I thought this would be easier...
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
My friends who are parents tricked me, and now it's too late.
I’m not sure why, but for some reason, I genuinely believed having a baby was going to be easier. Yes you can laugh at me. But honestly, I blame other parents. All they typically warn you about, is the lack of sleep! What about the rest of it? Yes, not sleeping compounds your irritability, but it’s really just one piece of the wild ride that is having a child. You all tricked me! To be fair, I think people fear being honest because there’s simply too much judgement of parents, moms in particular. But I suppose I can't really blame anyone because I don’t think you can accurately describe this experience. You need to go through it for yourself to really understand it, so perhaps the preparation sermons I got from friends didn’t quite sink in.
Let me start by saying, I love my daughter. We genuinely feel so blessed and full to have her join our little family. Even after struggling to put her to bed, I just watch the baby monitor on my phone, because I think she’s so cute. I get a wave of sadness when she’s sleeping in my arms, because I know this time with her, in this way, won’t last. It's true, cuddling your newborn is an indescribable, unbeatable feeling.
After six weeks on the job I’m obviously an expert, right? I’ve even got a few pointers in here that I use to stay sane going through postpartum during a pandemic. Talk about a steep learning curve - a few weeks in, I don't entirely know what I’m doing. But, the newborn experience is still fresh in my mind, unlike most parents of older children who tell me: “honestly, as time goes by you just forget how bad those first few weeks/months are.” Well, I’m writing this all down now, so that I don’t forget! I want to remember every excruciating moment, so when my daughter yells at me when she’s 13, I have a reference guide for why she's not allowed to do that. (Although she will anyway).
For the purpose of not getting too graphic, I’ll skip childbirth. It is different for everyone, but I will say, despite taking classes and reading books, and watching videos etc, I was not prepared for the extent of that pain.
Skipping ahead to postpartum -- now you are responsible for an actual human. A delicate, fragile, resilient, crying, breathing, hungry being. This is terrifying. I was home two hours after delivery, and had a glass of wine. JUST KIDDING, I had no wine at all - I had to crawl up our stairs after getting home that soon after delivery. During the pandemic, the option of sharing a room with another couple in a hospital overnight, just didn’t seem like the best decision for us, so we went home with our newborn shortly after she arrived. If it hadn’t been for COVID, we would have stayed in the hospital for the 24 hours, and I think that might have been better for me.
Once you arrive home, you better start learning fast, because you need to feed your child, even though you’ve never breastfed before. Breastfeeding doesn’t necessarily come easily, particularly because you can’t exactly practice before the baby comes. People do tell you it can be challenging - but they don’t tell you it is painful as hell too. The pain lasts at least for the first month or so while you adapt to having a human vacuum sucking up part of your body. Six weeks in, I still wince when my daughter latches. Some people experience bleeding - I fortunately have not, yet!
We were instructed to wake our baby up to feed her every 2-3 hours, because she may not know when she’s hungry. As new parents, you just don’t want to break your baby within the first 24 hours, so we didn’t sleep at all,
checking she was breathing, seeing if she was hungry, making sure the diaper was clean. The sleepless nights, we were prepared for, but I didn’t anticipate how much it would hinder my physical recovery.
Within 24 hours of being home with baby, I noticed my feet were getting larger and larger. By day two, the swelling was so bad, I couldn’t walk without pain. Postpartum edema is a buildup of excess fluid in the tissues just under your skin. This inability to walk properly was on top of the fact that I had stitches in my perineum. Usually, rest would be key to healing, but you can’t have actual rest with a newborn, so the soreness and pain is something you just have to endure. It impacts going to the washroom, sitting, sleeping (whatever little sleep you get), and anything else that requires you to move.
Mind you, while you are physically going through all of the above plus hormonal changes; mentally you are coping with the fact that your life has just changed forever. You can’t spontaneously leave the house, there is no end to this life at least for a few months. Even after that, you will be responsible for this child’s well-being FOREVER. You have to grieve the loss of the old you and your previous more care-free life, and it’s ok to feel sad about it! It doesn’t mean you don’t love your child, people just like to give moms a hard time because they have nothing better to do. Get a hobby judgers! Once again, this is only my experience, and everyone's is different. It’s possible you eased into motherhood like JLO eased into age 50.
What you won’t be able to do right away however, is understand your baby. Unfortunately, no one has managed to accurately translate crying yet. The worst feeling is having your baby cry, and cry, and you can’t figure out what’s wrong. You feed them, burp them, change them, cuddle them, swaddle them, rock them, try everything you know on how to soothe a crying baby, but it doesn’t work. Now imagine this at 3 am, after you haven’t slept for weeks, and every part of your body aches, and you're on an emotional rollercoaster. (Whatever you’re imagining, multiply by 10). Especially in the first few weeks, this is incredibly difficult, and for some reason when you see all the pictures from friends and family and on instagram of these perfectly angelic napping babies, it’s easy to believe that’s how it’ll always be. This is false. Those 'picture perfect' moments will appear, but only in between all of the other tough stuff that’ll bring you to your knees. There are all sorts of books and articles on understanding babies’ cues and body language when they’re crying, I've found it doesn’t always work in calming the crying, but it helps! I wish I had read up on cues and body language sooner.
Here’s the kicker though - after all of this, people decide to do it again! Some 3-4 times! You know why…? Despite it all, I can’t describe to you how much I love my little human. She’s just the best, even though when I see her open her eyes on the baby monitor it puts the fear of god in me -- that she’s up and I can’t anticipate her next move.
So amid all this craziness of pandemic postpartum, here, as promised, are some things I do to keep myself sort of sane:
1. Shift-work: My husband and I split the feeds at night so we both get a full 4-5 hours of sleep each night. This helps so much. It might not be possible for everyone, but if you can, give one or two feeds to your partner with either pumped milk or formula. The other person can get some solid rest then, and your boobs can get a bit of a break if you’re breastfeeding. If you can’t do it at night, maybe when your partner is done work in the evening, get a solid 4 hour nap in. It’s life altering.
2. During feeds: I listen to audiobooks or podcasts while breastfeeding. It makes the task more bearable late at night or early in the morning, when I’m exhausted. Sometimes I’ll watch a show on Netflix, but when baby is meant to go to bed straight after the feed, I don’t want too much around stimulating her. With the audiobooks, I’ve gotten through two books already, and am currently on book number three! On Netflix I am late to the party watching Designated Survivor, but I think Connected will be next.
3. Meals on-the-go: It is so hard to actually find time to prepare a meal, depending on how your baby is feeding on a given day. I find during a growth spurt, it’s almost every hour that she’s crying to eat! I’ve made a habit of making some protein shakes or smoothies and putting them in the fridge, so I’m still eating fruits/veggies and getting protein. I also keep instant oatmeal handy. It’s really difficult to get a full meal in on most days.
4. Help: Ask for help. You are already superwoman. You created a human. Ask for friends and family to pick up groceries, bring over food. Ask them to sit at your place for an hour or so, so you can shower or nap, or write a blog post about being a new mom lol. During the pandemic this can be more difficult, but if you have a few helpers in your bubble, use them. I was lucky to have my mom here for 5 weeks post-baby, and my in-laws are part of our bubble if we need a hand.
5. Say No: Say no to meeting up if you are too tired, if you don’t think you or baby are ready yet. If you think it’s too soon to have guests over given that we’re in a pandemic (even if there was no pandemic.) People will understand. You don’t need to please anyone but your baby and yourself right now. Make sure your baby is happy and you are staying sane. People will get over you saying no, and you’ll be better to your newborn without the added stress.
6. Get out: Whether it's with or without baby, have some time to leave the house, go for a walk, take a drive, roam in your neighbourhood. It feels so good to get out of the four walls of the house. If you can, at least once a week, get in a walk by yourself. It really helps to just not be in the same environment as the constant pooping, feeding, napping, crying. It doesn't have to be a long time, even 20 minutes feels good to be on your own if you can.
Finally, don’t judge other moms, and ignore anyone who judges you! If I use formula, that’s fine, my mom supplemented my sister and I with formula, and we are perfectly fine (well I like to think so!) If I exclusively pump, that’s ok, the baby is being fed, what’s it to you? If you want to breastfeed until your child is 4, so be it. It’s such a crazy time for parents, the last thing we need is judgement from others or ourselves!
These are the lessons I’ve learned so far, and I know there are so many more to come.