The First Week as a New Mom
While my husband, Todd, drove us home from the hospital, I sat in the back and held our newborn daughter's head straight in her car seat the whole way. It felt weird to be out in the world and responsible for this tiny, floppy-necked being. When we got home, I carried Kate's seat up the stairs, put it on the floor, sat down, and stared at her.
The first six weeks with a newborn are a series of ups and downs for any parent -- major ups and major downs! It's intense, and then it's over, and you remember it as a blur. Luckily, I wrote a lot down, and reading through my notes has given me a clearer picture of what those bleary-eyed first days (and nights) were like. I hope my recollections will help prepare moms-to-be, and hopefully help new moms feel a little less lost.
Day One at Home: Kate's Fourth Day of Life
After prying my eyes away from my sleeping daughter, the first thing I do is take a shower. It's not easy, considering my c-section incision. The doctor said I could get it wet, but I'm leery. I also don't want water hitting my sore, engorged breasts, so washing my hair is awkward if not nearly impossible.
Then I resume my main job as Mom: feeding Kate. This, too, is not as easy as it sounds. You read that breastfeeding isn't supposed to hurt, but at the beginning, it does, even if you're doing it right. Kate is a natural, but I'm not -- I tense up when she opens her mouth and frantically shove the nipple in before she can clamp down in the wrong place. It's really nerve-racking.
Day Two: Sleep, Please!
You hear about new parents being exhausted, but in the first few days you can run well on adrenaline and mysterious Mommy Hormones. Then, slowly, the lack of sleep starts to not only catch up with you but overtake you and rule your life. On our second night at home we don't know all that yet, and we're content to steal sleep when we can. Kate mostly dozes on my chest or Todd's -- we pass her back and forth. When I was pregnant, I thought I'd never want the baby in our bed, but now that I see it allows everyone to stay horizontal, I'm all for it -- at least for these first nights.
Week One, Continued
Day Three: Feeding Frenzy
This is how the mornings go: I feed Kate, who promptly gets the hiccups (she'll hiccup almost constantly, it seems, throughout her first few weeks). Todd makes me breakfast and holds her while I wolf it down. Then she's ready to feed AGAIN. When she falls asleep afterward, I'm afraid to put her down because she might wake and want to eat yet AGAIN.
Physically -- well, my thighs and ankles are still disgustingly swollen from the IV I had in the hospital. I'm always thirsty. I'm taking Motrin a few times a day for my ab incision, which is still sore. My belly button has already gone from flat to a simple outie -- I can't imagine getting my innie back, but they say it'll happen!
We take Kate to the pediatrician. She was 7 pounds 1 ounce at birth, 6 pounds 8 ounces when we left the hospital, and 6 pounds 14 ounces now. (It's typical for newborns to lose a few ounces right after birth and then gain them back.) The doctor wants her back at her birth weight in three days, which seems very doable.
Day Four: Unraveling
Todd has some work to do, but luckily I have family support. My sister and her husband come over in the afternoon and let me take an amazing 90-minute nap. I need it because my nerves are fraying. Kate cries after nursing and I don't know what to do. What can I use to comfort her other than milk, burping, and cuddles?
I feel like I'm the one who needs to be mothered. And fortunately, my mom arrives that night with plans to stay for two weeks. I don't think I've ever been so glad to see her.
Day Five: Frustration!
Todd works all day, and then he has the nerve to go to sleep at 10 p.m. while I sit with Kate, stewing. Granted, I'd suggested that he doze, but I didn't think he'd actually take me up on it! He redeems himself by getting Kate back to sleep after the 1 a.m. feeding.
Day Six: We're Back to the Pediatrician
Kate is at her birth weight! All that breastfeeding seems to be doing its job. Now we just need to focus on her sleeping at night. She's so cute!
Kate finally sleeps in two four-hour stretches, eating at 11 p.m., 3 a.m., and 7 a.m. Keeping track of the times she eats is surprisingly hard in my sleep-deprived haze, and, since she basically eats constantly during the day, it's hard to tell when one session ends and the next one begins.
I slip out to run a few errands, but it isn't as refreshing as I'd hoped. I can't walk very fast yet, and my chest is tender.
Kate's umbilical cord stump falls off! Mom and I save it to show to Todd.
The Crying Continues
My new plan is to get Kate to nap in her bassinet. Swaddling her helps some -- at one point she even naps for an hour and a half, which feels like a miracle. But then nights turn hard again. Why is it that when you have a little victory on one front, something goes wrong on another? As Kate bawls at 3 a.m., we dare to look up "colic" in our baby book. But she doesn't cry in any kind of pattern. We pace the floor holding her, then try running water in the bathroom. Finally Todd rocks her back and forth on his arm with her head in his hand, like he saw the nurses do in the hospital. It seems to help.
Kate's birth certificate comes in the mail, so we joke that she's "official."
Week Two Ends: More Family Arrives
My dad arrives. He seems a little stunned to realize he's actually a grandfather!
Todd and I take our first walk with Kate in a sling. But it keeps bumping my belly, and I'm constantly reaching in to make sure she's breathing and isn't cold. If the point of the sling is to have your hands free, it doesn't seem to be working. Todd says he feels very protective, like he wants a 10-foot ring around his family that no one can penetrate.
Kate's grasping things now -- fingers, my shirt -- while she nurses. I'm starting to relax while I feed her, gazing at her adorable little profile. I like that I'm the only one who sees her from that angle. A friend who had a baby a few months ago says that in a month I'll be able to breastfeed while typing and talking on the phone. I can't imagine it! Positioning seems all-important now.
We leave Kate with my folks and go out for sushi -- my first since I became pregnant. It's bizarre but liberating to be out alone with my husband, if only for an hour. Of course, all we talk about is Kate.
I'm healing nicely, and, shockingly, I've lost 20 pounds already. But my hormones are still raging. For instance, I buy Kate a sweater, and when the cashier asks if I need a gift receipt, I say, "No, it's for my daughter," and promptly tear up. I also get sad seeing my parents leave -- I think the fact that we're halfway across the country from them will be more palpable now.
Week Three Ends with a Splash
We finally get up the guts to give Kate her first tub bath. It takes all of a minute; we're paranoid about her getting cold. When we dry her off, her hair looks all sweet and curly. Then we lay her on the changing table, and she stares at her mobile. She's definitely more aware of her surroundings.
Week Four Begins: Feeling Like a Mom
On our first day alone together (Todd's back at the office), I take Kate to get her picture taken for her birth announcement. I'm so proud to successfully stroll her around by myself! But the feeling of accomplishment dwindles as the week continues. The huge truth of new motherhood hits me: My time is no longer my own. Full-time, relentless baby care is hard to get used to.
Since Todd is now commuting again, he's trying to get to sleep at a decent hour. I, on the other hand, stay up rocking a crying baby. I feel angry, and yet when he offers to help, I bark at him to go back to sleep. Hormones, hormones. I cry it out with Kate until we both nod off.
Part of what I do to pull myself together is attend a new-moms' group. It's such a relief to talk to women who know exactly how I feel! As I discuss my "witching hour," the time of night when Todd goes to bed and I'm frantic to get to sleep, I realize that part of the problem is my dreading what little sleep I'll get. I resolve to try to relax and take things as they come.
Week Four Ends Explosively
Babies are messy. I do laundry a lot. Kate's already had her first explosive diaper, soaking all the way through her clothes. She's also had her first projectile spit-up, managing to soak her car seat, herself, my pants, and the floor in one spectacular move.
But babies are also adorable. She makes little "oh" noises when she sees me or Todd, and we melt.
More mommy milestones: I figure out how to use a front carrier and go for a walk that way. I breastfeed in public for the first time, at the new-mothers' group. We go out to eat with friends, and Kate sleeps in the stroller, allowing us plenty of adult conversation. And I have my first freak-out one afternoon, when I think she's choking. But she's crying furiously while coughing -- so obviously she's fine, and the incident passes.
There are more baby milestones, too: Kate starts using her play mat and napping in her bassinet fairly regularly. Some infant acne breaks out on her cheeks, then quickly clears up. Finally, at five and a half weeks, Kate smiles -- she crinkles her eyes while moving her mouth!
Nights are still the hardest time for everyone. One night, as Kate screams, Todd groggily pats me on the arm. I hiss, "That's not helping me!" and start to cry. He gets up and moves to the couch, complaining that I push him away. I later apologize for hurting his feelings. Crazy how my relationship with Kate can so complicate my relationship with my husband.
In other news, we have her one-month appointment. Kate is 9 pounds 6 ounces and 23 inches long. The doctor says to expect a week-six growth spurt and warns me that Kate will constantly want to nurse (as though she doesn't already!). Feeding her whenever she's hungry is exactly what I should do (it's nice to have my natural instinct justified). He also shows me how to position her for tummy time. She pulls her head right up and holds it there. We're so proud!
Week Six: Life Resumes
It seems like time to institute a bedtime ritual, starting with putting Kate in pajamas to signify that it's night. And one night, though probably not because of the pajamas, she sleeps from 11:30 p.m. until 4:30 a.m.
She seems to make a leap in consciousness, paying much more attention to toys, for instance. She also rolls from her tummy to her back -- maybe by accident, but it's still pretty momentous!
Though I'll find myself saying this many times during Kate's first year, it seems like we're finally getting a handle on things. Todd and I are feeling more confident about being parents, and Kate has an obviously emerging personality.
Though it's been exhausting and sometimes upsetting, I wouldn't call these first six weeks horrible. Even when I feel nauseous from lack of sleep or sob for an hour along with my baby, all I have to do is look at her and feel that unbelievable love, and it's somehow worth every minute.
Tracy Guth Spangler is a writer in South Orange, New Jersey.
Originally published in American Baby magazine, August 2005.