I was 42 years old when
I had my first son and I had never changed a diaper in my life. I had never
babysat an infant. I could count on one hand the number of newborn babies I'd
even held. Let that sink in for a minute.
When my first son was born, my husband was deployed to the
Middle East. He was able to come home for the birth (a C-section) and
stay for two weeks. That was it. Then he was gone again for five months.
I do not have any family in the state (in fact, my family is
nonexistent and my husband's family lives several states away); my closest
friends have a daughter who is eight weeks younger than my son, so they were a
little busy when I needed help. To say my support system was thin would be an
understatement. Some days, the most support I got was from the Starbucks
barista who would ask, "Are you doing OK?"
For five months, it was Baby
and me and self-doubt makes three. But somehow, I survived. Hell, I guess I even
thrived, because we went on to conceive our second son seven months after my
husband came home from deployment. Thankfully, he was home for that birth.
So, how did I do it? How did I make it through five months
of solo parenting a newborn while nursing a C-section incision, maintaining a
career as a freelance writer and editor, and also taking care of a home and the
menagerie of pets that came before baby? It wasn't easy. Honestly, much of the
time is a blur of days and experiences and crying jags and—yes, I swear—moments
of pure joy. Here are a few things that helped me. Maybe they'll help you, too.
1. I stocked up on paper plates.
When you are sleep-deprived, the fewer chores you have to do, the better.
Seriously. A friend told me about this before I had my son and I know I rolled my eyes. But let me tell you something: When you are sleep-deprived, the fewer chores you have to do, the better. I could still eat something halfway nutritious without moaning over the dishes. And yes, I have a dishwasher, but the loading and unloading of a dishwasher is even more exhausting when you're already exhausted. Invest in a 500 pack of paper plates and don't suffer a moment's guilt over using them. For that matter, stock up on aluminum foil and any other disposable product that will make your life easier. You can save the environment when baby is older and sleeping through the night.
2. I got a mail order subscription for important things like diapers, wipes, baby formula and wine.
OK I'm just kidding about the wine. (Am I?) If you use a subscription service like Amazon Offers, you save yourself a trip to the store and can save 10-20 percent off retail prices, too. It's one less thing to worry about. The caveat is you have to time your subscription to your needs so you don't run out, and that can be tricky when baby is little. You also need to remember to size-up on the diapers, though I found Amazon to be very good about exchanging the wrong size. Having a spare package on hand helps prevent running out before the next month's delivery. It's nice not having to think about buying diapers, especially since you will need them for at least a couple of years (or more, in our case).
3. I reduced my laundry burden by buying extras of everything baby or things I used the most.
I hate doing laundry. And having a baby means having a lot more laundry. Those little buggers go through onesies like they're Kleenex. And so I bought (and was given) extras—a lot of extras, along with other things like crib sheets, receiving blankets (which are basically all-purpose cloths used for everything from a clean surface on which to change baby to burp cloths to "it's not quite as warm as I thought today" blankets) and baby socks (which get lost all the time). For myself, I bought extra bath towels, yoga pants and T-shirts. That way, even when I didn't do laundry for two weeks (which only happened once or twice, I swear), at least Baby and I were dressed in clean clothes.
4. When someone asked, "What do you need?" I gave (or should have given) them an answer.
Don't try to do it all yourself. There are no awards given out for being a martyr to motherhood.
And the answer was not, "I don't need anything. I'm fine!" I learned this one the hard way, folks. I am a stubborn, independent, do-everything-myself woman, and it took me years to figure out what a dumb thing that is. I still fight it every day. If I had to go back to those first few months when I was alone and a friend or even an acquaintance asked, "What do you need?" I would say, "I could really use a nap. Could you watch the baby for an hour while I lie down?" or "A casserole or fruit salad would be great!" or "I need a few things from the grocery store, if you happen to be in the area." Be specific in both your needs and the time frame in which you need it. If someone genuinely asks what you need, give them a genuine answer. Don't try to do it all yourself. There are no awards given out for being a martyr to motherhood. Trust me. Otherwise I'd have the biggest freaking trophy you've ever seen sitting on my mantle.
5. I found a babysitter.
Even if you are a stay-at-home mom (or a write-at-home mom, like me), you will need a break from baby. Repeat: You will need a break from baby. I did everything myself 24/7 for nine weeks before I finally hired a part-time babysitter (who was also a family friend) so that I could get out of the house for 20 hours a week to write, edit and run those errands that are difficult to do with an infant in tow (doctors' appointments and hair appointments, mostly).
It was as if the sun came out and the angels sang the first time I was able to leave my house without a baby and all his accoutrements. Yes, of course it is hard to leave your newborn—I know! It was hard to leave him even with someone I'd known for years (and I still came home early), but it was good for me and it was good for him. There was something to be said for me getting a little alone time, even when it was mostly to work. I was a calmer, more patient mother just because I had that little bit of time to be alone with my thoughts. My house was generally cleaner too because I didn't want the sitter to think I was a complete slob. So even if it's only for a few hours a week, get a sitter.
Yes, I know the old adage, "Sleep when the baby sleeps." And that may be exactly what you need to do. But, for me, napping sometimes felt like a bad use of the time—especially in those early months before I got a babysitter and was growing quite desperate to write something, anything, other than an email to my deployed husband. And so I learned to go with my needs of the day.
If baby took two naps a day, I might spend one resting (I'm a horrible napper) and the other one writing. Or I'd catch up on the handful of television shows I watched during one his naps and do some cleaning during the other. It made me feel much happier and more centered to be able to allot those hours to what I felt I needed to do. In my case, I was happier being a little (sometimes a lot) tired having written a couple thousand words than I would have been having napped for two hours and not written anything. Your mileage will vary depending on your needs. If you need to nap, nap. But if you're feeling OK because baby slept for six hours straight last night — well, do whatever makes you happy.
7. I learned to go with the flow.
Your life is forever changed by that little bundle, and while I certainly know mothers who were able to give birth and return to a "normal" life without hardly missing a step, cut yourself some slack. Hell, cut yourself a lot of slack. Life has changed. Learn to roll with the experiences rather than expect perfection or beat yourself up over perceived failures. It really will all work out. I promise.
After 42 years of being child-free, I looked at
motherhood as kind of an apocalyptic event. I absolutely wanted to be a mother,
I knew that much, but I had no idea what to expect. Because of my lack of
experience, I tended to expect the worst. I expected that I'd wake up one
morning and not recognize myself. And yeah, that sort of happened. But it
wasn't the dire, doom-and-gloom moment that crazy pregnancy hormones convinced
me it was going to be. My life had changed. Drastically. Dramatically. But it
was OK. Babies are resilient little creatures who grow into amazing, quirky little kids.
Life has changed, and it's incredible.