Those first few months of my first son’s life are a bit foggy. Even though it was only two years ago, I have had to really think to try to remember some of the nitty-gritty details. It’s amazing how much sleep deprivation can affect your ability to form and hold onto memories. Thank goodness for photos. Without them my son’s first year would be a total and utter blur.
I am attempting to learn from any mistakes made or missteps my husband and I might have taken in those early days of Jake’s life as we prepare for our second son to arrive in the fall. I know that we’ll have all the basics down, obviously. There will certainly be more of an ease as we deal with a newborn. We won’t be as squeamish about cutting his nails, and bath time will be a breeze. The day his umbilical cord falls off will still most likely result in a slight gag on my part, but I’ll be ready for it. These details don’t concern me. I’m trying to remember the bigger picture – the thoughts and emotions and fears that we stressed about. I want to remind myself of important information that I wish someone had told me at the time. Here is what I have come up with so far:
1. Newborns aren’t supposed to sleep through the night.
You can hope for the best all you want, and you might have a newborn exception on your hands who sleeps 12 hours in her first week of life, but for the most part, newborns should not be expected to sleep for long stretches at night. If yours does, jump for joy, embrace your full night’s sleep, and keep the information to yourself, because I can guarantee that your sleep-deprived friend who is waking up every hour or two with her new baby doesn’t want to hear it.
When Jake was born, everyone told me that he’ll start giving me six hours as soon as he was X weeks old or X lbs. The magical weight or age changed depending on whom I was talking to. Others told me that all I had to do was read any number of popular baby books (which I had done) and swaddle him (which he escaped with Houdini-like speed at every attempt). Nothing worked. My son hardly ever gave me more than an hour at a time. If we were lucky, I got two hours.
After two weeks of basically zero sleep for me, I wondered why the hell he was sleeping no differently from when I brought him home from the hospital. What I needed someone to tell me was the harsh truth. I needed someone to say that it would be a while before I should expect him to sleep for long stretches, that it will be hard, but that I’ll be able to do it. If I didn’t have unrealistic expectations, I think I could have better mentally prepared myself for the long haul.
2. I need to go easier on myself this next time around.
Because I had all of these expectations of what life with a newborn should be like, I was putting an incredible amount of pressure on myself to continue to be the over-achieving, productive person I was before the baby. When my son was about two months old, we got into a little routine where he would wake up around 7 a.m. (after his one-hour-long spurts all night long), and I would take him into the living room where I’d put him in his swing. While gently rocking back and forth, he would sleep until 10 a.m., which let me sleep for nearly three hours on the couch beside him – the only three-hour stretch of sleep I would get on any given day.
But this meant that I was sleeping until 10 a.m. almost every day, and I would get angry at myself. “I can’t sleep until 10 every day!” I would exclaim to my husband. That’s so lazy of me! Before Jake I would wake up at 6 every morning. What kind of person had I become, sleeping until all hours of the morning?? These were actual thoughts that went through my head.
But once again, I needed someone to tell me that it’s ok. If I was getting sleep from 7-10 a.m., then that’s when I was getting sleep. My only job was to take care of the baby and myself during those first few months, and I was failing miserably at that second part.
3. Bonding and a feeling of elation for the baby might not come right away.
I had a really difficult birth with Jake, and then when we got him home he was a colicky mess for months on end. I was recovering from a c-section, not sleeping, and this small human was just yelling at me every step of the way. Looking back, I’m pretty sure I was suffering from a bit of post-partum depression, but I didn’t know it at the time.
I loved Jake, and felt an almost animal-like instinct to protect him, but it took some time before I felt joy and bonded to him. I remember talking to my best friend on the phone not long after he was born. I told her how hard I found this new parent thing to be. She asked, “But aren’t you the happiest you’ve ever been now that he’s here?!” I felt awful because I wasn’t. I didn’t feel happy in the true sense of the word, and I thought something was wrong with me. It turns out that this happens to a lot of women. The people who make up the support system for new moms shouldn’t immediately assume that new a baby equals bundle of joy. At least not right away.
Once again, I know plenty of people who bonded instantly with their babies and were gaga for them from the second they were born. I wish that were the case for me, but it wasn’t. And that’s ok.
Once Jake and I got into a groove and some time passed, I became utterly obsessed with him, and I grow more in love with him every day – even when he’s throwing the food I made all over the floor…