Having a baby around Thanksgiving feels so magical, doesn’t it? Pregnant with our first son, I remember feeling excited about his due date. While not due until the week after Thanksgiving, I delivered all three of my babies early due to health complications, so I figured this first boy of ours might come in time for us to be really thankful.
He arrived one week before Thanksgiving that year. People bought us lots of little “Mommy’s Little Turkey” and “My First Thanksgiving” outfits, onesies, and bibs. I remember cooing over his chubby little cheeks and calling him my very own butterball.
Because everyone felt very excited about his arrival—the first grandson and all—my husband and I felt obligated to attend Thanksgiving with relatives. I still couldn’t move very fast. I’d ended up with a last minute “emergency” episiotomy when my son and I both spiked a fever and my son’s hart rate kept plummeting during each push. The doctor said, “We need to get him out now,” and I said, “Okay,” and so I went to Thanksgiving dinner with stitches in my crotch.
I look back at the pictures of our little turkey, sitting on his grandmother’s couch, being ooh-ed and ahh-ed over. I know the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all passed him back and forth while I sat and watched. The pictures of the day look really great… except for one of me holding my newborn son.
My eyes look simultaneously petrified and empty.
I look as if I didn’t know how I got there exactly and that I wasn’t sure if I belonged. I know I felt exhausted as our adorable little bundle of joy slept all day and kept us up all night. I had help from my husband, still on paternity leave at that point, and from my mother-in-law when she could make it over, but already I knew that motherhood felt a bit different than I’d expected.
And I didn’t even know about the horrible months of postpartum depression and anxiety yet to come. I just knew something felt off.
If I could tell my New Mom self one thing about Thanksgiving that year—and thereby, any new moms trying to figure out how to handle Thanksgiving with a newborn and family and pie baking and who’s going to watch the dog for the day and oh, crap, do we need a hostess gift and and and—it would be this: It’s okay to skip Thanksgiving dinner this year.
It is. It’s absolutely, 100% okay to stay home on Thanksgiving.
Order a turkey meal from your local restaurant or grocery. Or order whatever you want: You’re a new mom and you should get to eat what you want for the holiday. Don’t plan on cooking a big meal, making seven pies, and being on your feet all day. This is one time where the convenience of restaurants and pre-made foods serves moms well. Order the food and then go back to cuddling with your baby, or sleeping when he sleeps (no, really), or relaxing in whatever way would make you and baby feel most comfortable.
You don’t owe anyone, not even your mom or mother-in-law, any further explanation than, “I’m just not feeling up to being out with the baby yet.” You can offer to do Thanksgiving with them next year, if you want to. You can offer to text over a photo or two so the grandparents can pass it around the table for all the obligatory oohs and ahhs. And that’s it. You’re done. No arguing about it. No guilt trips from Aunt Sally. No stories about how Grandma made Thanksgiving for the family of 24 with two day old twins on her hip. Nope.
Additionally: This get-to-skip doesn’t just serve moms of itty bitty newborns. No, mamas. If you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, if you haven’t had time for self-care, if you’re in the midst of dealing with a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder, if you’re just wanting to use that day off from work to sit in your jammies and breathe the smell of your newborn’s head, if your kindergarteners are driving you batty, if you’re just overwhelmed with mothering and all that comes with it: THIS IS FOR YOU.
This is about you. You are allowed to set boundaries for yourself, for your family, for your physical and mental well-being. You are allowed to say no. No, in and of itself, is a whole sentence. Anyone who doesn’t respect your wishes right now doesn’t need to be in your presence on a day of thanks anyway.
Just be sure to take a few pictures. You’ll be able to look back on the day as the one you stood up for yourself and, goodness, look at how far you’ve come. You got this, mama. Enjoy your day, however you spend it.