So, if you can believe it, Junior is finally one month old.
I don't think I can believe we're here. We've learned so much in these past four weeks, and there's still more to learn every single day. Things about raising a baby. Things about ourselves. Things about readjusting to a new normal. Some of these things were expected, but some of them most definitely were not.
1. It's not only helpful to have other new moms to talk to, it's imperative.
From breastfeeding issues, to sleep battles, to Reasons Why They Cry, it's so important to have at least one other woman on call who's also going through the newborn phase right along with you. Online forums are nice if you have no one you know, but beware--those can be a slippery slope of unhelpful information. What's most helpful is to know that other women with newborns are also crying, also at their wits' end sometimes, also clueless about how to help their babies, and also trying to manage the change in their life.
BONUS: If you're a first-time-mom, it's most helpful to talk to another first-time-mom. If you've just added your third, it's most helpful to talk to a women in a similar situations. And etc. etc.
2. Having help in those first few weeks will fill you with gratitude AND resentment.
I love my parents and Levi's parents dearly. And I'll be FOREVER grateful that both my parents came up to help as soon as Junior was born, and then that Levi's mother stayed for two whole weeks after that to give us help. My home was kept clean and running. I had extra arms to put Junior in if I needed a break.
But it was also hard to have people around who were helping with the baby. My hormones were running wild, and I very frequently felt like an inadequate and unfit mother. When you add to that a person who can scoop up your screaming baby and calm him and hold him with a smile on their face (while you had been crying with helplessness instead), well, it only adds to those feelings of inadequacy. And then they'll reassure you that you're a wonderful mother, and you'll wish they'd stop trying to placate you and just tell you how you could be better.
I have no way to stop those feelings from cropping up in you, but I can tell you that it's your hormones. A person who has already raised babies before and who also has a good night's sleep and perfectly normal hormones will handle a crying baby more calmly than an exhausted, hormonal, and scared new mom. It's just the way it is. Try to take advantage of the help while you can, and I PROMISE you it doesn't make you a bad mom.
3. You will question your grip on sanity more than once.
Speaking of hormones. They are insane. I'm sure there are women out there who handle them like they were nothing. I was not one of those women. I had pretty mediocre highs, and I had absolutely SOUL-CRUSHING lows. I don't even remember how many times I cried in despair that I was a terrible mother. That there was no way out. That we'd made a mistake. That I was already ruining Junior's life. I cried while holding him. I hid in my bedroom and cried. I cried (a LOT) in the shower. I cried (also a LOT) while struggling with breastfeeding.
It felt like there was a pit in front of me, threatening to swallow me up. And I felt like I very nearly fell in. Talking to other new moms helped. The presence of helpful and reassuring people in my home helped a lot.
BONUS: A lactation consultant and visiting with my midwife helped enormously, too. Having a neutral third party give me advice and encouragement made a BIG difference. It'll feel overwhelming to try to make those appointments to talk or get help. Do it anyway.
4. This whole newborn stage is like crawling up an endless, snowy mountain.
By that, I mean it feels like you'll have managed to crawl up ten feet just before you slide back down a foot or two. You really are making steady and gradual progress up the mountain, but it comes with lots of moments or days when you feel like you or your baby are regressing. Everyone has a bad day. Everyone has a bad couple of hours.
Just remember: your baby is growing, loved, and cared for. If he has a bad day/night it's ok. It's hard and it really, really STINKS sometimes when you're tired or working on a project, but it really can change in just a matter of minutes. Give him time and grace.
5. Sometimes the answer is good, uninterrupted sleep--and you should take it if it's offered.
The biggest thing that convinced me that I wasn't going to be swallowed by the pit of postpartum depression was the offer of a full night's sleep by my mother-in-law. We knew the breast pump worked for me and we knew Junior could take a bottle. So she offered to take him upstairs for the whole night and I'd just wake up to pump her some bottle throughout the night.
It was one of the hardest times I've ever had accepting help from someone. I felt terribly, terribly inadequate because I couldn't handle taking care of my baby for one more, long night. I felt guilty because I longed for that sleep at that moment MORE than I longed for my baby. But truly, taking my MIL up on that offer (twice!) ended up being one of the best things I could have done. It makes an enormous difference when you start the day rested and EXCITED to see your baby's face. It can sustain you through a lot of his finicky moments.
6. It's really, really, REALLY ok if you just have to set the baby down for a few (or fifteen) minutes.
That being said, if you've reached the point where you're doing this whole thing alone now, you've probably quickly realized that diapering, feeding, playing with, and putting down a baby actually takes up a lot of your day. That leaves precious little time to feed and bathe yourself, much less do anything else around the house.
If your baby isn't hungry and he isn't sitting in a wet or dirty diaper, it really is OK to set him down for a few minutes so you can eat something. Brush your teeth. Go to the bathroom. Your needs are just as valid as his, AND you can't give him the best care possible if you totally sacrifice those things. Yes, the dishes can wait. No, your lunch cannot. He might fuss a bit or even cry, but you're keeping your body fueled and healthy so you can continue to take care of him and make his food.
7. There's no magic moment when breastfeeding becomes easy.
There are breakthroughs, but there are also breakDOWNS. Even after seeing a lactation consultant Junior and I still have feeding sessions where one or both of us just struggles to make it work. A newborn has instinct when it comes to feeding, true, but he also has a weak neck, a heavy head, and an inability to manage his own gas/sleepiness. All of these things can make a feeding session difficult if one of them is out of place. It's pretty rare for everything to be perfect every time in this first month, but it definitely gets better and better.
8. Newborns won't follow your routine or your schedule.
A baby poops when he has poop ready. He pees as soon as he has pee to give. He wants to eat until he's full, and he often has extra burps hiding deep down. All of this adds up to: sometimes he just won't be able to go to sleep until all of these things are taken care of. And if he takes a big poop right after you start a feeding then you're going to have to change him again. And if he ends up peeing on himself while you're changing him then you're going to have to put him in new jammies. And if putting him in new jammies makes him mad or takes enough time then you're likely going to have to feed him some more. And if he falls asleep while eating and won't wake up to burp, chances are he'll wake up 10 minutes after you put him down needing a burp.
Throw those eating and sleeping schedules out the window. Just keep doing your best to read your baby, and set him down for a few calming breaths if things are really out of whack and he's going on three hours with no sleep.
9. You can't turn the baby off, but you CAN reset.
When those hard "cycles" (as we call them in our home) crop up, sometimes all you want is for him to just GO TO SLEEP so you can recharge. When they're sleeping it can feel like they've been turned off for the next hour or two. Unfortunately, when the baby is stuck in a difficult cycle you can't just turn him off. But you CAN give him a reset. It goes like this.
Set him down for a moment. Do the things for yourself that you've been neglecting. Go pee. Have a piece of toast or a banana. Take those deep breaths and accept that you aren't going back to sleep. Then simply start over. Whatever your normal routine is once he wakes up, just start it over. Ours, ideally, would be diaper change, feeding, burping, sleeping. Honestly, I might have to do this more than once, but it eventually ends in him sleeping.
10. It might take a couple weeks for the good parts to outweigh the hard parts.
It's just unpopular to admit that the hard moments are much more tangible and real than the good moments at first. Sure, he has that cute little sigh and his face is adorable when he yawns, but then he cries for half an hour after he just peed all over his bed, clothes, face, AND your diaper caddy. He may smell wonderful, but then he won't stay latched to your breast and then spits up ALL his milk on you, your clothes, the bed, and himself--which, of course, requires ANOTHER clothing change for everyone.
These moments are rough, but they happen with decreasing frequency, AND you're also increasing in your ability to savor and appreciate him for who he is. Instead of annoyance and anxiety and despair, these events will start to fill you with compassion and patience. Granted, at 5:00 a.m. those events still fill me with the former, but we're getting there.
The good outweighs the hard right now, and I'm so happy to be Junior's mama. I feel more confident and empowered every day, but that's only if you look at the final tally. As each moment passes by we have times where we slip and things are hard and/or frustrating. But at the end of each day I feel like a stronger mama, a more knowledgeable mama, and a more loving mama.
Keep it real, y'all,