A new mom emerges from the newborn bubble and asks “WTF just happened!?”
Reading What to Expect did not prepare me for the trauma of the first three months with my newborn daughter. In truth, I barely survived the first three months of her life and I think I’m a pretty tough B. While I expected a tough recovery and some sleepless nights, I was decimated by unrelenting mental and emotional strains. A penchant for social media and a tendency to romanticize my expectations left me looking forward to the newborn stage with tangible anticipation. I scrolled through pictures of sleepy babies and $400 flat lays on Instagram and let my pregnancy hormones sweep me away on a wave of eager excitement. My new daughter and I would wake in a cloud of bliss every morning of our new lives and jaunt around the city together in perpetual sunshine (despite the fact that she was born in early November). I would write wise and comical articles about how well things were going while she napped beside me in bed. Needless to say, when my daughter finally arrived I was in for a reality check. My vision of the blossoming relationship between myself and my baby just did not include being screamed at during all of her waking hours (thanks, colic) or silently bawling in the evenings while bouncing her to sleep on a yoga ball. But the cloud of colic is lifting from our lives now and I’ve had the time to look at my experience with hindsight and a healthy dose of PTSD. Here are a few notes about what I’ve found most helpful.
Comparison truly is the thief of joy when it comes to parenthood, so it’s important to remember that what you see online is not what you get, I repeat: the internet may not show a complete picture of what your postpartum experience will be! I know it’s shocking, but a single moment frozen in time on someone’s iPhone may not actually represent the remaining 23 hours and 59 minutes of their family’s day (this should bring some comfort to the expectant mamas I know who follow me on social media). It might seem like everyone else is cruising through with ease but trust me, all parents and babies struggle with their own issues. Of course there are a few things that are relevant to pretty much every parent’s experience. Yes, I am talking about booze.
Work As a Team
When I was pregnant I received advice to “wait until the baby is a year old before you consider getting a divorce.” Though it was said in jest (I think), the point was that the first year is tough on everyone and settling into a new family dynamic can cause tension. I’m not at my best when I’m unsure of myself and having a loud, fussy baby obliterated any confidence I may have had in my own mothering abilities. Luckily I have a hands-on partner who probably takes better care of his daughter than I do and always knows when to shove me out the door for some alone time. When both parents are tired and frustrated it can be easy to lose patience. It helps to have an “us against the baby” mentality, it’ll remind you that you’re on the same side and she won’t remember it anyway. And don’t forget that you’ll be viewing the world through a hormonal lens for a while rather than a logical one, so it’s best not to take yourself seriously for a while.
Embrace the Chaos
The media seems to perpetuate two main mom stereotypes: the overachiever who does it all and the haggard mom who barely has time to brush her own teeth. The secret is that everyone is both of those moms. Some days you feel like supermom and others you stay in sweatpants and order takeout. Whatever day it is, own it. My best tip for getting shit done is this: learn how to do everything as quietly as possible and in half the time. This applies to eating, showering, texting, talking, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Say goodbye to the days of languorous love-making, my friend. Get in, get out, and get some damn sleep.
In the haze of that heady newborn phase when you’re not entirely sure what month it is, carving out just ten minutes a day to do something that makes you feel human again can reset your entire mood, so figure out what does that for you. For me this was walking to the corner and having a coffee at JJBean (alone!). Yes, I checked my phone every two minutes and felt anxious wondering if the baby had woken up and was giving my poor husband hell, but leaving the house that first time after having a baby cleared my head and gave me the perspective I needed to feel less overwhelmed. As the weeks roll on you’ll get a bit more time to enjoy all of your old favourite activities. Except for sleeping in, that one’s gone forever. Sorry!
Know Thy Baby
You learn so much about babies once you have one, like how they can sleep through a toddler’s birthday party but wake up when you put your pants on too loud in the next room. There’s no need to become a baby expert though, you just need to become an expert on the one you’ve got. It took us two months, but we figured out the hard way that techniques claiming to “calm all babies in seconds” would not work on ours even if we tried for an hour. Nothing works until something does. For us, it was four somethings, and the magical combination of those things brought down a holy silence in our small apartment at last. The moral of the story is this: you may not end up with a baby as fastidious as mine but every baby has particular tastes. It’ll take time to learn exactly what calms, upsets, and amuses your babe, so don’t be hard on yourself if you’re not sure what to do right away. For most of us, taking care of a baby is a constant learning curve, and we’ll probably be trying to find our groove for another decade or two.
It’s Okay to Be Selfish
When you’re pregnant everyone tells you to accept all the postpartum help that is offered and that advice is oft repeated because it is very wise advice. But the lesser-known counterpart of that counsel is just as important: don’t accept any help that you suspect will overwhelm you! If a certain person or activity will cause you further exhaustion or stress, politely postpone until you get your shit together. All offers of help are well-intentioned but you know best what your family needs; this is your time and your recovery. And this might go without saying, but basic postpartum rules apply: visitors should not be sick and not show up without food and/or coffee. I tearfully begged a friend to buy me a breast pump in the middle of the night and she was waiting outside of Babies-R-Us the next morning when it opened. She also bought me stool softeners. Ask for what you need, this is not the time for modesty.
Listen, your kid probably won’t scream three hours a day like mine did. Yay for you! I hope everyone who reads this is blessed with babes who nap long, feed well, and don’t believe in colic. But if that’s not your experience, know this: you are not alone. And even if your newborn is a dream come true, there’s a lot to be afraid of in the future: teething, sleep regressions, growth spurts, developmental leaps, you name it. So do what you gotta do to survive, whether that means Amazon Prime-ing a momaroo to your house in the middle of the night, asking a friend to drop off a bottle of gin and a pizza after a hard day, or asking a parent to come over so you can get a few hours of sleep. Don’t let anyone pass judgement or make you feel guilty for prioritizing yourself once in a while. Women should support other women always, and for that matter, so should men. Ain’t nobody got time for that Mom Guilt.
Jess is a wife and mama living in East Van. She is a constant worrier and coffee drinker but refuses to believe that those two facts are linked. She is currently planning her next beer, next tattoo, and next baby.