I gave birth before COVID-19, and I gave birth during COVID-19. I’m here to tell you: It’s a lot easier to be pregnant and deliver when the world isn’t shut down and on high alert.

But there was a silver lining of sorts that I did not expect when my twins arrived in the middle of all this madness.

A pandemic pregnancy and postpartum taught me to set boundaries for well-meaning friends and family. I’d like to share what I learned. If just one mom feels confident in saying “no” for the sake of her sanity and mental health, I will be thrilled.

Setting boundaries

Having a baby (or, in my case, two!) in the middle of a pandemic wasn’t easy. But the silver lining was that we were able to say – without guilt – that we couldn’t have visitors. It was true. It was a necessary precaution. Since I can be a bit of a people pleaser, this made things easier for me.

Things have been crazy enough around here. We know everyone wants to meet the twins, Benjamin and Brielle – and we are so grateful for our village – but there are things we need more than visits. We’ve begun having some friends over, but we are asking in advance if they’ve been vaccinated. And if they haven’t been, we suggest an outdoor meetup.

Now that we are – I hope – in the waning days of the pandemic, new parents can’t use the COVID-19 excuse much longer. But it’s OK – necessary, even – to establish boundaries yourself.

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Tips for new parents

I urge new parents to put themselves and their newly established family first. Mental health plays a ginormous role, especially in the very beginning. Everyone's overwhelmed and sleep-deprived and trying to reach a new sense of normalcy. Trying to mesh that with hosting others and possibly accommodating them for an overnight visit forces you to push yourself. That's not necessarily the best thing when you're trying to get used to the new family.

I’m not suggesting you say “no” to everyone. My mother-in-law stayed with us for three weeks soon after we got home from the hospital, and she made our lives so much easier. She didn’t need to be entertained. My husband, Brandon's, family is based in Boston, which is really difficult. I’m super close with my family, who's right here in Charlotte. We live about a mile from my parents.

Brandon’s mom flew down when the twins, born Feb. 16, were a few days old. (We weren’t entirely surprised to discover we were expecting twins. There are eight living sets of twins on my mom’s side.) My mother-in-law got tested for COVID-19 right before she came down and essentially quarantined for two weeks in advance. She practically had on a hazmat suit on the plane! She was as safe as she could be without getting vaccinated.

She would wake up in the morning and get the toddlers up and get them fed. (That’s right. We already had two toddlers – a 4-year-old son, Blake, and 2-year-old daughter, Brooklyn.) She would let Brandon and me sleep for whatever time we could. She helped us with meal prep. She actually bought us a deep freezer and filled it with things from Sam's Club and Costco.

My parents did the exact same thing with freezer meals. We were more than OK with parents and very close family helping out. Brandon’s sister came down two weeks after his mom flew home – she had already gotten vaccinated – and was incredibly helpful. We welcomed that.

I’m nursing two babies, and stress goes hand in hand with my milk supply. I've had to realize that we can't say “yes” to everyone. I’m not supplementing with formula, so I can’t compromise my milk supply. I'm keeping these babies alive with my body right now, so I have to put myself and my mental health first.

I recommend that new parents be honest with friends and family. Tell them what you need. For instance, if they’re going to be passing through town and want to visit, just make clear there’s no capacity for overnight guests right now.

Tips for family and friends of new parents

People love babies. I’ve been so touched by the number of people who say they can’t wait to hold Benjamin and Brielle. But we’re still getting acclimated to being a family of six.

I will be thrilled for adult company very soon. For now, though, visits are not top on our list of needs.

Every family is different, but most families with newborns need help with meal planning and prepping. I adore cooking from scratch, but I can’t cook three homemade meals a day just yet. We’ve had people send us Grubhub cards. My parents have sent us a million HelloFresh meals. Things like that are appreciated so much.

Making space

We had just bought a house 10 months prior to finding out about what we thought was just baby No. 3. Two months prior to finding out, we bought a new car that was a perfect size for our then-family. So, everything has changed. We only kept that car for six months before trading up to a large SUV.

And we’ll be listing our house soon. Everything has been flipped upside down.

Be grateful for small mercies

My “older” children – the 2- and 4-year-old – have been wonderful with their little siblings. My son makes the babies laugh; they're laughing and cooing now. Our 2-year-old is so loving and nurturing. She wants to hold them all the time. I didn't think a 2-year-old had that capacity to love and to care. We’re so grateful that they are a help to us.

Be grateful for the big stuff, too

I work from home for my family’s business. My dad and my brother do most of the things in the field – supervising employees and making sure things get done. And I can do invoices and payroll and things like that any time of day. It’s usually 3 or 4 a.m. And I don't have to work every day. It’s a blessing.

But the greatest blessing is that my husband works for Wells Fargo. With all three pregnancies, he's gotten 16 weeks of paid paternity leave every single time. I feel like that’s the No. 1 reason I’m afloat. I haven't experienced postpartum depression, and I think part of that is because Brandon is right here with me. He’s been instrumental in every single thing.

Communication with your partner is key

I'm so grateful that Brandon and I communicate so well with each other. It’s the strongest point of our marriage; we discuss everything openly. There's never any holding back. He is my safe place. And I think especially with having a newborn (or two!), communication is everything.

You’re going to be overwhelmed, you're going to be tired, your mind will be all over the place. And to just be able to be open and honest with someone will keep you sane from minute to minute and day to day.

Top photo caption: Brandon Milton, left, holding baby Benjamin with Blake, 4, on the step below. Brittani is on the right holding baby Brielle. Brooklyn, 2, is between her dad and mom.

I love my doctor!

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Dr. Ebony Nicole Parson

I’m so grateful for my Wonder Woman ob-gyn, Dr. Ebony Nicole Parson of Novant Health Bradford Clinic OB/GYN. She’s cared for me for the majority of my last two pregnancies. I met her for the first time at my 40-week appointment when I was pregnant with my oldest, Blake. She sent me over to labor and delivery because I was already 5 centimeters dilated at my appointment – just like with my twin pregnancy. Later that night, she delivered our firstborn.

She’s also responsible for sending me to labor and delivery at 5 centimeters after my 37-week appointment with my daughter, Brooklyn. I cannot believe this has happened three times!

I adore her because of her heart and the way she genuinely cares for me and my health. She’s honest, insightful and brilliant beyond measure. She has always included me in any decisions we’ve made regarding my health and pregnancies and makes sure I’m always well-informed about my body and my growing babies.

She strikes the delicate balance of making me feel protected yet empowered as a Black woman – and I’m ultrasensitive to that, given the statistics on women of color and the disparities in maternal care. She’s the absolute best. ~Britanni Milton