Things I Learned During The First Three Months

Tomorrow marks my last day of maternity leave.  Since tomorrow Scott is taking the day off so we can spend it together as a family, I thought I would write a few things down today to mark the occasion. This has been simultaneously the best and most challenging time of my life. There is very little I could compare it to, and after weeks of commiserating with friends, I know I’m not alone in this feeling.

1) I was really glad not to be pregnant anymore. Despite the sleep challenges, or sleep hell, we faced with Abigail, I still got better sleep once she was on the outside. For everyone who said, “Oh just wait until the baby is here, then you’ll really know what it’s like not to be able to sleep,” or some variation therein, I have about 80+ days in the past ~90 where I slept better than I did my entire pregnancy. Everyone’s experience is different, and for me being pregnant was terrible. Aside from the cupcakes. I haven’t had a cupcake in more than a month and I have moments where I think it would be nice to get knocked up again, just to go bananas on a red velvet cupcake.

2) Listen to your mother-effing instincts, yo, Part 1. The first two days of Abigail’s life will go down in the record books for me as the 48 hours where I felt as though I was on top of the world. I was Earth Mother. I could conquer the world and bake a cake (Mmmm. Cake…) simultaneously. And then some pushy person who felt that because she had two kids of her own and worked in post-delivery she could scoff at how we were getting along. And then someone else did the same thing, only with different advice, just hours later. From then on, I spent weeks reading Web sites, blogs, books and anything else I could get my hands on to tell me what to do just so another professional person wouldn’t tell me I was Doing It Wrong. And every move Abigail made frightened me, because it didn’t sound like everyone else’s kid’s move, and it paralyzed me in a fashion that scares me in a way I can’t articulate.

My sister reminded me, time and again, that every single time I listened to my instincts, everything went OK. After about eight weeks, I finally let myself believe her. I stopped reading everything but The Wonder Weeks and … actually, that’s about it. Here is what I’ve learned about everyone and their parenting advice: EFF THEM. And, really, what I’m referring to here is what is commonly known as “assvice,” when people who think they can do it better, and that you’re doing it wrong, feel compelled to tell you what to do. Aside from the emergency colic kits – which, again, in my book doesn’t qualify as advice, and will only be delivered with this message: “If you’re at the end of your rope at 3 a.m. and nothing will settle your kid, break this open and see if this helps, it helped us.” – unless someone asks me for my advice, I’m not giving it to them. End of story.

You will never be able to convince me there is anything remotely OK with looking at parents in the first three months of their child’s life and giving them unsolicited opinion or advice or to play Parent Pain Olympics with them. Why? Because this was the last thing I wanted these past three months and so I’m going to respect that. I would never turn away any of my friends who asked me for help or advice or a retelling of our experience, but I’ll be damned if I ever look at someone and say, “Well, you know…” or “Just you wait…” or anything remotely resembling this. The only thing that seems to be universal from all new parents is the need for unsolicited love and praise and support and prayers.

3) Stockpile meals. Hands down, smartest thing I did. Lasted us for weeks.

4) Listen to your mother-effing instincts, yo, Part 2. We never intended for Abigail to sleep on us. We never intended to spend so much time with her in our arms, bouncing on an exercise ball in the middle of her nursery. We never intended to feed her formula. We never intended to exclusively use disposable diapers. We never intended for me to have a c-section, much less use any drugs of any kind, and labor for hours and hours unmedicated before that. We never intended for me not to leave the house for more than five weeks.

But, you know, shit happened.

Abigail is now a great sleeper, and we have our evenings, and our persons, back. She’s a happy baby, who giggles and smiles a lot, and while we still use white noise about once a day when she’s being a total stubborn crank who won’t go to sleep, there isn’t such the production to get her to sleep, let alone into her crib. As promised by everyone, it got better, time passed on, and while maybe it might have been easier had we just done other things differently, we did what we thought was right for our child at the time. She has reflux, had colic, and for a solid seven weeks she was a screaming, inconsolable mess of a little baby girl, for at least four to five hours every night, and it slowly ripped each one of my organs into a million tiny little pieces every day.

While it sucked as it happened, I don’t regret all of the meals missed, or hurriedly shoved into our pieholes, because we had to dance the crazy dance for Abigail to be soothed enough to sleep. I don’t regret the hours spent on the 5 Ss, and all of the times the swaying numbed my forearms. I don’t regret industry news that escaped my notice, the world events that passed me by or the people I didn’t see because I was sitting in a glider on the south side of Chicago, still as a corpse, all so that my daughter could finally get some rest. My approaches now are more effective, but she’s also older and so are we. None of this now would be possible without what we did to get where we are now. I’m certain I’ll say the same things about the things I do now, weeks and months from now.

As for everything else, I generally forget I had major surgery three months ago, save for the wobbly core that rears its head during a work out or when people hear I’m working out and freak out because they presume I’m pushing myself or … I don’t even know. People are so weird about women and working out and their bodies, anyway, and then you add in the whole pregnancy piece and it turns things upside down.

For the record: physically, I could not feel better. My scar does not hurt – it’s itchy, actually – and I don’t have any phantom pains or aches. I am considerably in worse shape than I’ve been in years, but my current approach to working out is in line with what a woman who 1) had a baby and 2) hasn’t worked out in a year should be doing. I’m not doing Ironman training here, folks. Just watching what I eat and working out 40 minutes a day, every other day, and that includes walking.

As for not having the unmedicated birth? Would have loved it, eternally grateful for my doula, my midwives and the Western medicine that allowed for Abigail come into this world safely.

5) I should have gotten out of the house Week One. If there is anything I know about my daughter, it’s that she is her mother. No joke, the girl is stubborn. She didn’t want to come into this world easy, she doesn’t eat easy, sleep, etc. Once (OK, more than once) I had to do something that necessitated me putting her down while she was seven shades of pissed off, screaming and crying. Each time, she was fed, changed, burped and otherwise content, but just tired. You’d think, if you’ve read the books and articles, that any baby who cries for 15 minutes will eventually pass out. Not my girl. Not even close.

So it won’t surprise me, should she decide to have a child, that within that first week she’ll look at me and tell me she’s fine and ignore that voice inside of her that wants quiet and rest, if for just an hour or two, because she doesn’t want anyone to think she can’t do this. Because it’s what I did, and I’m more stubborn than she is. More practice time and all.

I could kick myself for letting weeks go by without a break, especially in light of the reflux and colic. I should have asked for help. I should have had my parents take Abigail for a night prior to the two-month mark. Should have just gotten out of the house with my sister for an evening out. Should have had Scott’s mom watch Abigail sooner so that Scott and I could have dinner together.

I remain frightened by how dark things got inside my head, how sad. There is no doubt in my mind that most of that was the result of hormones, sleep deprivation, and just the never-ending spiral that is caring for a newborn in the early weeks. I was shellshocked, and I didn’t let anyone help me recover for way, way too long.

6) iPads and Netflix are the best inventions for a new mom ever. Look, I know iPads are a luxury. But they’ll go down in price eventually, like all Apple products do, and when that happens, every new mom should be gifted with one before she leaves the hospital. It became my lifeline and, in so many ways, the only means I had of communicating with anyone for hours on end. Netflix made it so I had something other than blogs to read when it’s 1 a.m. and Abigail was finally back to sleep on my chest.

7) Strong marriages/partnerships are a must. Oh dear Jesus. If I had only lukewarm feelings about Scott, I don’t know that I could have gotten through these past 90 days. I totally, completely, absolutely understand now why they say that babies don’t fix a bad marriage/relationship and people who have babies while they’re knowingly in a bad marriage ought to have their heads examined. We have wanted to throttle each other on more than one occasion since Abigail was born. And during each instance it was the deep respect and love we have for each other, and the commitment we have to our family, that kept me from doing or saying something I’d regret. It’s not been at all easy, but the fact that through the majority of it all, and the lowest of the low parts, we could look at each other with love and compassion and laughter, is something I’m proud of. And please note: I’m not saying you have to be married or in a relationship to get through the first three months, though it helps. I’m just saying if you’re in one, it ought to be pretty solid.

8 ) Uniforms are a must. I bought a pair of comfy, yet presentable, black yoga pants for each day of the week. From Target. Also from Target, I bought a set of fitted white t-shirts. Some days I wore my jean jacket over this, some days a sweater. But each day I managed to look presentable in case anyone came over and I believe it saved my sanity and self-esteem. I didn’t have to think about what to put on, whether or not it looked nice, because it did, and if it fit.

9) A good pediatrician is like gold. I think if every time you visit your kid’s pediatrician’s office you don’t leave feeling like you could parent an entire school of kids, you’re at the wrong place. Ours gave us not only peace of mind and love and caring, but free formula when it was clear these boobs weren’t made for feeding.

10) It will get better. It will get better. It will. It did.