I visited a friend yesterday who has a beautiful new baby girl, 2 1/2 weeks old and gorgeous as can be. Watching her teeny tiny baby I never thought I’d ever say “were you ever that small?’, but already, 4 months later, those first few weeks for us seem a blur. Perhaps my subconscious is blocking them out as a self-defense mechanism, because hot damn they were hard. Really hard. I have to look at pictures from that time to remember just how small she was, and just how scared, exhausted, stressed, weak, frustrated and bewildered I was.
I’d read the books. I’d done my research. I’d counted the onesies and the sleepers and organized her closet. I had a vision of the type of parent I wanted to be. ALL of that went out the window. I chucked it out the window in fact. I knew in my head that it would be hard; but perhaps had not quite digested what that really meant. The nitty-gritty, the whys & hows. I’ve had this list in my head of things I learned, to remind myself of if/when we decide to do this crazy journey again in the future. I’m a “list person”, hopefully this will either ring true for other moms out there, or provide some solace for others still in the thick of it.
1. Crying is ok.
Actually this was the number one piece of advice from my amazing neighbour. At first I had thought she was talking about the baby. Nope. I cried. A LOT. I’m sure some of it was hormonal, and I was definitely ‘on watch’ for perinatal anxiety/depression throughout my pregnancy and postpartum. But a lot of the tears (on my part) was the HUGE-throw-you-off-a-cliff-what-have-I-done-with-my-life-and-my-marriage transition that I was only prepared for logically, but not emotionally. Life is NOTHING like it used to be. This seems obvious, but even deciding when and how to eat breakfast, shower, or even pee needs to be relearned. A lot of the crying had to do with # 2.
2. Breastfeeding is a skill – they should have a Master Class.
Without my midwives, I honestly think I would have cracked. Breastfeeding is hard. It seemed darned near impossible at times. Holy crap it hurt. For weeks. I called Lydia one night literally in tears – baby was screaming, she seemed hungry but kept unlatching, coughing, each feeding a battle (we ended up figuring out I have overactive letdown/oversupply – still do but we’re managing better). It took a good 8-9 weeks before it didn’t take every ounce of concentration I had during each feeding. I think those first few weeks I had 8 pillows surrounding me in various positions, completely naked from the waist up, and hubby assisting to position, burp, and hold baby’s hands. Trying to nurse in public was out of the question – putting a hooter hider or receiving blanket over baby would simply obstruct my vision and get in the way.
3. Sleep is sacred.
Ok, I know I might get hate mail about this one. But next time there is no way on earth I am going to wake baby up to feed if she is sleeping. She gained weight like a champ after the first couple weeks, and setting the alarm on my phone to wake me up and try to get her to eat while dead asleep was futile. The child woke when she was hungry. End of story. Now if we had real concerns about her weight gain, altertness (not a problem for us!) behaviour, or development, then absolutely I would wake her to ensure she was getting enough of that “liquid gold” to thrive.
Getting her to sleep in any way other than on top of me was hard enough. Next time, I’m sleeping.
4. Let Daddy help. His way.
This took us awhile to figure out. I still have some slight control issues (hubby would chuckle at the “slight”), but we work on it. We (I) had to learn to let Daddy help and do things his own way. For example, I have my own “tricks” for putting baby down for naps, that work for me. When I see hubby doing it differently, or even taking a bit longer, my first response it to want to swoop in and do it “my way” for fear she’d become overtired, skip a nap, which would then lead to cranky bedtime, more nightwakings, the end of Middle Earth, and Voldemort would take over the world. Honestly that was my line of thought. Learning that letting him do things his way is only positive for her development, their bond, our relationship, and even her sleep (she’ll fall asleep sitting up with him). Plus here’s a bonus: the longer it takes him, the more time you have to yourself :) Win-win.
5. Don’t Carpe Diem.
I love this article. It says it way better than I could. Read it.
6. Do what works for YOU.
Google is great, but it can also put you on notice for all of the million ways that you can screw up your baby. For every article that promotes one parenting practice, there are five others tearing it to shreds. What works for one baby or family, doesn’t neccesarily work for you. In fact it usually did the opposite. For example, out prenatal group compares notes on out favourite topic – sleep. How to get it, keep it, get more of it. We each have tried numerous ways of getting our kiddos to sleep sooner, better, longer etc. You name it, our group has done it:
- Swaddling (we’ve done muslin blankets, miracle blankets, woombies, sleep sacs etc.)
- White noise
- Rice cereal (worked for one mom, not for the rest – hit or miss)
- Cosleeping, cribs, basinettes, baby in nursery, baby in our bedroom, mom sleeping in nursery, dad sleeping in nursery
- The dreaded “don’t-let-baby-fall-asleep-on-your-boob-or-he’ll-get-a-suck-to-sleep-association”
- Lovey or transitional objects that smell like mom
- Warmer rooms, cooler rooms, more layers, less layers, blankets, no blankets, early bedtimes, late bedtimes, long naps, short naps
Honestly I could keep going for awhile recounting our comparisons over various Starbucks outings, potlucks and library groups. It boils down to this: do what works for you, try what fits for your family. One of my favourite “sayings” can be adapted to many different parenting practices:
I am not a better mother because I ________ (insert activity of choice here) . I am a better mother because I don’t judge others for not _______ (insert activity of choice here).
7. Get out of the house
This is the premise of this blog. Get out there, involved, meeting and talking to other moms (and dads!). Having others to laugh with through the delirium of sleep deprivation makes it actually enjoyable. I love watching our little ball of sass socialize with other babies and moms, watching what we do and learning through observation. Squamish is AMAZING in that there are a ton of really unique offerings for new parents and babies – tons of opportunities to get out there!
8. Try EVERYTHING
This one was from my mom. The first few days when baby was home with us I wasn’t sure what to actually DO with her. Nor how to tell if she actually enjoyed something. Before she smiled, we took the absence of crying to mean that she enjoyed an activity. Not that anything lasts too long, babies have the attention span of a goldfish. My mom taught me to just simply keep trying things, switch it up, and then try some more. It has become like baby circuit training here, bouncing from the swing, to sling, activity mat, tummy time, vibrating chair, stare in the mirror, watch the clothes dryer, jolly jumper, sing sing and sing some more (“Wake up toes, wake up toes”!), and then go back to the start. Baby circuit training. After a few weeks we started to have some semblance of a routine. We learned what she liked to do when, and how to plan our activities at certain times to optimize our chance of success. We don’t have a “schedule” (e.g. feed at X hrs), but we do have a routine that gives both her and I some reassurance that certain things happen at certain times.
9. Sleeping babies are fakers.
This took me months to figure out. I still fall for it. I have a noisy sleeper. We call it the fake-out. She will let out a full-on CRY (not just a cry, a CRY!) and still be completely dead asleep. She grunts, hoots, scootches, snorts, and moves around all throughout the night. I’m still learning to differentiate sleeping vs. awake sounds. Learning this drastically cuts down the number of feedings she needs (I used to be up 5-7 times a night), she just eats more at each feeding (I was likely waking her up from picking her up when she was actually still asleep).
10. It gets WAY more fun.
I think once she started smiling and became more interactive, it felt like the sun was going to come out again. Now that she’s laughing out loud, it’s WAY more fun. It’s funny that this one is hardest to put into words, I thought explaining WHY it is fun would be easier. But it just is.
Those first few weeks, heck those first couple months were hard. Looking back on it makes looking forward even more exciting.