As I begin this post, I am writing in the middle of a squirmy toy tornado. Estella, now nine months, is playing with her little friend L. L is an older woman by nearly five months, and way more mobile than E. She’s staring at me now, regarding me seriously as she carefully balances, standing against the couch where I write with laptop op schoot (on lap). She doesn’t let me out of her sight. Estella is on her belly, sliding along our smooth laminate floors like a lizard.
Life now goes by like the hands of a crazy-clock: four o’clock! It was just noon like ten minutes ago.
I found that different in the ‘survive and thrive’ phase. Time. Went. By. So. Slowly.
I breastfed E every three hours during the day, and at night sometimes she would give us a five hour run of sleep from say, midnight to five. I am so not good without sleep. I think I expected some earlier version of my college self to re-emerge and become energetic again, but nope. I felt every one of those subsequent eleven years.
After the fourth trimester, the rest of the first three months were spent trying to learn Estella. Along with many other things, I had bought into the idea that motherhood, being a natural occurrence, should also feel natural. I would just intuit my baby. I also had experience: from the age of eleven I had business cards printed with balloons, my name and telephone number, was CPR-certified, and lugged a traveling babysitter’s bag with age appropriate games to every client. Unlike those baffling women who claimed to have never held a baby before they had their own, I was leaning on twenty-two years of experience.
Motherhood is a different playing field. Those first months you don’t yet know your own child. They’re a completely new, unique person. There’s a learning curve. And add sleep deprivation. You have a thousand new decisions to make, and you can’t think clearly. It’s the Bermuda triangle in your head. I remember trying to figure out how to wear a baby sling and our collapse our stroller to take outside in one day. My head almost exploded. But what mostly frightened me was the idea that I was now somebody’s mother. I had never felt the responsibility of keeping someone alive before.
But as someone pointed out to me, your main goal is survival. And somehow your tiny helpless human will go from a helpless newborn, to a wobbly-headed little baby, to a bigger baby with more neck control. And enjoying the ride helps too.
Things I wish someone had told me in the first three months:
- Breastfeeding may not come ‘naturally.’ Lesson learned: if you’re fighting to breastfeed, contact your LaLeche league or pay the money to speak with a lactation consultant.
I clawed and fought for my right to breastfeed Estella. I think I might have cried every day for the first eight weeks of E’s life; at the hardest point, somewhere around the first month, I cried before every feeding. It hurt. Like nails. I had infections twice and a 103 fever. I had to spend roughly an hour in the shower every day to painfully knead the lumps out. And then I had an overproduction that caused issues. After consulting a lactation consultant, I adjusted my feeding position, pumped for a few days to let those puppies heal, and then slowly breastfeeding got easier. And three months later when we got on a plane to Switzerland, I was oh so happy that E had easy access to her food. Some women just can’t breastfeed, and that’s okay. There is something so sweet about holding your baby close and feeding him or her, breast or bottle.
(My sister-in-law and I taking over the couch.)
- Take baby steps with sleep training. Lesson learned: some babies (ours) don’t know how to tell you what they need. It is up for you as the parent to help them find their rhythm and schedule accordingly. (This does not include the fourth trimester! Do whatever works for you those first weeks!)
I know that the words ‘sleep training’ can tend to send chills down some people’s spines. It denotes a stricter (some may even argue colder) version of parenting. For us it was important to begin the road to train E, but not to push her too much. Sleep training is best taken on a case-by-case basis. Some babies (such as my friend’s twins) thrived on the Baby Wise (parent-scheduled) method. Others have beautiful results from using an attachment-parenting style. For us, it was somewhere in the middle. I was so tired and at my wits end, so much so that I would wake up many mornings saying Frans, we’ve got to do something. I can’t take much more of this. I feel like I’m about to throw myself in the canal. But I didn’t, and we learned to take sleep training step by step.
For us, the three cardinal rules were: First, Baby sleeps in own bed. With a few rare exceptions, E slept in her bassinet (in our room), and not in our bed.
Second, try not to give Baby sleep associations. I read on the website Troublesome Tots that small babies expect to awake to the exact same conditions they fell asleep in. Fell asleep feeding? They awake literally in a panic, expecting to feel that same nipple in their mouth. If it’s not there, they cry out in fear, expecting that it’s gone forever. Now Baby is good and awake. So we never fed E to sleep, but instead used ‘eat, play, sleep’ rhythms (one thing we took from Baby Wise). And we put her down while she was sleepy, but awake (again, sleep associations).
Third, Baby may cry a few minutes before she sleeps. It does not mean she’s not sleepy. It hurt my soul to let E cry all alone in her bassinet, but she seemed to be crying all the time, in almost an overtired way. She was. We finally let E cry before sleep, and soon found out that she seemed to almost need to cry before she fell asleep (no more than five or ten minutes at this age). We also found out that when E is tired, she becomes almost hyperactive. We just thought She’ll fall asleep when she’s tired. So not true for our girl. She still needs to be put to bed (which means that we as her parents have to direct her schedule) and still has rare moments of crying (but mostly chatters to herself) before bed. (To be continued…)
- Keep baby close. Baby wants and needs to be near his or her mama or daddy. I wish I had spent more time skin-to-skin while I had the chance. But baby carriers are great for times you can’t walk around scantily clad. They also give you two free hands, which make you feel almost the same as you used to on a girls’ night out. Two free hands is now the equivalent to cute shoes, spirited talk, and wine. Another amazing thing about parenthood: so little now means so much.
- If you feel like all you’re doing is feeding Baby, burping Baby, diapering Baby, and trying to get Baby to sleep, you’re not doing anything wrong. This is just how it can be early on. It gets better.
- Try to take 10-15 minutes a day just for you. For some of you it may mean going to Target alone at night, or for a walk. For me, it meant lying like a tired blob in bed under the covers and listening to a liturgical Christian app called Pray as you Go. Or taking a shower by candlelight (a bath is better, if you have it). Even those 10-15 minutes can do amazing things to recharge you.
- Nap when Baby does. Nap as often as you can, as long as you can. No apologies. As my mama learned as a new mother and passed down to me, “Sometimes napping is the most spiritual thing you can do.”
7. Your sweet, darling, soft-skinned baby MAY or MAY NOT get baby acne during this phase. I was shocked, and even thought something was wrong. I even tried covering E’s head with blankets, which made me feel like Michael Jackson. E will kill me some day, but here’s how bad hers was:
Don’t feel bad! It’s normal and will pass.
Before you know it, you’ll be the proud parent of a drooling, laughing, smiling cutie and even start missing the small baby days. Time will begin to feel normal, and before you know it, the hands on the clock will spin like crazy and you’ll find yourself with a baby who has baby friends and can play independently with toys as you write a blog. Or something like it.