prize on Wheel of Fortune. I felt resentment building as I spotted Facebook photos of other people — people who hadn’t been laboring for 18 hours and didn’t have broken blood vessels in their face from pushing and who weren’t wearing hospital gowns that kept popping open at the shoulders — holding my daughter, their captions always something like “So excited to meet our new addition to the family.”

The intensity of this feeling didn’t wear off once I was home. I realized that my pregnancy dream of a big spring brunch where everyone could happily meet my baby was not what I wanted at all. I didn’t mind if people visited, but I wanted them to slip into the world I was inhabiting without disturbing anything.

I love watching my husband hold our daughters, and I can’t describe how happy it makes me now when my big girls ask to snuggle their little sister, my last baby. But beyond that, even this third go-round, in those first few weeks home from the hospital with my last newborn, I found myself deeply irritated by visitors’ outstretched arms, by the “let me see her,” by the way someone else would snuggle my baby and then tell me how she looked just like an in-law that I’d never met.

Sitting on the couch, holding a baby that was inside of us 48 hours ago, we still feel like one unit, like we belong to each other, and only each other. Just for right now.

Some people would ask to hold my baby, and then hand me their phone so I could take a picture of them. (They had not taken any pictures of me holding my baby.) Some would offer to hold the baby as if it was the last thing I wanted to do — “I love holding babies, so if you want me to just sit and hold her while you do other things, just say the word.”

Close friends who just wanted to be with me would sit, watching her sleep in my arms, and I’d feel guilty that I hadn’t passed her off to them yet. I’d hold off as long as I could, until some kind of etiquette alarm went off inside my brain, some small switch, and I’d say, “Did you…” while gesturing to their arms with my baby. And of course they’d say yes and of course I’d watch the clock, wondering when everyone was going to leave so I could have my baby back.

A newborn baby is a marvel, a wonder. It doesn’t matter if the newborn days aren’t your favorite and you prefer the time when they get a little bigger and sleep a little longer at night — the phase is fleeting. You only have a few weeks of a baby who just wants to nestle in the crook of your elbow with their fuzzy eyebrows and their tiny frog legs pulled up as if they’re still in the womb. Only a few weeks of not worrying about letting them sleep on you all day, of skin-to-skin while you sit propped up in your own bed, of Netflix marathons of shows full of bad words and violence that they’ll just snooze right on through.

I wanted to keep all those moments for myself, and it’s not selfish for a mother to want her baby all to herself, to feel panic at the thought of sharing, to want everyone to just back up a little bit, and also, maybe, for someone to just take one nice picture of her with her baby already.

All too often, people come over to meet a new baby and forget about the mom who just had that baby. They bring the baby cute clothes, they text you asking when the baby will be home and ready for a visit. But there you are — there I was — still bleeding into giant mesh panties, breast milk pooling into over-soaked pads. We still look pregnant and in some ways we still feel pregnant, and we have not yet figured out how there was a whole human inside of us 48 hours ago, and now we’re on our couch holding that human, watching Better Call Saul. We still feel like one unit, like we belong to each other, and only each other. Just for right now. Just for the next six weeks or so before everything shifts all over again.

And some of us aren’t ready to share bits of ourselves just yet.

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