Navigating the Newborn Phase (Without A GPS)
...It Gets Better
*Disclaimer: My intent of this post is not to scare women who are pregnant for the first time or considering having children, nor do I wish to paint a negative portrayal of becoming a parent. My honesty about my struggles while navigating the newborn phase is something I wish I would have received from someone during those first few weeks, so my hope is that maybe someone else can benefit from this post. Maybe I’m just terrible at adjusting to change, but maybe I’m not alone in this, either…
As I was wading (or drowning on some days) through the first few weeks of life with a new baby, I felt as though no one had warned me about how truly difficult it is. I felt like I had been lied to, and I so badly wanted someone to relate to what I was experiencing without making me feel guilty or sugar coating how beautiful becoming a new mom is. (Mom guilt is a very real symptom of parenting.)
My experience with my first pregnancy was everything I dreamt it would be. My husband and I attended labor, breastfeeding, and basic childcare classes; read books; and had information about pregnancy and the labor and delivery process coming out of our ears. What we failed to do during those nine months of preparation was what many other first time parents fail to do: become informed on what happens AFTER the delivery.
Sure, we researched the best and safest car seats and strollers, the baby toys and items that are “lifesavers” for newborns, and prepared our home for months for this new bundle of joy. We were married five years and had endless discussions before deciding that it was time to bring a child into our lives. I had coached countless kids and looked at this as another leadership role to take on. We were more than prepared for this new journey, right? WRONG. All of that research and preparation taught us absolutely nothing about consoling a wailing baby at three in the morning.
If you read my previous post about my labor and delivery experience, you’ll understand that I was heavily medicated immediately following the birth of my daughter. Other than feedings, my husband definitely did the brunt of the work during our postpartum hospital stay. I was so exhausted that all I wanted was sleep, and the mom guilt had already set in. Why didn’t I want to hold and snuggle my new baby every second? Why wasn’t I feeling the instant bond that all new moms gushed about? Sure, I loved her long before she was even born, but after a scary delivery and physical exhaustion like I’d never imagined, my mental state was somewhat compromised.
Upon release from the hospital, with our brand new daughter all decked out in pink lace and bows, I immediately envisioned loading a tiny sleeping baby into her ruffly pink car seat and peacefully driving home with my husband to our beautiful new life as parents. WRONG AGAIN. As soon as our little bundle of joy was strapped in, the wailing began… And to be honest, I’m not exactly sure when it stopped.
The days were bad, but the nights were worse. I literally began to fear the darkness. It’s hard to handle a crying baby in broad daylight, but it’s a lot harder in the middle of the night when you are physically exhausted and desperate for sleep. During those first few weeks, which felt like months at the time, I’m not sure who cried more – the baby or myself. I had moments where I questioned why we decided to flip our lives upside down by having a child, then cried because of the guilt I felt for even questioning that. Our child was so perfectly innocent. She didn’t choose this life! Was I already a bad mom?
I began to feel like a shell of my former self, and as I missed out on a friend’s wedding when my baby was three weeks old, I waved goodbye to any and all freedom that I used to know. The only thing that made me feel human was getting out of the house, and my beautiful new baby girl despised her car seat with the fire of a thousand burning suns. She was not only biased toward her car seat – her hatred also spanned out to her stroller, her pacifier, and her $250 MamaRoo chair that was among one of the many “lifesaver” baby items that I have to call “bull” on.
At two weeks, I had a short bout with mastitis followed by a week of an even fussier than usual baby due to the antibiotic that I was required to take. The tip of the iceberg for me was the three week growth spurt, where she nursed non-stop, round-the-clock… Crying and nursing for 24 hours straight with no more than occasional 25 minute breaks for cat-naps. I was screaming for a break! I just needed a day off! …Who am I kidding? I would have settled for a few hours off! But as I was learning in this new role that I was not so gracefully settling into, there was no such thing as “time off.”
At the end of week three, once we surpassed the now unspeakable growth spurt from hell, I was so relieved to finally be able to introduce pumped bottles. My husband could finally relieve me of some of the countless feedings that occurred day and night! My mom could finally babysit so that my husband and I could get out of the house together again! Drumroll, please… Wrong. Yet. Again. Who knew bottle refusal was a thing?! (But more on that later…)
It took weeks for me to learn how to console my baby, and for me to get my own emotions in check. What saved my life and kept me sane was my husband and his amazing sense of humor. Just as I was crying all too often, I was also laughing hysterically, thanks to him. His sense of humor and quick wit were one of the many things that I initially fell in love with, and they have become even sharper since he became a father.
The ultimate game changer came at week four when my daughter looked at me and smiled for the first time. Slowly, but surely, each day thereafter got better. At five weeks, she began sleeping through the night (her incredibly thoughtful Father’s Day gift to us). At six weeks, it was like the storm was clearing and the sun was finally peeking through the clouds. At that point, my daughter decided that her car seat wasn’t so bad, decided that she could play on her own for long stretches of time without having to constantly be held/rocked/bounced, and decided to generally be a pretty happy-go-lucky girl. We became well-rested, were able to travel in silence, and were able to get on a schedule (hallelujah!) and get things done around the house.
My least favorite cliche that is always offered up to new parents is, “It gets better!” But, guess what? It does get better. Every day with her honestly is better than the last. I have finally settled comfortably into this new mom role. I can recognize what my baby wants by the sound of her cries and the time of day. I am so head-over-heels in love with my baby girl that I feel like my heart could literally explode.
Do we still have rough moments? Sure, but we are learning each day. I have learned to try to relax, and to be unbelievably thankful that my daughter is healthy, and that those rough times are now fleeting moments and not entire days or weeks. Yes, I am fully aware that it could have been a lot worse, but try telling that to an exhausted new mom whose hormones are all over the place. (And seriously – let’s all take a moment to applaud the moms who are doing it alone, moms of babies with health issues, and moms of multiples.) I know that we are blessed, and the rough patch that was the first few weeks of parenting was just a major learning curve and adjustment period for the three of us.
If you’re a new mama or a mama-to-be and can relate to any of this at any point, rest assured that you are normal and you are human. No one’s parenting journey is the same, just like no one’s baby is the same. Stop comparing yourself or your baby to others and try to let go of the mom guilt. Do the best that you can for your child, and don’t be afraid or ashamed of how you feel. Because seriously… It gets better.