“If it’s a boy, I think we’ll come for the bris,” my brother-in-law in Miami told me a few weeks ago over Skype, just before the arrival of our second baby.
As an East Coast transplant living in St. Louis, I spent the last few weeks of my pregnancy this summer acting as a part-time travel agent, navigating tricky waters to coordinate which family members would come to visit–and when.
Since my husband and I didn’t know what we were having (we’ve since had boy #2), it came down to this: For a boy, a gaggle of relatives wanted to be here for his big day. For a girl, they all said, what’s the rush?
That’s a can of worms I’ll save for another day, because frankly the experience of hosting a large extended family after giving birth is overwhelming enough.
Nearly two years ago, when my older son was born, my milk came in during Shabbat dinner, with more than a dozen relatives in attendance. My sister-in-law noticed first, pointing at my shirt and shouting across the table, “Your top’s all wet!” Cue my exit, please. (As for the rest of the night, I was left to deal with my engorged breasts in a bathroom just a few feet away from the dining room, where I imagine everyone polished off dessert while swapping tips about how to keep milk leakage at bay.)
But anyway, that’s what happens when you move halfway across the country for your husband’s job and don’t live within driving distance of family. When you live “out of town,” holidays and vacations are spent flying back and forth to visit. And when you have a baby, the gantzer mishpacha (whole family) can’t come for a few hours and then go home, say, in time for dinner.
Instead, they want to come for a few days–to help out, and unfortunately, to witness to your hormone-addled first days (OK, weeks) at home with a new baby.
Don’t get me wrong: I love my family, both the one I was born into and the one I married. But with the impending arrival of a new baby, I found myself torn over how to handle visitors. We definitely needed the help, especially with a toddler at home. But would a parade of relatives upend his routine? (“No more than a new baby will,” my sage mother pointed out.) There was also my own physical and emotional state to deal with. If last time was any indication, I’d be no peach. More like an aching and weepy, stressed-out mess.
But could I say no?
As my due date grew closer, I realized that turning visitors away altogether wasn’t an option. Despite my reservations, the birth of our baby was a happy occasion, a time for family to be together. And so our relatives came in shifts–one at a time mostly–to help organize the bris, and later to do carpool, cook meals, rock the baby, and bathe my older son.
It wasn’t all sugar and spice, let me be the first to say. There were plenty of tears (mostly mine). That said, I’d do it again. The fact is, we don’t live close by. We miss enough birthday parties, family dinners and cousins’ get-togethers as it is. At the end of the day, having our family visit reminded that we live far away but we’re far from alone.