Having a new baby often invokes the images such as these below. With a sweet newborn sleeping soundly, the mom smiling lovingly upon her glowing child and the joy of new life permeating the halls of the home.
This is indeed true, but not quite the accurate picture of what happens when coming home from the hospital. We don’t want to put a video on Facebook, that is, the truth. A 30-minute ride to the lactation nursing class that was spent enduring a baby whose paci I could not reach and therefore screamed the entire time. He ate during the 1.5 hours I was there so was subsequently quiet, but alas, for the remaining 30 minutes home, he screamed. This is one small example of the days that sometimes leave you wanting to pull your hair out.
To get the above-referenced photos, my friend was at my home for more than three hours. My son had to nurse several times, wouldn’t fall asleep for various reasons or wouldn’t cooperate. But we were determined to capture those few moments of bliss that I do see a few times during the day. And finally, the magic happened and he cooperated.
You see, coming home with a new baby is incredibly hard. It’s equal in some ways to the nine months of pregnancy. It is the “fourth” trimester you rarely hear about. Some days you are just trying to get over the trauma that occurred to your body and all the fun that accompanies that. And other days, your emotional well-being comes into question. Is it baby blues or post-partum depression?
I don’t mean any of this as a complaint but rather a more realistic look at the idyllic life that we often paint when coming home with a newborn. Yes you have help from friends or family, but truth be told, you’re still exhausted. I’ve never not breastfed so my second time around I’m equally as exhausted as I was with my first son. The emotional toll of knowing I’m solely responsible for his nutrition is both overwhelming and rewarding when I see he’s gained a half pound. I’m sure though, even if my husband and I were alternating those middle of the nights with formula, we’d both still be tired.
But, something seems to happen in those moments of fuzzy, question-your-sanity nights. You start to accept your new normal. You start to function a little more on less sleep. The screech of the newborn cry is noticeably less annoying or at least more bearable should you have to use the bathroom and let him cry for a minute or two. You understand that it’s okay to walk outside or to another room just for a second to catch a moment to yourself. And the minutes you do have with just you and the baby and he passes gas and accidentally smiles, are heavenly. You start to think, okay, I can handle this.
Of course, the latter is few and far between in these early days, but it’s enough to give you hope to keep going. There are the night sweats followed by freezing under the covers that make you wonder if you’ve had a baby or are going through early menopause. And there are countless other new changes occurring that are just physical. I don’t even mention all the emotional ones. And it feels like forever.
This morning I had a momentary breakdown. After my fifth or so day in a row of waking up for the day at 4 a.m., I questioned whether I could do it another day. A brief tear escaped my eyes as I was asking him who we could get to come over for help. I am so grateful to my mom, mothers in law, sister, neighbors and friends who have made the last six weeks a little easier. They’ve brought meals and sat here so I could shower or get in a 45-minute nap. It has made a big difference. Sometimes though, I feel as though I have to bear the hard times alone in order to prove I’m a good mom. But that’s so ridiculous. It takes a village to raise a child and I truly believe that.
After my husband went to wake our three-year-old this morning, we discovered he was much sicker than his sore throat the night before let on. We aren’t ones to rush to the doctor but after a few days of complaining and a cough that sounded like a barking dog, we knew we had to take him in to the doctor. My husband decided to stay home and help take care of a sick kid, a newborn and his wildcard wife. What a man. He knew today was just one of those days that I needed him. We all did quite frankly. If you are reading this and don’t have one-of-those men, then please, please, find “one of those” in your sister, mom, friend, whomever. Sometimes we all need a little extra help. A mental health day.
You see, I put the baby to bed around 8 pm, woke him to feed around 11, meanwhile pumping milk in between, then came to bed. I slept gloriously until 3 when it was time to nurse him again. That process took an hour between diaper changes (multiple. Don’t they seem to always poop the minute you get a new diaper on), burping/gas, feeding, rocking, etc. Then I slept for about 45 mins and he woke up again with gas and needed consoling. Then anhour later it was time to eat again because it’d been three hours since. And so the cycle repeated. Then my husband’s alarm goes off, my other kid wakes up, etc., etc. By 10 a.m., I’ve usually entered zombie-land.
But I do have the privilege of knowing this is all temporary. In a few months I will look back and almost laugh at how hard it was. I know I chose this life and am so grateful for two beautiful healthy kids. I honestly can’t complain, but rather, write this as just an expose to those out there looking for a realistic life at home with a newborn. And knowing this is my last child, I am already thinking nostalgically that I’ll never see an ultrasound photo again (of my own child). I’ll not get to experience that moment of seeing your new baby for the first time. There are lots of things I’m going to hang on to and savor, even if it is between blurred vision and tangled hair coated in spit-up.
One of my favorite songs by a favorite band, Acoustic Syndicate, says “Today, we’ll be better for this. Much better for this.” And I sing that to myself all the time. I’ll be better for putting in the long hours nursing and pumping breast milk. I’ll be better when I have the cry it out method because I know it leads to a kid that goes to bed with no problems. I’ll be better for having spent the 12 weeks (a luxury I know) at home with my newborn experiencing the bond and relationship that mother and child are meant to have. It does get better. It gets So So So much better and easier. The minute you have a routine, it changes. But the minute your child makes you want to pull your hair out, he smiles or rolls over or sings a song (my three-year old) at the dinner table with so much bravado and confidence that you can’t help but almost cry. .. Surely it’s the hormones again, they are to blame for everything, but it makes parenthood worth it.
But next time you see a new mom who perhaps forgot her mascara or has a cute baby photo on Facebook, know there is a lot more behind it. And she is better for it.