Yesterday my dear friend Kristen went to her own doctor's appointment at 38 weeks and 2 days along. Eight hours later, she and Charles were holding their son.
As you can imagine, I spent most of Tuesday glued to my phone, waiting for texts and calls - any news about our sweet friends and their boy. The rest of the day, I marveled at Mac and had flashbacks to the day he was born.
With so many of our friends having babies these days (have you met Brooke's twins?), I think often of what I wish I'd known as we brought Mac home. More often than not, someone had told me just what I needed to hear; I simply couldn't understand it until I'd lived through it myself.
A few tidbits I wish I'd fully understood:
- Babies cry. Even if they're fed, loved, diapered, bathed and comfortable. They can't talk, smile, laugh, or even move very much. It's a form of exercise and expression for them, one that wreaks havoc in the heart of every new parent.
It's not a personal reflection on your abilities, your care, or even on you as a mom. Certainly it's important to ensure that all of their needs are met when they cry, but do know that there will be times nothing seems to make it better. And that's ok.
A crib or a bassinet is a quiet, safe place for baby to be when you need just a moment's break from the "why can't I make this newborn happy right now?!?" game.
- Nursing is hard - but you can do it. It seems like the nursing "thing" should come quite naturally, but that isn't always the case. The unbelievable lactation consultants here (and their helpline) got me through the early, very tough weeks. Find someone to help you; reach out to other moms, go online for support and don't give up until you're ready.
There have been ups and downs, but pushing through the (difficult) beginning got me to the much easier part - the one everyone said would come. I wouldn't say it was a cakewalk right away, but a month after Mac was born it was a much easier task for sure.
The first week, when I was tearing up in my closet on the phone with a lactation consultant I'd never met, hoping none of our visitors heard me talking about my nursing, um, roadblocks? Wow. That felt like the longest week of my life. Why couldn't I make things work?
The best promise anyone made me? "This will all be better in 72 hours. Count on it. You can call me directly if it isn't." She was right! We're still nursing nine months later, something I attribute greatly to the remarkable women who encouraged me in the early weeks.
Do what you can, don't beat yourself up about anything and understand that any effort you make is a great thing. I hate when women say they "only" nursed for four weeks or six weeks or what have you. Multiply eight or nine daily feedings by those 28 or 42 days and you're looking at someone who fed her child hundreds of times that first month. Be proud!
- You'll be exhausted - but you'll be ok. The week after we brought Mac home, I was beyond exhausted. I was sleep-deprived to the point that I understood how people could use a "criminally insane" defense. It's possible to be that tired. There were no extra brain cells to devote to anything but the absolute essentials - and showering, my friends, is not always an essential.
I need eight and a half hours of sleep a night to feel human, so two and a half hour stretches throughout the night were not cutting it. Quickly, though, my body adjusted. God gave me bursts of energy I couldn't explain, considering how little I was eating, drinking and taking care of myself.
Suddenly, the rare four hour stretches felt like a luxury. I appreciated every last second of sleep and remained imminently grateful that Mac was a "feed me then let me go back to bed" baby in the wee hours. He needed milk, but he wanted sleep, too. Our nighttime routine was no-muss, no-fuss. Feed, change, swaddle, sleep. Wait three hours, rinse and repeat.
It's exhausting even to type out now, as Mac sleeps nearly 12 hours a night. Somehow, though, we are wired to get through it. It won't last forever. That's a promise.
- Seriously. Sleep when the baby sleeps. Ah yes, the quintessential advice I absolutely ignored throughout my pregnancy. There's a reason it's the first thing out of every shower guest's mouth: it's true.
I never mastered the art of catnapping while Mac slept; I was too "busy" doing other things until right as he began to stir. Then the realization washed over me: nothing I've been doing was more important than sleep. (This cycle repeated itself multiple times daily throughout my maternity leave.)
That being said, there are moments when sleep can take a backseat. The night Mac was born, B and I stayed awake just marveling at him after our families left, examining his tiny hands and feet, kissing his sweet cheeks 'til the sun came up.
When my mom came to stay with us days later, she urged me to nap while Mac was content and didn't need to eat. I couldn't tear myself away, though; his nose was so darling I just wanted to kiss it a thousand times. I'm glad I did.
Bottom line: The house can wait, but sleep won't. Newborns, however, won't always be this tiny and sweet. Kissing them can take top billing on occasion.
- You were meant to be this baby's mom. In moments (late evening, usually, when newborn Mac settled into an unhappy spell) when I felt discouraged and even questioned if I was the best girl for the job, this thought carried me through. A friend gave me A Mom After God's Own Heart and it reminded me that I was blessed with Mac for a reason. God meant for me to raise this child. He had faith that I could do it; why didn't I?
- This is only a moment. More than new mom advice, this is a constant "must know" concept for me. As Solomon said, this too shall pass. Whatever it is, good or bad, these days go by quickly.
The exhaustion fades, the itty-bitty outfits are packed away, the swaddling blanket is no longer necessary. The tough times are exceedingly difficult to remember and the newness of that time seems far away. It is just a moment. Enjoy every bit of it you can.
Don't feel bad if not every moment is meant for Hallmark cards, though! I used to wonder if I was crazy not to understand the "cherish these precious times" comments I'd hear the first few weeks. (Mom says I told her I wanted to kick someone in the leg if I heard that again! I may or may not believe that's accurate....)
Precious times? I was unshowered, underfed, sleep-deprived and totally clueless! Now, though, I see that it was a singularly sweet time in our lives... We won't ever get it back.
When your newborn coos and nestles into your neck for a nap, enjoy it; it's only for a moment. By the same token, when colic kicks in and you wonder how much more you can take, remember that, in the scheme of your life, this is just a tiny moment.
- It's ok to say "no, thank you" to company if you just can't handle it. Your sanity is top priority and everyone will understand!
- Don't clean your house before visitors come over. Stash dirty diapers if you must, but only do the bare minimum. Guests will feel bad if you do an ounce more; their goal is to drop off food and meet the baby, not judge your housekeeping skills. And they're there because they love you - bags under your eyes, dust bunnies and all.
- Books can be helpful and doctors can be godsends, but you know your baby better than anyone. No one else has ever had this baby, which makes you the expert. Trust your instincts!
- Ask for help when you need it. Ask for help before you need it. And certainly accept help when it's offered.
- If no one is calling or coming by, it's because they want to give you space and let you settle in. If you need a hand or an ear or a shoulder, reach out! Day or night, people want to help.
- Celebrate small victories if you're staring down a big (sleepless) battle.
- Change your game plan day by day if you need to. You're in survival mode; do what works best today. Tomorrow will figure itself out.
- It's ok to begin and end the day in your pajama pants if it gets you a little extra rest time!
In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts, new moms, aunts, grandmothers and friends! What advice did you need to hear? What was the best thing anyone did to care for your new family?