Tuesday, March 29, 2011

An Open Letter to The New Mother

Dear New Mom,
Everyone says these days are short - they have it wrong. The days are long, long, long - it's the years that are short.
It may seem like life will be a sleep-deprived-never-getting-anything-done existence into eternity.
This will end. And even when you're trying to live in the present and enjoy every baby noise (even when it's making your skin crawl) or every baby smell (even when you realize there is literally breast milk cheese that has formed in your baby's rolls) or relishing in the power of growing a human with your milk (even when that baby is pinching your skin and reminding you that they need their nails trimmed) - you'll still want it back. In your foggy memories when you think back to this time - the first three months in particular - it will be a blur.
That thing they call "Mommy Amnesia"?
It's 100% true.
You'll forget how tired you felt.
How frustrated you felt at not having completed a to-do list with three easy tasks scrawled out onto it.
You'll forget just how tiny and helpless your child was.
But while you're living in it, and it feels like eternity ...

Gather a like minded community of parents around you. Some that have slightly older kids (to offer advice and support), some with kids the same age (so you can reassure yourself that waking up 72 times a night is normal), some with kids a big younger than your own (so you can remind yourself where you've been and how much has already changed).

Pick one thing to accomplish a day - a load of laundry, going to the library, organizing a book shelf - whatever. It doesn't matter what it is - just pick one task that has a start and finish. At the end of the day when you've completed that one task, it is very satisfying. It may take all day to accomplish - that's okay. Just do one thing. If you get time for "bonus" to-dos -great. But don't even think about bonuses until you've completed that one task.

Dinner is an all day adventure. If you choose to make dinner, start in the morning. Make casseroles or crock pot meals. Do prep work as you can throughout the day for your casserole and put it in the fridge until you're ready to cook it. Prep crock pot meals the day before.

Accept meals from family and friends. People want to help, and this is a concrete way that they can. You will probably feel overwhelmed by the generosity of your community. Freeze as much of these meals as you can. Ration yourself for nights you and your spouse don't feel that you can manage to cook dinner.

Write your birth story. This may seem overwhelming, but do it. With our first child I was so overwhelmed with the birth experience (not really in a good way) that I didn't want to relive it by typing it out. I actually think it would have helped me process it better. Our second birth was incredible and when I wrote it out it ended up being seven pages long. What a treasure for our children!

Ask for help. This baby thing is hard, hard, hard. Even when you're feeling on top of your parenting game, your child is blissful 95% of their days and nights - it's still hard work. It's tiring being so intensely needed - so ask for help. When friends or family come to visit and want to help - of course let them hold the baby, but also ask them to start supper, throw in a load of laundry, clean the litter box - whatever. YOUR job is to hang out with your baby as much as possible.

You too will understand more why people shake babies. It is normal to get to the point where you want to hurt your infant. This feeling doesn't make you a bad parent. What makes you a good parent is when you recognize the feeling and don't act on it. Put the baby in the middle of the room on the floor (it's not going anywhere) or in its crib (if you have one set up) and walk into another room to calm down.

Breastfeeding is natural but it's not easy
. It will be hard at first. It's not just you. It will be toe-curling-give-me-labor-back-please! It takes time for you to figure out how to position everything and it takes time for your baby to figure out nursing. Give it time. Tell yourself you're going to give it 2 weeks. Then 6 weeks. Then 6 months. Then a year. Then two years. If you think about a potential two-year commitment ... that might be daunting. First things first, two weeks. Have lanolin on hand for your nipples. Have a glass of water every time you sit down to nurse. You will be thirsty. Very thirsty. Don't watch the clock. Watch your baby. If they are rooting, they want to nurse - even if they unlatched 2 minutes ago. Oh - and in the end it's way way easier than alternative feeding methods, as far as I can tell.

You may not fall in love at first sight. This doesn't mean you're not a loving parent. You may not realize how much you love your child. When Ark Boy was born I kept expecting his "real" parents to come and pick him up, I was only responsible for babysitting for so long, right? When he was taken out of the room (the one and only time) right before we left the hospital I turned into a caged animal that paced and finally marched out of the room to go and locate him. He was gone for approximately 3 minutes. With Farm Girl we weren't feeling all in love either but at three days when Ark Boy ran across the room, landing on Farm Girl's belly in his stride, Ren Man and I both had a strong reaction. The love is there, even if you don't realize it.

When your baby cries, pick s/he up. No matter what anybody says, if a baby fusses, they need something. They aren't manipulating you or playing games. They are incredibly dependent and have no other way of communicating. They need to be with people. Hold them. As often as you can. Yes, they may need more milk, a diaper change, a nap ... or they just might want to be with you.

Wear your baby. This will be a life saver. You will be hands free and your baby will be right near your body - where they need to be. Slings, wraps, mei tais - all excellent choices. Avoid bjorn/snuggli style carriers at all costs. Better for babies to be in arms than be in one of these carriers.

Sleep with your baby. Research shows that when you cosleep safely (no fluffy bedding near the baby, no plush mattresses, no overweight cosleeping family members, no smokers, no intoxicated parents) babies risk for SIDS reduces dramatically. This is the safest place for your baby to be at night, hands down. It also makes for a more rested nursing mother who does not need to leave the bed at night to feed the baby. In fact, I would suggest not bothering to set up the crib until you find you need it. For Ark Boy that was around 7mos, for Farm Girl around 5mos. At that point we would have been comfortable just putting a mattress on the floor for them (but we already had a crib on hand).

Follow your baby's cues. Everything I've suggested above is helpful - but if you're baby doesn't like to be worn, don't do it. It doesn't make you less of a parent to listen to your baby's preferences. If your baby seems to sleep better in their own bed ... follow their lead.

Above all: Follow your own instincts! Sometimes it's hard to figure out what is instinct and what is cultural norm. Generally though, if it doesn't feel right to you, it isn't right for you or your family. This can be tricky because what feels "right" for me, might not feel "right" to the next family. Listen to all the advice you can handle but then filter the advice through your own "gut" and see if it fits with you and your family. This means you may not agree with the pediatrician who keeps asking if you're still breastfeeding. You may not agree with your parent who insist that you're spoiling your baby for picking it up when it cries.
Trust yourself.
Above all else.
Trust yourself.

Add more tips/advice in the comments!


MiddleJo said...

Very insightful.

According to Tracy, Squared said...

No advice to share, for obvious reasons. But boy, did this tug at my heart strings! You know where I stand on this issue-the countdown is on! :-)