First-Time Motherhood: The Real Scoop
By: Jamie Beth Schindler
If you have just had a baby or you’re about to have a baby or you’re thinking about having a baby, you’ve probably talked to your friends who have babies. Maybe they’ve told you some things to expect. But have they told you the sanitized version or the gory details? I love my daughter, now one, but being a working mom during her first year of her life was really hard. Below you will see my view on working/nursing/pumping first-time motherhood from the six-eight month mark.
1. CONTINUING TO HEAL
In preparation for writing this piece (at six months), I looked back at the piece I wrote at six weeks An Ode To Moms-To-Be … I am proud to say that I am able to laugh at the fact that in that piece I complained about not being fully healed yet. The truth is, at six months I am just starting to feel like myself again. I suppose I could cry, but really, it is easier to laugh. I had heard that it can take up to a year to feel like one’s self again, but I didn’t believe it. Or maybe I did, but I thought it was related to weight, body shape, and body image which were so low on my list of concerns that I ignored people’s warnings. The truth is, given the circumstances of my labor and delivery, my body took about six months to heal its wounds. I think maybe I’m glad I didn’t know that it would be that long, but if I had, I might have been less frustrated with the process.
. . .and talking about weight, body image and shape: although I’ve lost much of my pregnancy weight, I have a gut that I’ve never had before and these stretch marks that are legendary. I didn’t think it would bother me. I don’t want it to bother me. But the truth is, it bothers me. I haven’t bought clothes since I gave birth because I’m convinced (hopeful?) that my body is still changing, but at a certain point, this isn’t a post-partum body anymore, it’s just me. I know on some level it will keep changing and I know that now that I feel better physically I can start to exercise (if I can find the time or, more accurately, make the time) but part of me just secretly hopes that my body will take care of itself. And it’s more than weight and shape, it’s my face and hair, too. I look haggard. I am haggard. I’m trying to be ok with this.
2. MOMMY AND ME CLASSES
I was pretty much forced into my Mommy and Me class. (For those of you who know me and think I’m too stubborn and head-strong to be pushed into anything, you’ve never met some of my friends!) Apparently after my brother’s visit to meet N at four weeks he was concerned about my well-being enough to mention this to one of our mutual friends. She immediately called me and practically registered me for the local “new mom’s support group.” Her theory was two-fold: (1) I needed to get out of the house at least once a week and (2) no matter how many friends I had who had given birth in the last few years, it was nothing compared to being in a room with other moms who gave birth within four weeks of me. In the state that I was in I probably could have been pushed into anything, but the Mommy and Me class was certainly the best possible thing I could have been pushed into at that time. I learned a lot from the leader and I was surprised how much I liked the other women. Though the class ended several months ago we keep in touch and it’s nice to have some local people to throw random questions to and to meet up with occasionally.
3. GOING BACK TO WORK
Before we got pregnant, I was worried about being a working mom. While I was pregnant, I was worried about being a working mom. After I gave birth, I was worried about being a working mom. When I went back to work, I was worried about being a working mom. I spent a lot of time and energy trying to figure out how it was all going to work out. And you know what? I still don’t know how, but it has worked out! At seven/eight months (where we are now) it actually seems … easy. I can’t believe I’m saying it, but it is, for now. I know it will get complicated again. But for now, before teething and parent-teacher conferences and karate lessons, we’re in a nice little rhythm and we’re enjoying our life quite a bit. There are still things to work out (see: division of labor, below) but for the most part, we like our daycare, N likes her daycare, she’s a good sleeper, a good eater and pretty much giggles more than anyone I’ve ever met. But this is my view from where I sit now. At two months, it was a little bit different.
At two months I went back to work too soon. I was a raging ball of hormones who wasn’t getting enough sleep, wasn’t producing enough milk and was having trouble stringing words together to form coherent thoughts and sentences. And I was in pain. I chose to go back to work at eight weeks because my job has a strong seasonal component and I didn’t want to miss one of my busiest times (and didn’t want the woman covering for me to have to deal with it on her own). Also, I wanted to work up to full time and the sooner I went back, the more time I would have to “ease” into it. If I had it to do over again I would try to arrange for four months off completely and then work up to full-time over the next two months. The gradual ramp-up to full-time was definitely helpful, but going back at eight weeks is not something I would recommend.
When you’re pregnant, everyone tells you to store up on your sleep. This is the most annoying thing you can possibly imagine. We all know you can’t store up on sleep and there is no way that someone without a newborn can possibly imagine what they’re in for.
The first several weeks of N’s life she was nursing every three hours around the clock, or at least that’s what we were aiming for. Unlike many couples, we woke up our baby to eat even when she would have been happy to sleep longer. This meant I was getting about two hours of sleep at a time for a very long time. At week seven N, amazingly, began to sleep through the night. We thought we had hit the jackpot! This pattern lasted for about three weeks (and possibly contributed to my limited milk supply) and then faded away. At month four I had another three-week bout of very little sleep (N was actually sleeping more than I was, but at very inconvenient times for me). And then by six months, she was back to 12-hour stretches of sleep at night.
All of this is to say, sleep will come and go, but you will survive. Recently, unrelated to N, I had several nights of insomnia caused by work stress. I got about four hours of sleep a night from 10pm – 2am and I actually thought to myself, “ehh, I can get by on this.” It’s amazing what you can do once you’ve spent some time with a newborn!
I know that our family is lucky to (currently) have a good sleeper; I know some families have even better sleepers and some families don’t have sleepers at all! I would never tell a pregnant lady to store up on her sleep, but I would admit to the following: even though I started getting all of the sleep I needed, I’m still not getting all of the sleep I want. For me, for now, naps are out of the question and I so, so miss them.
5. DIVISION OF LABOR
There is a lot written about new parents and how they handle the influx of responsibilities and work associated with having a new baby. It is rarely pretty and judging from my life and the lives of my friends it is rarely easy. Most of my female friends feel that they are the “default parent” and some resentment comes along with this. I have to say, S is an amazing father and I am lucky to be married to him. I know my other female friends feel the same way about their husbands. But this doesn’t change the fact that in most heterosexual relationships that I know about, the mom does the lion’s share of the baby-raising. I would say this was incredibly true for us in the first six months, but less so now at eight months. Once I stopped nursing, the division of labor evened out a great deal. Does this mean I would have nursed less in search of a more balanced approach to raising N in those crucial first months? Hell No! But it would have been nice to know that things would eventually even out. (See below for thoughts on embracing the philosophy of “one day at a time.”)
S still looks to me for guidance sometimes, but he also does an excellent job of taking care of “the bear.” Every morning I leave for work before she is even awake. He gets her up, dressed, and off to day care like he’s been doing it for years. We’ve experimented on the weekends with one of us being the “default parent” on Saturday and the other one taking the reigns on Sunday, but in reality, it works better when things are more fluid in our house.
Around six months I thought the whole division of labor thing was going to be the death of us, but just a few months later, things are humming along and it seems we’ve found our groove. There were some fights along the way and I don’t know that I can offer any advice, only to say that moms need to make their needs known and dads need to do things for the baby even if they feel like the mom could do them quicker or better. And moms need to let them give it a try and support their efforts, even if how dads do things aren’t how the moms would. At least that’s what we needed to do, maybe it will be different for you. And I know it all sounds pretty cliché but that’s because it’s such a common “hiccup.”
I will say this though: people who have babies to “save” their marriages must be on crack, because if we weren’t solid before all of this, our little baby girl would have pushed us over the edge! As my boss said: “It seems amazing that a seven pound baby can turn your life upside down, but when you think about it, seven pounds of uranium could blow-up Los Angeles, so maybe it’s not so strange.”
6. ONE DAY AT A TIME
This is a lesson that most people (regardless of their stage in life) are trying to learn but few have mastered. I’m pretty sure those who have are a lot happier than the rest of us. And even though I KNOW it to be true, I’m still learning it every day.
When N was born I was paralyzed by thoughts of going back to work. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to be an employee and a mom. None of my clothes fit; none of my bras fit; I wasn’t even happy with my underwear. I wasn’t sleeping and when N wasn’t nursing she was crying or sleeping right on me. But she was only one week old. I wasn’t going back to work yet and by the time that I did, she would be a very different baby and I would be a very different mom. People told me that, but I couldn’t envision it; I couldn’t wrap my head around it because everything seemed so irrevocably changed that nothing would be normal again.
I had a lot of anxiety tied to day care, but it turns out we put N in the right place. I had anxiety tied to feeding her solid food. When she was just nursing the thought of adding formula and bottles was overwhelming, but we mastered that, then the thought of adding a high chair and bibs and cooking to our routine seemed completely overwhelming. But now that we’re feeding her food two-three times a day, it seems completely natural and even fun. I felt the same way about baths. At home, when she was not mobile, we bathed her once or twice a week but once she started moving around at daycare she needed to have a bath more often. The thought of bathing her more often was overwhelming, but actually doing it hasn’t been so bad.
For a natural planner (and worrier) like me, taking things one day, or one hour, at a time is very hard and incredibly frustrating. It’s a lesson I wasn’t able to learn before I had her, but I’m sort of being forced to learn it now. Babies change daily; what worked today won’t necessarily work tomorrow. What didn’t work today MIGHT work tomorrow. There were things I did in the first several weeks of her life that were not sustainable and I was worried about that, but what I learned was that some things you do early on don’t have to be sustainable. If they work in the moment, that’s all that matters and worrying about whether or not you will be able to keep up with something shouldn’t stop you from trying it once, because it might only have to work that one time.
Jamie Beth Schindler is between jobs and between cities. When she’s not looking for work, planning her move from LA to rural Pennsylvania, or laughing with her daughter, she blogs about her family at nora-bear.blogspot.com