About a month ago, we welcomed our third child into this world. I am in awe at what an amazing little miracle and gift from God he is. The experience this time around has been so different. Maybe it’s because I am more experienced. Or maybe it’s because my mom stayed to help for three weeks instead of just one (and left today – sniff sniff). Or it could be a number of other things. But in thinking through the past four weeks, my mind dwells on so many beautiful, wonderful moments. I wish I could have felt the same way when I had my first. I keep thinking about things I wish I would have known or been able to focus on. So for those of you out there whom this might help, here’s what I would say to myself if I could go back to the day before Eliza was born:
Hi there. Tomorrow your life will change forever, but relax, it will be good. It will be better than good. But it will be harder than anything you’ve ever done before. Your life as you knew it is not over; it’s just turning over a new leaf.
I know you have thought through everything you would like for labor and delivery. You don’t need to throw it all out the window (because that’s actually what’s going to happen), but the whole process will be better if you are able to let go and release yourself to what’s not going your way or as you had hoped. I know immediately after Eliza comes out you’re going to go through a really difficult time and you’re not going to feel a lot of joy and love for her right away. Be okay with that. It will come. I can even tell you that despite how little you feel like holding and cuddling her now because of depression and your delivery injuries, that she has grown into one of the most nurturing and caring people you know.
Despite having read books about newborn care and taking nursing classes, you are going to struggle in a major way with both. I think most new parents do to some extent. This is normal and you should expect it. Keep the phone numbers of friends who have already been through it handy, and warn them you might call in the middle of the night for support. And then pick up the phone and actually call if you’re in a rough moment.
Having a baby is not like taking a math test, where if you study hard enough, there is a formula you use and you get the same result every time. It couldn’t be more different from that. So stop thinking about a sleep formula right now. You cannot spoil this new life by holding her. You are her favorite person, and your breasts her favorite part of you. She will learn to sleep, but first she has to learn to eat. In fact, go ahead and leave yourself topless for the first few days and keep her in a diaper, and let her sleep on your chest and nurse anytime she wants. Enjoy her despite of and in the midst of your pain and baby blues. Even though you’re not sleeping much and your whole bottom hurts, try to take her in. You can’t, but you should try. Journal your thoughts and write her love notes. I’m talking a sentence here or there, because you won’t have time for more.
I know the sleepless nights that are coming. You will get through them. I know they seem interminable right now, but they will end. I know there will be incessant crying, and the feeling that you’d just like to put her outside in the back yard so you can’t hear her for a few minutes. You might want to squeeze her or shake her. You won’t do it, but you will beat yourself up for having the thought. Don’t do that, either. This moment that is so hard is also fleeting, and she will sleep and stop crying.
Trust your natural motherly instinct and your body. Get every bit of help you can get from lactation consultants, midwives, nurses or doulas in the first two days. Make certain you are getting a good latch. A bad latch will hurt and after doing it over and over, will mutilate your nipples. It’s great to know you feel so strongly and fierce about nursing; but also know that if you just need rest and for someone else to feed her formula so you can sleep, doing that does not make you a failure or a bad mom or physically deformed. When you find out that she’s lost too much weight, the formula supplement they are telling you she needs is not going to poison her. Your husband and father were formula-fed, and they grew up healthy and pretty darned brilliant.
The pediatrician and lactation consultant are telling you to have a Guinness a day not only because it will help you produce more milk, but also because you need to take a serious chill pill. Your body cannot heal and produce milk if you do not allow yourself to sleep and relax. I know at night you want to do what you would normally do, and you want the freedom to stay up late, but it’s just not worth it right now. Go to bed. Take the baby with you. That will also help your milk. This seemingly inexorable phase is actually pretty short. In about five years, you will go to Eliza’s dance recital, she will have a loose tooth, and will be preparing to go to Kindergarten, and you will wonder how in the heck you got there. And you will then know how fast these early days not only go by, but how fleeting all the difficulty of them is.
So rest and relax, my dear self. Accept help. Forgive yourself when you flip out or lash out or feel like an idiot for crying. Let go of how clothes should be folded, stacked in your drawers, or how they don’t fit. Be okay with paper plate dinners. Allow others to make meals for you. Eat dessert. It, too, is good for your milk. And cherish and marvel at what God has done.