Sandy Rashty

I’m bonding with my newborn, don’t call me

Jewish lore is right, new mothers need six weeks to rest, heal and connect with their baby


Young mother with baby in bed

December 29, 2022 14:52

I became a first-time mum at the height of the pandemic. Social restrictions meant my husband couldn’t attend my pre-natal appointments and he was allowed in the maternity ward only when I was in advanced labour.

And soon after our son came into the world, my other half was ordered out of the hospital.

Thereafter post-natal checks were largely online and, as you hardly need reminding, back then there were strict limits on social gatherings.

All of which meant people often commented how hard it must be for me to be a first-time mum without the support network other new mothers can sometimes take for granted.

It would be nicer, they said, if I could have family and friends round. I should look forward, they opined, to a post-lockdown world in which we could travel and take our little boy to people’s homes as often as we liked — or as often as we were invited.

But while the pandemic was a terrible time for many, I now find myself questioning those well-meaning sentiments.

Because the truth is government-enforced lockdowns provided the quiet and respite I desperately needed as a first-time parent. Safe in our flat, our newborn was cocooned from the possibility of germs and bugs being unwittingly passed on by loving hands.

And I was under no pressure to make myself presentable for guests, or to ensure we had enough snacks in to feed them when they walked through the door.

It is not that we did not want to see loved ones, more that we were under no pressure to, and government orders meant we didn’t have to make excuses for being antisocial. And as a result, we had the space and time to bond as the new family we then were.

Then, social restrictions were lifted, of course, and life slowly returned to normal. We caught up with friends over dinners, I returned to the office, and we finally celebrated a backlog of family simchas. We even went on holiday with our little bundle of joy.

And then I fell pregnant again.
Just over two years after our first son was born, we welcomed our second little boy.

He is here besides me now as I type, making those sweet newborn noises that tell me I must type faster if I’m to be ready for his next feed.

But here’s the thing. Despite our regained freedoms, motherhood second time round is not easier for me.

Yes, the Covid-19 virus no longer poses the danger it once did, and that is a relief, but it has been superseded by other contagious infections including Strep A and polio, which are particularly dangerous for children.

And anecdotally at least, people seem to be suffering stronger and longer colds and flus since the pandemic abated.

The advice is to use copious amounts of hand sanitiser and to limit social contact, but the latter is difficult to implement in a community like ours, which seems especially determined to make up for lost time and simchas.

So here I am, torn between the need to protect my newborn from unnecessary exposure to infections, but also wanting to wrap him in communal love and warmth. Do I take him to parties and the like, or do I postpone introductions until the new year and his vaccinations?

As ever, the older generations have the best advice. My Baghdad-born granny, and my husband’s grandma, a Yiddish-enthusiast, have both spoken of the “40 days” rule: the six weeks after birth when a mother should rest, heal and bond with her new baby.

To me, it makes perfect sense; time alone, without indefinitely delaying your return to the wider world.

Waiting in a queue for a hospital check the other day, I mentioned the time-honoured custom to a Charedi mum who was standing next to me.

She required no explanation, having checked into a Stamford Hill mother and baby centre the minute daughter number four was born. In her community, she said, going into postpartum isolation is not seen as strange at all.

In my home, we have found a patch of middle ground. My more sociable husband has used his paternity leave to keep our toddler entertained by taking him to soft-play sessions, friends’ parties and family gatherings. And I am revelling in being far from the madding crowd.

December 29, 2022 14:52

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