A dear friend gave birth to a baby boy a few months ago, beautiful and needy just like our Oliver. Seeing her navigate life with a newborn, hearing the happiness mixed with exhaustion in her voice as she asks questions and shares concerns, I am transported back to my own experiences, both so very different. First-time motherhood wasn’t easy, but Lily Rose was a pretty good newborn: she nursed often but not constantly, and she slept long stretches early on, swaddled snug in her bassinet with her soother. Maybe because it was almost 4 years ago, so the hard stuff no longer sticks out in my mind, or because she was our only child at the time, it seemed much easier with her. It has been a year since our Ollie was a newborn, and yet the the experience, hard times and heartwarming moments alike, still feels so fresh.
First of all, the kid sucked like a hoover. No joke, his suction made my nipples feel as though they were being ripped to shreds. In hospital we thought the reason for breastfeeding being harder this go around was his tongue or lip tie, but they snipped those and still, it hurt like hell. Once home, I would cry in frustration, anticipating the pain every time Jon brought him to me to feed, which seemed to be every hour at first. He wasn’t always hungry; often it was him wanting comfort and the kid just wouldn’t take a soother. We tried swaddling, but it didn’t work like magic to calm and comfort him to sleep. Noise machines and singing and shushing were lost on him. And he hated his bassinet. We tried all the tricks, nothing helped for more than a night or two. He would sleep some in the Mamaroo, but even that was short-lived. Really, the only place he wanted to be was in my arms. We didn’t co-sleep with Lily Rose; I am too light a sleeper to get a wink of sleep next to a newborn, and Jon is too deep a sleeper to feel comfortable with a baby in our bed. But to get some semblance of sleep, I would prop myself up to a sitting position, all the pillows and cushions surrounding me, Ollie on the nursing pillow, positioned just so, and we would snooze together for 2 or 3 hours at a time.
Oliver had other newborn quirks: He was so congested, sounding like a piglet and obviously uncomfortable on his back; he went crazy passing gas, like every fart was cause for a freak out; and, we called him Angry Baby because he looked generally pissed off to be out of the womb. But it was Oliver’s insatiable hunger and desire for comfort, that only I could provide, which got me almost to a breaking point. So many times Jon offered to help, trying a bottle of breast milk and then formula, but Ollie would have none of it, so those attempts brought no breaks for me.
With our first born, I could nurse and binge-watch Netflix. I got some rest and I still found “me time!” I could try napping while she slept. But the whole “sleep when baby sleeps” must only be for first time moms. We did send Lily to daycare some, but it wasn’t every day. When she was home, I found it hard to cater to a needy newborn and a toddler who still needed feeding, dressing, changing (we didn’t have it in us to attempt potty training then), and to be entertained. I put shows on the TV in our room or gave her a tablet, but then I spent my time feeling guilty about it. She still napped some when Oliver first came home, but she wanted to snuggle with me too. It was very sweet, having my two loves snoozing on me in bed, and my heart burst about a bazillion times those early days, but extreme exhaustion changes a person, physically and emotionally. For me, I was on the verge of tears constantly, easily set off by anything my partner or toddler did. I have a hard time with any amount of stress, but add to that the fatigue and the hormones hitting me hard after having a baby, and you have one mess of a momma-of-two.
One moment I loved time my two babies and their father, then the next moment I felt smothered and annoyed: someone was always needing me, or touching me, or talking to me, or crying for me. I felt pulled in a million different directions. If I was doing something for Oliver but Lily Rose asked something of me, I had to choose. Most often, the baby won out, and then Lily was upset, which got me upset, which got Jon upset. I felt like I couldn’t win, like no matter how hard I tried, someone was always losing out, myself included.
The thing I felt most terrible about in those early days was how hard I found it to bond with our son. I loved him, I was obsessed with keeping the little guy safe and sound, checking that he was breathing about a zillion times. But Oliver was so needy, in ways I hadn’t experienced with his smaller, less hungry older sister. I felt some resentment towards the little love. He was not only robbing me of sleep, but also of time with his sister. Lily Rose hadn’t seemed so needy as a newborn, but she had grown into a total Momma’s Girl! There were daily battles as she was going from the Terrible Twos into being a Threenager!! Even though she was a handful, I really missed time my girl, our first born, because for almost three years life had revolved around her. I would watch her outside in our new yard, once Daddy came home or on weekends, running around gleefully. They were soaking up the sun, enjoying hot days and the short but amazing summer. Daddy got all the fun, all the squeals and smiles from our girl, and I got the impatient, moody, attention-starved version of our daughter, along with Angry Baby, crying at every strange, new feeling in his tiny body. He was too cranky out in the sun on the deck or too hot under a tent on the lawn (and don’t get me started on the sweaty breastfeeding in summer, it’s just gross!). I felt I couldn’t do all the things I wanted to; it wasn’t as easy to sit and enjoy our new yard with two clingy kids, and it felt like a lot of work to haul them around in the heat to get out of the house.
And then when Oliver was around two months old, things shifted. Our needy newborn didn’t nurse quite as often and it no longer hurt, he was sleeping some in his bassinet, the congestion and gas pains were gone. Ollie had already started to smile, a smirk really at first. He would look at me, and grin with this twinkle in his eye, and I knew he wasn’t just some needy ball of frustration, literally sucking the life from me, but a happy, spirited soul trapped in the body of newborn. He just needed time to adjust to this new world. I needed time to get accustomed to our new normal. We both needed time to get used to one another. I would text Jon to say “We had a good day, we connected” or when he came home from work I’d declare: “I think I really like Oliver now”;) These beautiful moments came more and more often, when I felt the connection I had so early on with Lily Rose. With every day he slept slightly better, I felt less and less like a zombie and I began to feel more present. I was finally starting to enjoy getting to know my little man.
If I could go back, I would savour those early days more, instead of wishing that hard, tiring stage away. I would also not wait till it got too hard to ask for help. Once I was honest and open about my feelings, I felt better. I then stopped feeling guilty about things (the not connecting, the not getting out enough with the kids, the too much tablet time). I had to let go of my expectations of how things would be with a new newborn. I needed to remind myself that this stage is all about survival; just getting through a day with everyone intact is success! And I needed to commit to making time to rest, unwind or recharge. I took a bath once Jon was home some days or I went out with the girls after I’d gotten Oliver down to sleep some nights. I drank that extra cup of coffee in the morning on the deck while the baby napped and the big kid played outside, or I filled the wine glass at the end of the day once Oliver wasn’t sleeping on every night anymore. Some days I forced myself to get out outside, get active in some way. And some days it was just easier to stay in, because the prepping, the packing, the running on empty was just too much. And you know what, that’s OK, to know your limits and not take on more than you can handle on any given day.
For any new or seasoned mommas struggling to connect with their new bundles of not so much joy, or feeling that sleep deprivation and stress has changed them, you are not alone! For me, thankfully things changed and I felt better after a few months. But if life doesn’t look brighter and you feel postpartum depression or anxiety creep in, please reach out and ask for help! Don’t wait until things get too hard before sharing your stress, telling your loved ones you are drowning and need help up out of the depths, even just a break to find your breath. I shared my concerns with those closest to me; their support, along with time to adjust to life and coping techniques I had learned in counselling years before are what got me through! But if there is real darkness and it doesn’t lift, if things don’t get better, don’t wait to make an appointment to see your doctor or a counselor. A home is happier and a family functions when the Mother is healthy<3
And please, don’t buy into this time in your life being all magical and blissful; there may be magical moments but it can actually be quite shitty (literally), tiring and difficult. The good news is, it isn’t forever, it’s a phase, really a blip in time. And there are glimmers of hope at the end of living life with a newborn. There are moments when your baby looks you in the eye and giggles and it is quite literally the most gorgeous sound you’ve ever heard. All the sleepless nights, all the changes, all the added stress washes away when you feel your heart expand in ways you never knew possible. It just takes some of us mommas more time than others to realize that any hard stuff is more than worth it. In the midst of the exhaustion of cluster feeding and all night nursing sessions, you might just catch your older sibling singing “You are my sunshine” to her baby brother and instead of tears of longing for the life you lived before, you feel tears of joy for the love that this little guy has gifted your life<3 He has changed you and your family forever, but definitely for the better!!!