I think that, like birth, there’s a lot of things they don’t tell you when you about labor and having a baby. They don’t really tell you about the pain– I mean, they tell you “it’s painful” but there’s no way of really understanding or processing that pain until you are in it, until you are experiencing it, and then you understand. There’s no way of understanding the intense cocktail of emotions you feel when you first hold your baby– when you feel that wet, sloppy, warm wiggling and alive child on your stomach in her first moments of life out in the world, outside of the protective coccoon of your womb, and you can’t imagine how they ever fit in there in the first place, and how you got so lucky to have this child– your child– all to yourself. There’s no way of knowing how incredible it is just to look at their face, that seeing this little miracle is going to make you cry, and feel an intense need to love and protect them forever and ever and ever– there’s no way of really knowing those things until you get there.
So, if you’re a first time mom and dad, maybe you should bookmark this post and come back to it after your little child is born and in this world, because reading it beforehand is a lot like all the experience of birth: you can read it, you can make notes about it, you can sagely nod and think you’re understanding, but you will not really KNOW until you are a parent, and in the trenches so to speak.
It’s total honesty time: I’ve now been blessed with being a mom for five weeks and a handful of days, and it’s the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s physically hard: my body— stressed to the max by our labor, bruised and battle weary, is still in recovery. In the very first days home it hurt my arms to hold and rock her, my pelvis ached, my body cried out for wanting rest when there was now no time for sleeping, or eating, or just being– all the time in the world was now her time. The days will muddle into each other. You won’t remember the calendar day and you’ll forgo bathing for sleep. You’ll both cry when your baby has a wailing, all consuming cry, asking for something in a language you don’t understand and there’s no real translation for.
You will think that you are a failure at this, that you have no idea how those who came before you did it, and you will spend a lot of the first few weeks either crying or on the verge of tears. This is normal, or at least appears that way from my purview. It starts the day you leave the idyll of the hospital. For us, we got home and Emmie started crying immediately. I tried to nurse her– my battered and bruised nipples crying in agony— and she fussed and fussed at the breast. We put her in fee fancy bassinet. She hated it. Moses basket. Wailing. Her cries knew no limits. I kept nursing her hoping to ease her cries, crying along with her. We tried every trick on the Happiest Baby on the Block DVD. Nothing.
At about 9 that night my husband said ” she feels warm.” I couldn’t tell– I thought she felt ok, but we took her temp and it was 101! I experienced my first ( of what would be many I’m an awful mother moments). It was midnight. We had been discharged 12 short hours before. We didn’t know what to do. We did not know this then but do now: if your child has a temperature over 100.4, and is less than 3 months old, take them to the emergency room without delay. We called our pediatrician’s office and left a message with the on call service. No one called back. We called again, our baby still wailing, desperate at my breast that I was by then sure wasn’t working (my milk hadn’t come in, and at this point I’d nursed for 20 hours and our baby— hot and feverish– remained inconsolable.). We called again. By 4 am she passed out from exhaustion, and I kept calling until the office opened– they made us come in immediately.
Once there, we learned the answering service had been broken and they hadn’t gotten any of our messages. Emmie’s temp had dropped to under 100, but she weighed in at 8 lbs, 12 oz — quite a drop from her birth weight of 10 lbs. The doctor said he thought she was starving. So he had us give a bottle of formula then and there and she drank it like a child that had not eaten in days. I cried with a feeling of total failure: i couldn’t even feed my child. (please stay tuned for my breastfeeding entry).
That morning, we learned (Again) that we sometimes had to edit our plans. I’d planned on no bottles for 3 weeks and no formula, but I was editing it to feed my child and to quell her desperate cries. We were told to supplement with formula until my milk came in. In doing that, her fever went down and she was happy again, sleeping and not wailing. It was our first battle in keeping her fed of a war that I’m still fighting in the trenches for.
After that initial parenting drama, we made another realization– our baby would not sleep unless she was a) in our arms or b) on us or c) touching us. Pre birth, I had spoken a lot about how I wasn’t an advocate of co sleeping, because I thought it could be dangerous. But, our baby hated the Moses basket by our bed and would wail when we put her down. She thought the swing was a torture device, apparently. And she was not at all interested in the vibrating cuddle cove bassinet on her pack in play. So what did we have to do? Cosleep. Five weeks later, she just now is letting me put her in the swing to nap ( and that’s really short lived). What I realized about cosleeping: you really are at a light sleep, hyper aware of your baby. I generally wake up a few minutes before she does like some kind of baby radar, and if she moves or cries I’m wide awake. I guess that’s one of the biggest lessons: everything you thought you would do or how you would be— it’s all gonna go out the window.
Everyone tells you before baby, get all the sleep you can now, like you can stockpile sleep or something. I had a tough time sleeping the final months of my pregnancy, but I did get some sleep. With a newborn, you are lucky to get a few hours here or there. It’s tough. It’s exhausting. It’s beyond what you thought was exhausting. You are not unlike a Zombie, walking the earth in a state of near unconsciousness, attempting to just survive. We lost track of what day it was. All there was, it seemed, was feeding baby, burping baby, changing baby and begging for a nap.
Sleeping in tiny increments is not the same as an uninterrupted nights rest. I may get 6 total hours of “sleep”
Composed or micro naps, but ill feel like I’ve been awake for days. It’s rough. I avoided coffee in fear it would adversely effect my milk supply. I wish I would have just drank the dang stuff. Maybe my quality of life would have improved somewhat. It’s still a challenge at 5 weeks and I don’t see it getting better just yet— you are at the mercy of your baby’s schedule. The sleep deprivation is hard. You will feel like you are asleep at the wheel. Your brain function will suffer– don’t operate heavy machinery. After weeks on end you will start to think that you are highly functioning and that you’re ok– but you’re not really ok. You are sleep deprived and you are struggling. Ask for help even if you think you don’t need it.
For the first four to five weeks, you will feel like your baby, while a gorgeous and miraculous miracle— is kind of disconnected from you. She doesn’t really seem to see you. Her smiles are automatic reflexes. Her eyes are unfocused. It’s weird, because you stare at your baby for hours, marveling over this incredible little thing you made, bit sometimes there’s a feeling of just looking at the surface of water with no response. My husband took this harder than I did. She started looking at us at about 4 weeks. At a day away from 6 weeks, we have a smiling, cognizant baby— it’s really cool, and it makes you feel like you’re finally connecting with this tiny person you made.
At about six weeks, I’m not sure if it’s that things get easier or if you just start to get used to being a new parent, but it does get easier. And better. Trust me.