Hello from the other side! I’m just going to dive right into the deep end, no time for pleasantries!
The first three months of motherhood is really just an extension of pregnancy, only your baby lives outside of you, yet is still very much in development and you are still somewhat uncomfortable and not back to normal yet. In a lot of ways, babies are born three months too early (but biologically are designed to be born after 9 months gestation, otherwise brain size would physically prevent them from being able to be born at all). The fourth trimester is by far the most difficult, (certainly on me but almost positively for her) and I’ve been making mental notes along the way; in the dark moments of the early morning when I feel like I am the only person on earth awake who doesn’t want to be. Or the long, slow, bright moments of the day when I am in my house alone, desperately trying to figure out how to care for and entertain our baby by myself and not lose my marbles. Not wishing the minutes away, but counting them down until reinforcements arrive. Hooray! Another adult human appears! Here, take this baby, I need to shower, pee, eat, get dressed, etc (all of the above).
The first thing I learned, and learned quick, is that there is truly no way you can be prepared for the realty of bringing home your new baby. Read all of the things (including this blog!) and listen to all of your Momma friends and their experiences, but none of it will scratch the surface of what you’re up against, Sorry Momma. I remember mumbling something (stupid) to Rob the afternoon we got home from the hospital like “This hasn’t been that hard so far, why does everyone make such a big deal about this?” Cue the first night.
New Mom, the hurdle you have to trip over first is the wreckage your hormones cause. Everything is magnified times 100 and unfortunately you just have to ride it out. The first night home, I couldn’t sleep because I was terrified she would die if I put her down. But I didn’t want to sleep with her in my arms because I didn’t want her to roll off the bed (and die). So I just sat in bed and cried while clutching our tiny sleeping baby who had finally fallen asleep at 1:30 am. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. I could spend the next week rehashing some of our most beautiful moments (like the one above) but I’ll spare you. Instead, I want to iron out a list of things I learned, observed, realized, and accepted in these last few months with our sweet Elliott Joy. So maybe one of my new Mom friends will read this and feel even 1% more prepared than before (or terrified?). Or my veteran Mom friends will read this and laugh and think back on what was and smile; everything is hazy and wonderful in hindsight. Or maybe one day, if something crazy happens and I have another, I can re-read this and wonder “Why are we having another!?”
First and foremost, you and your significant other will need to be in the thick of it together as soon as you carry your new squish across the threshold of your home. I won’t even call it 50/50 because you’ll each see-saw back and forth on the percentages from one hour to the next. But lean hard on each other, you’ll be amazed at the depths you walk through together, each of you carrying the other in the harrowing throws of new parenthood. That first week is brutal and my husband astounded me with his mightiness when I was weak and reeling.
Secondly, have a friend (or two!) who is not very far removed from your situation that you can run to in the first few days/weeks when you are crumbling. Having a strong friend you can lean on who has already been there, done that BUT still remembers the acute feelings you’re going through is necessary, because you need validation. You need to be able to cry and speak your truth to your friend as you hold your baby and she holds hers in the middle of your living room floor. And she will tell you how NOT crazy you are, and that everything is normal and even though it’s terribly hard, it will soon pass and brighter days are ahead. But she will acknowledge that you are in the middle of the gruesome part and that’s what you need to hear. For someone to recognize that you’re crawling down a dimly lit cobblestone alley with no sense of direction. Then she will bring you a baby gadget that you didn’t know you needed (in my case a swing) that will totally transform your days for the better. Thank you Jamie Owen for your loyalty and friendship. I felt lost on a raft in the ocean and you helped bring me to shore and smile.
A heartfelt thank you to ALL of my friends who enriched our lives during this time. The part you played was specific and special and your care helped see us through the hard moments.
You need a tribe, and it takes one too. Find your people to lean on and call on them! Motherhood is NOT for the faint of heart and I never understood it until now. I’ve grown to realize that Moms just want to help other Moms and its a wonderful gift to be on the receiving end and now only recently, the giving end. A friend of mine made a comment one day that made a lot of sense. “We aren’t designed to be raising babies in a vacuum like we do today”. We are tribal, and this effort of raising a human is done best when surrounded by like minded individuals who will be with you, relate to you, guide and love you. It truly takes a village, so run hard and fast to the nearest one and set up your teepee and invite everyone that wants to join inside. Support one another!!
Nipple Butter, Cream, Oil, whatever. LOTS of it and from the very first latch. And in the early days, a leather strap to bite down on. Breastfeeding is a very hard thing to learn and settle into, but it’s worth it and you’ll get there if you want to. Nursing is one of my favorite things to do with my daughter now. If anyone reading this has ANY questions about breastfeeding, or you’re on the fence, please reach out to me. I would love to talk to you, hear you out and then share what I’ve learned.
In the first few days and weeks, you’ll desperately try to search for and cling to some shred of “routine” that just won’t come. You will miss what you had, how dependable and easy your days before were, and how now there is no rhyme or reason to the rhythm of your days and nights. Everything will seem fragmented- because it is. Just let it be; a pattern will begin to emerge after awhile but until then, do your best to relax and go with the baby for now. You are his/her whole entire world. Let that sink in. Do NOT succumb to the pressure of the word “Schedule”. Schedules cannot exist within the confines of the fourth trimester.
When you feel physically ready, go back to doing what makes you YOU. For me, it was getting back in the gym. The time away was necessary- your body requires a long healing process and should be rewarded with just that. For Heaven’s sake, REST. But after four weeks, my mind needed the gym more than my body did. So I went back to Crossfit, and it brought me immense clarity and joy back at home. I could process the stress and sleep deprivation better when being able to workout a few times a week. The ratio of me crying and me working out are definitely negatively correlated.
The internet and your friends are amazing resources. But take caution, EVERY baby is different. What worked for them may not work for you and your baby. This is not a failure on your part. Move on and love your baby (and yourself for that matter). Find friends who support your wishes and decisions because they will be the ones to help grow you into them.
It’s okay to be sad, angry, enraged, resentful. The lever will swing the other way too and you will also feel fulfilled, in love, happy, and thankful. Whatever thoughts you have, know that another Mom has felt them too- you aren’t alone.
At around 8 weeks, Ellie’s personality really began to shine. She also fell into a pattern which helped me navigate our days together tremendously. I was able to help guide her sleep habits a little, and it felt good to learn how to nurture her in the right ways at the right times. It was during this time I really began to fall in love with her and the idea that I was really a Mom (and maybe a decent one).
Get out of the house; early and often! We took Ellie out somewhere once a day beginning her first week of life. Was it terrifying? Yep. Did it require lots of energy and pre-planning? Sure did. But we made a conscious choice not to hide inside the house. Crawling out from under the sheets into the sunshine was an important step in ensuring my foundation for being a Mom was set up right. I wanted to be independent and flexible and I wanted my baby to as well. Plus, this was the first time since I was 15 that I was getting a break from work! I didn’t want to spend it locked in my house like it was the Cold War. We were healthy, so it was something I was comfortable with, even though it was laced with a little anxiety at first. What if she cries? She did. What if she gets sick? She didn’t. And now, after two months, running an errand or making plans with a friend is something I look forward to! She doesn’t mind being in her car seat and she falls right to sleep when traveling in the car usually. I can get her out and nurse her or entertain her if I need to without wondering how she will react for the most part. So, when you feel up to it, get dressed and get out and about. I made plenty of trips to Target and Starbucks just to have something to do on some days. 🙂 Want to meet up? I’d love to meet you somewhere!
Very recently (like within the last two weeks) while up in the quiet dark hours of the morning nursing my daughter, I had a revelation about all of this. Motherhood is lopsided. I have the most committed and nurturing husband and partner to help in almost every way. He truly wants to be involved in all areas and does an incredible job being a Dad. But, Motherhood is still lopsided. During the first several weeks, this bothered me a lot. I resented the moments where I had a job to do and no one else could do it and it secretly made me mad at Rob. I was angry that I couldn’t sleep through the night anymore and that often my basic needs were shelved to care for another (with no end in sight!). But you know what Rob was doing when I had to care for Ellie? Literally EVERYTHING ELSE. But in an instant, I realized this was the beautiful design of it. It was supposed to be lopsided, it’s this way for a reason and I believe those reasons are in fluid motion for the rest of your child’s life. Once I knew this to be true, I was able to rejoice in my role as a Mom and not resent it. I let go of [most] of the frustration that had nestled into the small cavities of my emotional library and I stepped forward. “I volunteer as tribute!” Moms, you are called to the front of the line for a reason. Find your why, and march forward. You’ll be infinitely more at peace when you are able to do this.
Not too long ago, a friend asked me “Do you even remember what life was like before she came?” My answer was quick- “Yep! Sure do.” I haven’t forgotten what our life was before Elliott joined us. It was certainly easier in many ways and we could come and go with little planning or thought. And leaving the house didn’t feel like fleeing your home from all of the various totes and bags and supplies required now. Oh, I remember it. But I’m also stunned at the thought of her not being here. That we could have missed her if God’s timing wasn’t what it was. I admit that our life now, filled with her precious little voice, is far more pleasurable than our wayfaring days prior. And I’m totally going to say the most cliché thing now- it’s only getting better (and we still have another month to go in this bittersweet fourth trimester).
I know I know, it’s a vertical video. It’s still way cute.