Have you ever heard someone talk about those first two months after bringing baby home from the hospital? Me either.
I think it’s because those harrowing first weeks are so full of counting diapers, timing three-hour feeding intervals, worrying if you’re doing it all wrong, reading all the baby books you didn’t have time to read when you were pregnant, and not sleeping that it all becomes a blur.
If you’re starting a family and are in the middle of the hurricane that is life with a newborn, or if you can see the storm a-brewin’ on the horizon, it might help to know what to expect. Friends and I have consulted our memory archives to bring you the real story — here’s the bare truth about birthing and bringing home baby.
Planning the birth
So you’ve decided to let your boss know you’ll be taking off 12 weeks (or so) for maternity leave, and you’re working on a transition plan for your colleagues. This is a time where over-preparation is your friend — for your sake, not theirs. If you know you’ve done everything necessary to keep the fires burning, you’re less likely to feel the need to answer any work inquiries and you can use the time to find a new rhythm of life with the newest member of your family.
Even more so, give thought to the experience you want to have once your contractions start. Making a clear plan (knowing that it will likely change) and stating important preferences with your husband or doula can be a big help here — when you’re losing yourself inside the chaos of giving birth, they will remember everything you wanted.
Do not listen to what anyone else says is important to your birth plan, other than to test whether you actually care about that yourself. You get to design what will make birth a beautiful memory for you and yours — something you will talk about with your child when they are older.
Oh, and as soon as your water breaks or you realize you’re in labor, absolutely shave, do your hair, and put on makeup — if that’s your thing. Because your family and friends WILL take pictures of you gazing at sweet baby laying on your chest. If, in 10 years, you’ll regret not looking your best in that moment, go ahead and put your game face on for those first pictures.
Now that the contractions have started or your water has broken or the doctor has told you to prepare for your emergency C-section (WHAT?! I PLANNED A NATURAL BIRTH!!), it’s time to grab your suitcase and shelve your plan. Remember that annoying proverb, “God laughs at our plans”? It’s time to have this baby, and it’s not going as you planned!
To the degree that your partner, doula, doctor, or midwife can support you in executing your well-laid out plans, they will. And for the rest, let go and let God. Enjoy as much as you can during the process. Play your birthing playlist. Enjoy the essential oils you packed in your suitcase. And just breathe into the joy of that baby who’s going to be in your life in two to 48 hours! (Oh, nobody told you that birth can take quite literally DAYS?! Yes — yes it can.)
It’s heady stuff when they let you strap baby into the car seat and drive home (what, NO user’s manual?!). You’ll do great. And, of course, there are a few things I wish I’d really listened to.
I was fortunate to have a wonderful nurse who taught our birthing class — she gave us permission to “just say no.” Even to your own mother and mother-in-law, if necessary. (Unless, of course, they are coming over to do your laundry, clean house, or drop off your favorite food.)
It’s okay to allow yourself to sit in bed and just enjoy your first few days with baby. Don’t put pressure on yourself to be up and about for at least three days unless you really want to. Personally, I need (yes, it’s a need) my house disinfected to perfection — clean and sparkling with fresh laundry and washed dishes. I was advised to have that done for me, and it was a blessing to enjoy baby AND a clean house from the luxury of my bed for those first days. Find a friend or hire a housekeeper for a few visits, and enjoy baby.
Settling into weeks 3 through eternity
You may find yourself exhausted during this first month at home, especially going into week three. If you’re nursing, you’re starting to feel the burn when you’re up for your fourth feeding at 4 a.m., having slept in only two-hour increments for 25 days. By the end of the first week, I remember being nearly pushed over the edge when my infected and bleeding nipples, a yeast infection, clogged milk ducts, and the industrial sucking sounds of the breast pump all combined with zero sleep.
Fear not! This too shall pass — all of it. Just send your sister friend out to get nipple guards and lanolin, cry bucketloads, take a deep breath, and know this is TOTALLY NORMAL. You do not resemble a mad cow. You haven’t lost all dignity or sanity. You and baby will be just fine.
Speaking of madness, I was shocked that I had to wear my maternity jeans home from the hospital. The baby is OUT! Why am I still this large?
It will take time after you deliver the precious bundle, but that weight will come off. It might take extra hot yoga and lots of veggies, but you haven’t lost your lithe self forever. Just be patient and know it’s part of the process.
Lastly, I’ve had several friends who entered a deep and gut-wrenching depression during these weeks. For some, it persisted for years. Please, sister, if you feel down in any way, talk to your doc. This is very real, and you’re so incredibly normal if it happens to you. It’s just hormones and your body moving into yet another phase of womanhood.
When you are having your first child, there’s a line to walk between accepting how not-normal everything feels and cherishing the life-changing moments that start coming at you fast. And just when you start to get a grip on everything, you realize that welcoming and nurturing a newborn is hard — it takes everything you’ve got.
Hang in there — you’re not alone. Your friends and family know that this isn’t easy, and they want to be supportive. And the Author of life is with you, too — don’t think that you have to bear your part in God’s creative power alone. He’s an expert at making things new, and He’s doing the same with your family.