All throughout my pregnancy I worried about what came next, about how I would handle my new role as mom. Was I really cut out to care for a living, breathing newborn? Hell, I can’t even seem to keep succulents alive, which are naturally designed to be able to survive the harshest of conditions. I often contemplated what motherhood would look like for me. Anytime I got overwhelmed, registering for baby gear or organizing the nursery, I would doubt my ability to raise a kid. This fear was part hormonal (I got a little nutty at times, but what pregnant woman doesn’t?), I’m sure, but I think it’s also normal to fear the unknown.
When you’re a soon-to-be first time parent, there is no way to fully prepare yourself for what lies ahead, especially when it comes to those first few weeks home with your new bundle of joy. That being said, doing your homework sure can help. I read plenty of baby books and more articles on pregnancy than I can count, but I was still caught off guard by painful post-birth contractions that made me feel like I was constipated (oh, the joys of pregnancy and birth continue). And no one told me that I would basically feel like a prisoner, held captive by my beautiful newborn who demanded what felt like every second of my attention. I was unprepared for how an unplanned c-section would make my recovery all the more challenging. The cool thing is, motherhood is a learning experience. What you may not have learned in childcare class or read in parenting books, you can pick up along the way.
Here are a few things I wish I would have done in those first few days and weeks postpartum:
- Think twice about visitors. Early on in our pregnancy, Blake and I decided we didn’t want many visitors while I was in labor, but we didn’t really think about after birth. We both have large families, so the flow of visitors felt never ending. Looking back, I would have done things a little differently. Lily was born first thing in the morning after 30 plus hours of labor. Needless to say, I was pale, exhausted, hot then cold then hot again, and itchy from the drugs, among other things. I look back at the hospital photos and I barely recognize the woman holding my baby. It’s safe to say that I’ve never looked more wrecked in my life. If I had to guess, I’d say we had about 20 visitors that first day, when we probably should have only had a handful or so of our immediate family members. Don’t even get me started on my boobs, which many visitors nervously looked away from as I flopped them out and attempted to latch my hungry newborn without thinking twice. We stayed in the hospital for five days after delivery, and had at least a handful of visitors every day. Exhausted and emotional, I finally broke down in front of Blake’s poor grandparents who had driven two hours just to get a few minutes with the new baby. My advice, think long and hard about how you would like to handle visitors during labor and in recovery. Let your parents know, so they can let extended family and friends know when it’s okay to visit. Let your nurses know your wishes when it comes to visitors too, they can make great gatekeepers (thou shall not pass!).
- Let the little things go. I like a clean and tidy house almost as much as Monica Geller, but vacuumed carpet and a spotless kitchen just aren’t realistic in those first few weeks postpartum. You’ll be too busy nursing your newborn and your battle wounds, vaginal or abdominal (wince), to fold the laundry, let alone make yourself a decent meal. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to let the dishes pile up. It’s okay to lounge in your pajamas and avoid mirrors like the plague for a couple of weeks. I really struggled with keeping my inner neat freak at bay, but the reality is, the health and well being of you and your baby are more important than keeping house.
- Ask for help, especially for the little things. If you’re breastfeeding, unless you decide to pump all the time (which I personally find a huge pain in the ass), nourishing baby is pretty much on you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get help for other things. I made the mistake of dismissing offers simply because I wasn’t sure what could be done to help. Dad can change diapers, swaddle baby and rock her to sleep while you take a nap. If you didn’t get a chance to prep freezer meals, or you were just lazy like me and never got around to it, ask visitors to bring dinner in exchange for baby viewing. Kidding, but not kidding. When your mom or mother-in-law offer to come over and help, take them up on that offer even if what you really want is to be alone. Ask for help around the house, folding laundry or washing dishes, or better yet, give them baby duty so you can finally wash that greasy hair of yours.
- Buy a hands-free pumping bra. No, seriously, go on Amazon and buy one now. Mine was $30 and I feel like an idiot for not buying one sooner. Even if you plan on being a stay at home mom and feeding your baby straight from the tap, chances are you will still need to pump when you leave baby with grandma for date night, or simply to boost your supply. I’m not a fan of pumping for convenience reasons, but because I’m now back to work part time, it’s something I have to do several times a day. Sitting around for fifteen to twenty minutes at a time, holding the pump flutes in place on my boobs, isn’t my idea of a good time. I felt like such a goober when I realized how a simple nursing bra would change my pumping sessions for the better. My hands are finally free to flip through the pages of a book, type away on my laptop, or even just to change the freaking tv channel.
- Cut yourself some serious slack. You just had a baby, go easy on yourself. Thanks to the hormones still surging through your body, you’re bound to be emotional one way or the other. For me, it was my inability to care for my baby the first few days after she was born. I had to have an emergency c-section, which left me stuck in a hospital bed for two days. I had to watch as my husband changed diapers, swaddled our baby, and lifted her out of the acrylic bassinet when she cried. I felt completely useless, and even though it was absolutely ridiculous, I felt guilty, like it was somehow my fault. Not being able to pick up my crying newborn was heartbreaking, and the tears flowed more than once. Again, I had to be reminded that the most important thing was the health and recovery of me and my baby. It didn’t matter how she got here, and it was okay to let my husband take the lead while I recovered. After all, I did just deliver a baby through a six inch incision in my abdomen.
What are your survival tips for new moms? What helped you cope those first few days or weeks after birth? I’d love to hear your thoughts!