This is a "mommy" shout out to my niece Amber, who is about to deliver her first baby. I remember when she was born, and now here she is, all grown up, ready to be a mother herself. She will be the first among my nieces and nephew to have a baby, and my brother will be the first among his siblings to be a grandparent. Grandpa Dale will be amazing, I know. He's a natural, and I'm excited to see him with his little grandson, Isaac.
I remember how I felt in the two weeks before my son was born. I was so restless and excited. I wasn't scared really, but I was mighty nervous about giving birth. As it turns out, that was nothing, just a tiny blip on the radar. The big stuff happened after he was born. Most of it I don't remember, the first six months being mostly triage due to the chaos this little person caused in our lives. But what I do remember is this: no matter how hard any of it got, or how frightened I was at the prospect of making a mistake, there is nothing, nothing, nothing I would trade. My son has been like a tiny blacksmith, hammering away at the soft metal of my core, shaping me to become the mother, the person I want to be. I am still working on it, still waking up every day with the commitment to do better than I did the day before, and some days I actually succeed. There are other days, too, but I won't talk about them here. I'll just say that it gets better. It gets easier.
I want to give my niece advice, to help her handle the big stuff, but there is no way to do that. There is no one thing to say, but there are little things that make it easier, to help you get from one day to the next without losing your mind from love and lack of sleep and worry and more love. So here are my top ten ways to stay sane in the first three months of parenthood.
1. Accept all offers of help. Be direct in what you need. If you need someone to get you a glass of water because you just sat down to breastfeed for the 500th time that day and forgot, for the 500th time to get one yourself before you sat down to breastfeed, then ask, with no apologies.
2. Abandon decorum. There is nothing that can prepare you for the huge wave of emotions due to physical discomfort, tidal waves of love and postpartum hormones. Polite behavior can be modeled for your baby another day. If there are too many visitors, tell them "not now". If there are not enough visitors, call them up and tell them to get their butts over there, pronto, and bring dinner while they're at it. You'll return to your polite self eventually, and they'll get over it.
3. Seek out other mothers with infants. There is no one else who will understand you like they will. It's so comforting to let down your guard with others who are working the same crazy schedule as you.
4. Get some gripewater. It's made from an extract of fennel, and eases everything from gas to teething. It was a godsend when JH was a baby.
5. Get outside a little bit every day. Even now, I am still in awe of how much stepping outside can change my mood from deranged to calm.
6. Sleep when you can. If that little guy goes down, take advantage of that time to catch a few zzzzs. The laundry/dishes/mess will wait. It will wait about 3 or 4 months until you regain your equilibrium. In the meantime, make friends with the mess.
7. Talk to your baby. I know that sounds so obvious, but honestly, they are such little slugs at first, it feels kind of strange. But they know your voice best, and it's reassuring to them. And believe this: they understand you waaaaaay before they can tell you that they understand you. So even when he's crying his little head off, he's just telling you how he feels, and the sound of your voice lets him know that he's heard. It might not stop him from crying, but it doesn't matter, it's communication and they need that.
8. Go easy on yourself. You are a new person after that baby is born. It's going to take you a while to get used to the new skin you're in. There are lots of "firsts" coming at you, and unlike a new job where you go, and feel kind of tense during the day for the first couple weeks while you learn the lay of the land, but get to unwind when you come home, this is a job that you never get to leave. The learning curve is intense and unrelenting, but the fringe benefits are amazing. That first gummy smile will be all yours, and there are no words to describe the elation you'll feel.
9. Go easy on your partner. It's all new to them too. Granted, they didn't pass an object the size of a bowling ball out of their rectum. Still. They need to be supported too.
10. Enjoy all of it. It goes by so quickly. I know everyone says that, and believe me, all too soon, you'll be saying it too. Relish this time with your baby, take lots of pictures, write down what they smell like and how they look when they're sleeping.
I am so excited for you. You are going to be an excellent mother, and Isaac is going to be such a lucky little boy.