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The first few weeks after welcoming a new baby are a
time of magic and beauty. Also, they are a time of chaos.
Meconium. Spit-up. Lochia.
Cracked nipples. Dirty bottles. Crying (both the infant and parental kind).
And, of course, the cruel, cruel torture of sleep deprivation.
Magic and beauty notwithstanding, the newborn stage is a
tough parenting stage to love. For me, it took until my third baby before I even
tried loving those first six agonizing weeks. What I realize now is that all I needed to do was learn what to
love about the newborn weeks and how, exactly, to love them.
Eventually, I embraced everything even implied by
"all-day pajamas." Other new-baby parents might want to try this, too.
What I mean is just giving in to things that make you comfortable. Binge-watch all the shows you've ever (or never)
wanted to watch. (My third baby's newborn weeks helped introduce my husband and
me to "Game of Thrones" and "Keeping up with the Kardashians"—an odd pairing of
highbrow and unnaturally-sculpted lowbrow.) Also, eat breakfast, lunch and dinner on
After you shower (if you shower), change out of last night's pajamas into fresh,
clean pajamas. Live like a college student during finals week, except instead
of studying for five exams, stay up all night studying how to feed, clean and
soothe a brand new human being.
I have to admit: at times, pajama-life was kind of
fun. Even when those pajamas got soaked by a leaky diaper.
out and accept help that makes the most sense for you and your family
By the time my third baby was born, I'd finally
learned exactly what kind of postpartum help I needed—and what kind of help I
didn't need. As I discovered, it can take a bit of creativity (or firmness) to ensure
that the postpartum help you receive truly helps you, and truly helps you enjoy
your time with your baby.
So, if your far-flung friends and family want to do
something to help you, but they can't visit you? Ask them to send restaurant
gift cards or purchase a week of cleaning services for you. Or ask your night owl
friend to text you encouraging messages when it's 2 a.m. and you're wide awake
with a screaming baby.
If a lactation consultant makes you feel more guilty
than empowered? Stop. Find a new one. Or don't find another one at all. Remember
that you are doing a great job no matter how you feed your baby.
"Sleep while the baby sleeps" is one of the most useless mantras people share with new parents.
If someone really wants to bring you a meal, but you're already stocked up on food? Ask them to bring you dinner when your baby is 2 or 3 months old. Life will still be chaotic then, but fewer people will be offering you free food.
And if that chatty neighbor with no sense of boundaries wants to "stop by and hold the baby for a while"? See above: answer the door in your pajamas. Help yourself and send the message loud and clear: You are recovering from childbirth. If you've had a cesarean section, you are recovering from major abdominal surgery. You are not there to entertain anyone, let alone make mildly amusing conversation.
the thing that makes you feel most like you when the baby sleeps
Though a nice idea in theory, "Sleep while the baby
sleeps" is one of the most useless mantras people share with new parents. In my
experience, the mantra itself often made me feel guilty. Sleeping while the
baby slept was just one more thing that I should have been doing but wasn't.
But once I gave up the idea that I had to sleep while
the baby slept, I embraced my infant's sleeping hours with a new sense of calm.
Sometimes I slept. But most times, I didn't. Because I needed to eat. And
shower. And use the bathroom. And perform all the other basic life tasks that
become nearly impossible to complete when there's a brand new human being in
Sometimes I even fixed my hair, brushed on some
mascara and put on some nice clothes. It made me feel human and whole. And
though sleep was important, feeling like myself again—at least as much as I
could—seemed just as important.
Just because I loved my third baby's newborn stage doesn't mean that everyone can, or should, love that stage.
Then, of course, there were times when I simply
wanted to cuddle my sleeping baby while I sat, wide awake, staring at those chubby cheeks and marveling at the new life that I had ushered into the world.
Sleep while the baby sleeps? Not a chance.
that not every baby-banshee moment lasts forever
There always seems to have been a moment during the
newborn weeks when I thought to myself, "Oh no. This is going to be my life.
Forever. Colic. No sleep. Nursing every two hours. Zero mental capacity. For
the rest of my life."
But once the third baby was born, I could more easily
tell myself, "This too shall pass." And I could believe it, too. I had two
older, non-newborn children to prove it.
The life-altering challenges of the newborn weeks do
pass. And better yet, parents are under no obligation to find those moments
magical or beautiful. Learning to love the newborn stage does not entail that
one love every second of that stage.
out when darkness threatens to overwhelm the light
Just because I loved my third baby's newborn stage
doesn't mean that everyone can, or should, love that stage. In fact, I'm not
sure that I could have loved my first child's newborn weeks so easily, even if I
had learned all that I know now about enjoying those first few weeks of
Before I could do much loving at all, I needed to say
out loud, to my husband and to my doctor, "I'm hurting. I don't feel normal. I
think I need help."
Seeking support for a postpartum mood disorder is a radical act of self-care and
love. And it is far more important than learning to love the newborn stage.
If you've learned to love the newborn stage, help
someone else love it, too. Make a meal train for a new family. Tell a new mom that
she's doing an amazing job. Lend your support to legislation that promotes paid
maternity and paternity leave.
When we support each other, we make it easier for all
of us to love the newborn stage.