My Family Won't Respect My Boundaries After Giving Birth—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek,

I recently had a baby after years of trying to get pregnant and being told by several doctors I wouldn't be able to. My family has always been terrible with boundaries, my older sister and mom have a close relationship. My mother is a recovering addict and has been "clean" for over a supposed nine years. I say this with skepticism as her behavior often suggests otherwise.

During the delivery of my child, I almost lost my life and my child was pronounced dead after having suffered severe Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), and many seizures. Upon taking her tubing out for us to say goodbye, she began gasping for air and came back. All in all, she is making excellent progress four months later after spending five weeks in the NICU.

During this time, I understandably didn't want [any] visitors. I did see a long-time friend since elementary school who has addiction in her family and has always understood my experiences. My sister and mom were furious about this and actually berated me during the recovery time of myself and my daughter during the five weeks she was in the NICU. Asking when [I] would allow them to be "there" for me too, as well as how could I allow "other people" to visit and not my own family.

My sister and I eventually loosely reconciled, but I was still trying to have boundaries with my mom. She is a martyr and was posting pictures of my daughter in the hospital on Facebook despite asking her not to. She also made multiple attempts to show up at the hospital despite my asking her not to and calling the hospital for updates.

Addict mother has no boundaries, expert advice
Family argument. Stock image. A woman has asked for advice on whether to offer her mom an olive branch. Getty Images

I asked my sister to please not send pictures to "anyone." She questioned me, and eventually asked if I was "keeping her from mom." I didn't want any more conflict and said "I just don't [want] anyone to share pictures of her," and asked if she thought this was doable, and she said it wasn't doable for her. I thanked her for letting me know and told her I wouldn't be sending her pictures anymore. She took this to mean that I do not want her in my life. She has blocked me from communicating with my nephew (her son) by blocking my and my husband's contacts.

I am still in a lot of therapy trying to process what happened to both my daughter and me while trying to maintain my sanity. The holidays are coming up and I'm unsure of what to do. I don't know if I should extend an olive branch? I am just tired of always needing to be the only adult and explain why their behavior is unacceptable to people who are much older than I am. Please help.


Trauma Mama

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Remember It Is Their Choice to Navigate the Situation This Way, Not Yours

Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and the author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety as well as Dr. Chloe's 10 Commandments of Dating.

Dear Trauma Mama,

First of all, congratulations on welcoming your daughter to the world! What a harrowing journey it was for both you and your daughter. It is such an amazing story of hope and strength!

I'm truly sorry you are dealing with so much drama, especially at a time when you probably just want to relax and enjoy your new baby girl. To protect your well-being and keep a clear sense of your own boundaries despite your mother's and sister's obvious efforts to create pressure and confusion, I would suggest you remember that you are absolutely not responsible for the words, choices, or behaviors of others. For example, if they are essentially communicating the ultimatum, "You must let us publish pictures of your daughter or we'll ice you out of our family," then you are not responsible for that iciness, it stems from their decision to stonewall you as a punishment over your perfectly valid choice to maintain your infant daughter's privacy. Honestly, I think it is despicable that they would put you through this, but it is essential that you remember it is their choice to navigate the situation this way, not yours.

Regarding your question about whether or not you should "extend an olive branch": Let's start with your feelings, and notice that you sound ambivalent about whether you want to do it. So, the first step is, to be honest with yourself about your wishes. If you don't want to, then don't do it. Your remark about being "tired of being the only adult in the room and always explaining how their behavior is unacceptable" suggests that if you overextend yourself, you may just end up resentful and unhappy, and not truly ready for reconnection, even if you accomplish the feat of being in the same room for the holidays. I can sincerely understand if you would rather focus on your fledgling new family and people who consistently treat you with love and respect.

However, if you feel a genuine desire to reconnect with your family, then of course you are free to act on that desire. It sounds like you're wondering if there's a way to do this without inadvertently signaling to them that you've relinquished your personal standards and you are now ready to reconnect on any terms they wish to dictate.

You are wise to be careful about this since your letter suggests that they have a long history of emotional blackmail and trampling on your boundaries. One way to do it would be to tell them that you'd love to see them for the holidays and you're hopeful that they feel the same. You'd want to include phrases like, "I really hope we can share the holidays together as a family, despite your understandable preference that I would feel differently about my daughter's photos; I understand how you feel, but my boundaries on that topic haven't changed; I'm totally willing to put those arguments behind us now if you're able to simply accept my decision about her photos even though you disagree with it."

The key is to make sure that if you do reach out, you're actually extending an olive branch rather than simply offering yourself as a doormat. You must be clear in your boundaries if the reconnection has any hope of lasting. Moreover, you must be ready to register their response in a cleareyed manner. You need to accept that your family is indicating that they're unable or unwilling to have a relationship that honors basic boundaries.

It's actually also totally normal for adults to recalibrate their boundaries with unhealthy friends or family when children enter the picture. It is your right and your responsibility to prioritize your daughter as a helpless infant who relies on you as her mother to make any and all decisions concerning her.

Only Surround Yourself With Positive Energy, And Your Healing Will Begin

Marni Goldman is a spiritual life coach and author of "True To Myself: Peace, Love, Marni."

Dear Trauma Mama,

I want to start off by saying how sorry I am for what you are experiencing and what you had to go through. Your baby girl is truly a miracle.

I, unfortunately, know exactly what it feels like to grow up with a mother [who is] an addict and has no respect for our boundaries. When I was 17 my mother became addicted to crack cocaine. I too was skeptical [about] having her in my life when my daughter was born 13 years later. Not only did she relapse when my daughter was 3 years old in her care, but she was also smoking crack in front of my daughter. I removed her permanently from my life after that. People kept saying but it's still your mother. It doesn't matter who it is. Your peace is the most important thing in your life and you need to protect it no matter who it is.

Learning to have boundaries can be so hard, especially when it comes to family members. This may sound a little cliché, however, it's a blessing in disguise that this is happening. You can't heal where you were hurt. Your mother represents you being hurt, so for the sake of your sanity, your mental health, and well-being, you're going to have to remove her from your life. The toxicity is too much. Only surround yourself with positive energy, and your healing will begin. For example, if you see she's calling, you don't have to answer.

Even if it's just you and your baby girl, you will be so much happier with no intrusion on your happy holiday bubble. I wish you so much peace and love.