Four months ago I gave birth to my 9th baby. My 10 lb. baby boy seemed huge and teeny tiny all at the same time. Our little Michelin Man was the cutest thing I had seen in years!
I noticed pretty quickly that little man cried a lot. I am not referring to cute little newborn whimpers. I am talking about full-on crying baby for hours, only stopping for a few minutes every so often while he catnapped. I didn’t understand what was going on. I had just spent the last 9 months of pregnancy carefully monitoring my diet and avoiding my kids’ known allergens, trying to get at least a little exercise, my planned home birth had been flawless (the best yet!), baby had been my biggest, and all he did was fuss. I was devastated. I was also reminded of several rules I made for myself when I was pregnant several babies ago.
THROW ALL YOUR PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS OUT THE WINDOW. How had I forgotten that one? I had spent months looking forward to newborn snuggles and simpler days. That first month with Silas felt so much harder because I grieved the loss of what I had expected. I had become complacent because my pregnancy was so easy, forgetting that babies are tiny humans, each with their own personalities and life experiences in the womb (sounds silly, but it’s true!). Silas was tender and sensitive. His response to birth was not to sleep for 4-6 hours like the typical newborn. Instead, Silas’s response was to let us all know that he was here and he wasn’t sure what to do about it. He was a stranger in a new land!
BE PREPARED TO FEEL MORE EXHAUSTED THAN YOU HAVE EVER FELT BEFORE. Even after 8 other babies, I still felt more exhausted than I remembered feeling with the other babies.
CREATE A DISTASTROPHE PLAN. Yes, I coined that word on purpose. Little Silas’s first month was certainly not going according to my plan. With exhaustion addling my brain, it was tough to figure out what the next step should be. It’s important to talk with your support team (husband, mom, mother-in-law, best friend, etc.) and figure out what your plan is BEFORE having a baby. It was certainly not the best idea for me to try to locate a good lactation consultant after I hadn’t slept in 3 days with the now-super-frustrated baby in my arms. It would have been much better had I taken the time pre-birth to do my research and create a distastrophe plan. Details that you could include in your plan would be who would take care of baby in the event mom has complications and has to remain in the hospital, a lactation consultant’s name and phone number if you are planning to breastfeed, whether you want to rent a hospital-grade breast pump or which pump you would like to buy should the need arise, and document the point at which you are willing to give baby formula and which kind you would like to use. I have successfully nursed 7 babies and have needed to temporarily supplement 2 of them before my milk came in. It happens.
SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY, SIMPLIFY. With 7 other kids to take care of, I overlooked the most basic rule: Simplifying your routine before baby is born makes the transition much easier after baby is born. Before baby arrives, stock up on easy snacks and simple meals that even a toddler can prepare (i.e. something microwaveable). And, if you have other children, you might as well embrace the fact now that they will watch A LOT of Netflix during the first couple of months after baby’s birth.
NEED TO MAKE A BIG DECISION? JUST. DON’T. DO. IT. I have long had a hard and fast rule for myself: no decision-making 3 months before a baby is due or 3 months after the baby is born. Pregnancy and postpartum hormones are cray-cray! Thinking about selling your house and moving? Nope, don’t try to make that decision right now. Dietary changes? Not the time to tackle them. While spending hours doing the timeless bounce-bounce-sway with your new baby, did you noticed that you really don’t like the color of your baseboards and trim? Put that decision off for another day. Not sure if you are finished having babies and want to get your tubes tied? If you haven’t already made the decision, don’t try to make it now. Your uterus and fallopian tubes aren’t going anywhere. You can come back to that decision later.
In my experience the timetable after birth looks something like this: The first month after birth is about survival and getting to know your new little one. The second month is spent creating a new norm for your family. During the third month, healthy, objective thought slowly returns. You will catch glimpses of your former intelligent, witty self with increasing frequency this month. By the fourth month, you and your family thriving in this new norm! Although sleepless nights will still have the capacity to reduce you to a hot mess, overall you will feel better and more human. Be watchful for the symptoms of postpartem depression (PPD) during the first year after baby’s birth. Please seek the advice of medical professional if you suspect you are suffering from PPD.
Pay attention to your self talk. If you find yourself often thinking thoughts like, “I can’t do this,” it’s time to take those thoughts under control. Obviously, you CAN do it, though you may not feel too great while you ARE doing it. Make a deliberate effort to repeat to yourself, “I am fine. I am (fill in the blank: tired, disappointed, stressed, etc.), but I am fine.” My internal dialogue usually goes like this, “This sucks but I am not going to die.” (Then again, I have always been a little melodramatic.) Follow that up with, “I love this little one so much! Look at those sweet little feet. His skin feels so soft on my cheek. I love the way his lips make little sucking movements in while he sleeps.” Feel free to add in whatever feeds your soul. As I explained in my last post, you can’t change the facts, but you can choose how you react to them. By choosing positive, life-giving thoughts, you will take the stress level down immensely!
The early months after a baby’s birth are alternately the sweetest you will ever experience and can be one of the toughest seasons you will ever have to walk through. My timetable will not necessarily be your time-table, but the milestones are similar for all of us. My best advice to a family with a new baby: Relax, don’t over-think things, and enjoy the ride.