Now that I’m pregnant with my second child, I’ve had some time to reflect on the way I managed the newborn stage with my firstborn, and how I might want to do things a little differently this time around. There are many things I did that, in hindsight, I can now laugh at—and many other things that now make me realize that I should have reached out for more support.
1. I brought non-maternity clothes to change into at the hospital
Less than 24 hours after pushing out my eight-pound, four-ounce baby, I tried to squeeze into the non-maternity outfit I had packed in my hospital bag and was astonished by the fact that it Did. Not. Fit. I looked in the mirror of the hospital bathroom and was shocked to see my belly hanging over the waist of the pants, and to feel my hips being painfully pinched at the sides.
The shirt that I forced over my exhausted and deflated torso was constrictive and also high-necked, which meant I couldn’t easily breastfeed while wearing it. The surprising part about all of this is that I was surprised at all. I knew it would take at least six weeks for my uterus to return to its pre-pregnant size, and I also knew I had put on about 50 pounds during my pregnancy (thank you, McDonald’s milkshakes). For some reason, I assumed that I would be exempt from any regular recovery time and that everything would just pop right back into place. Realistically, it took me closer to two years to feel like I was back in my own body, albeit with some permanent and not-so-subtle reminders of pregnancy (*cough* enormous nipples *cough*)—right in time for me to get pregnant all over again!
2. I refused to nap
I know the advice to “sleep when the baby sleeps” is the last thing any new parent wants to hear, but I also know now that I had some very odd priorities during those first hazy weeks (or was it months?) of parenthood. It probably had something to do with postpartum hormones, and a lot to do with postpartum anxiety, but once the baby was asleep, I felt like I had to conquer the world—and by conquer the world, I mean maniacally clean our one-bedroom apartment. Looking back, I wish I could say to that version of myself, “Stop! You’ve never before cared about how clean the bathtub is, so why do you care now?” or “Hold up. Yes, you are having guests over, but those guests are your parents, and they are the ones who told you they gave you a biological advantage by raising you in a not-so-clean environment, so I think they’ll be fine if you don’t wipe down the kitchen counter.” At least this second time around, my toddler will keep me in check—he makes cleaning our house futile anyway, so I’m not going to take on a losing battle.
3. I made an effort to respond to every single congratulatory social media comment
Five days after my son joined us earth-side, I decided it was time to make it truly official by announcing his birth on Instagram and Facebook. The influx of congratulatory comments was so kind and brought me such joy to read…until I decided I had to respond to every single one. Why I decided this, I’m not sure. (Oh wait, yes, I am: It was that perfect storm of hormones and anxiety.) But it felt like a full-time job, monitoring my phone and computer to make sure that every comment was acknowledged, and every “like” was “liked” back. I don’t think anyone else had any expectation of a response, and I certainly know that I don’t when I send my best wishes to friends who post about their new family additions. My stress may have also been compounded by the pressure I put on myself to write thank-you cards to each of the staff that had helped us at the hospital (a list of over 20 people that I decided must get personalized notes). I also held myself to a strict timeframe of hand-delivering (!) within the first couple of weeks from my son’s birth. My intentions were good, but my expectations of sticking to any sort of schedule were just plain unrealistic. While I still enjoy writing thank-you notes and responding to messages, my new motto is going to have to be “better late than never.”
4. I binged a scary TV series and refused to stop
Remember that Netflix show, The Haunting of Hill House? It’s the story of a beautiful, happy, and loving family that is torn apart by dark supernatural powers, and many tragedies ensue. That was the show I decided to binge-watch when my son was born. As entertaining as it was, I might not recommend it to someone who is in the throes of new motherhood. Finally, while I bawled my eyes out on the couch, my sister turned the show off and switched on a cartoon, telling me that if I wanted to watch something, it should be mindless and silly. I’ve never gone from sobbing hysterically to doubled-over in laughter as quickly as I did in that moment.
5. I was embarrassed by peeing my pants
Yes, peeing one’s pants in public is not ideal, and most of us can probably imagine the embarrassment that comes with public-pants-peeing. However, I wasn’t just embarrassed about peeing my pants in public (which I did), I was embarrassed about peeing my pants in the privacy of my own home (which I also did. A lot). Thanks to my limited knowledge of pelvic floor muscles, a forceps birth, and a third-degree tear, my body had a lot of healing to do. Instead of recognizing that I needed to give it time to repair, I felt shame that my body wasn’t able to stand up to the challenges that birth had presented. I would never want anyone I cared about to be so unforgiving toward themselves, so why did I accept that for myself? After a visit to the urogynecologist (who was comically direct, and asked, while examining me, “Did you know that you tore from your vagina to your anus?” Um, yes. Yes, I did. Do I get bragging rights?), and after many sessions with a pelvic physiotherapist, I was able to regain full control over my bladder. Even more important, though, was that I learned to feel proud of my body for its incredible ability to recover instead of ashamed of what I could not control.
6. I made sure to return my library books on time
Another reflection on misplaced priorities. I had a newborn, and he was needy, as all newborns are. I was also in pain—see item number 5. But gosh darn it, I was NOT going to be fined for returning my library books late! Looking back, I suppose the library books were just symbolic: I was trying to establish some sense of control in my newly chaotic life with a baby. Looking forward, I plan to keep supporting my local public library, and if that means paying them late fees, then gosh darn it, they can have my two dollars and ten cents!
7. I forced myself to smile even when it was OK to cry
Having a baby is wild. It is filled with highs, and also lows. When I had my first baby, good friends often said, “You must be so happy!” and I was—I just didn’t feel so happy one hundred percent of the time. Sometimes—oftentimes—I felt so sad. On a particularly hard day, a wise and loving family member told me that when she had her first baby, her doctor had told her that her only job was to love him and to rock him. Those words helped. It wasn’t my job to smile all of the time, or to feel happy all of the time, or to try to savour every moment all of the time—it was my job to love him and to rock him. I could do that while feeling happy, but I could also do that while feeling sad, and that would be OK, too. I hope that this second time around, I can feel more comfortable sharing both my highs and my lows with those who support me, knowing that as long as I am loving my children, I am doing my job.