Photo: Courtesy of Simone Olivero
Like a lot of Canadians, I dread the months between November and April. Once daylight savings hits and the days shrink into tiny windows of (mostly grey) light, the effort required to leave the house—or even a cozy bed—can feel just… No. When I found out that my daughter was due at the end of November, I couldn’t help but feel the creeping weight of dread. How was I going to survive having a baby during the darkest time of the year?
I don’t suffer from clinical depression but the change in the weather definitely influences my mood. In fact, it’s estimated that around two to three percent of Canadians will experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in their lifetime, while another fifteen percent will feel SAD-like symptoms during the fall or winter. As the days become shorter and the amount of sunlight we experience diminishes, symptoms can include feeling like crying but not being able to, having low self-esteem, sleep problems, and changes in appetite and weight. Most people will describe these blustery and cold days as leaving them feeling “gloomy” or tired.
After a pregnancy filled with long, sunny days and lazy weekends cooling off in our local outdoor pool, I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage the stress, sleepless nights and anxiety of a new baby when the world outside looked so grim. It didn’t help that anytime I mentioned my due date to a friend, doctor or random stranger, their facial expressions would shift to concern and a comment like, “winter babies can be tough.”
Going for a leisurely stroller walk to console a fussy infant is way more challenging when you have a winter baby. (Ask anyone who’s ever tried to bundle up a newborn in multiple layers, plus a bunting bag or a car seat cover, all timed to work around feeds and diaper changes.) Even little things, like running into the grocery store or meeting up with a friend for coffee, can feel like a major production—a far cry from those relaxed-looking new moms you see lounging on picnic blankets in the park during the summer.
My husband was also attuned to this concern. As an interior designer, he went to work crafting a nursery that would feel bright and sunny, even during those darkest postpartum moments. He stuck to a bright, neutral palette of white, light grey and untreated oak, and together we installed a wallpaper mural of towering green cactus that would bring to mind sunny memories of our travels to Mexico and Arizona. Neither of us needed to say it, but the nursery was designed to help me cope.
My daughter arrived early on a chilly morning at the end of November—a week and a day past her due date. I woke up to contractions at 3 a.m., and then again at 5 a.m., and finally 8 a.m., when the contractions were close enough to start making our way to the hospital. I remember the silence in the house during those early hours, glancing over at my still sleeping husband and listening to the soft snoring of my dog, Lola, who had camped out next to the bed. It felt like the whole world was asleep, and instead of making me feel anxious, I felt calm. The contractions of early labour were unrelenting, but manageable, so I took a quick shower, knowing that it would likely be my last for some time. On our way to the hospital, the Toronto streets were still empty, which felt oddly peaceful.
After a gruelling 26-hour labour, our daughter finally arrived, safe and sound. We returned home the next day, sneaking back inside under the quiet shroud of winter. We felt like young kids keeping a secret: we were parents now. Our neighbours never even knew we were gone.
Life with a tiny baby was challenging, as expected. Christmas came and went without my husband, new baby or me really taking much notice, and the long, sleepless nights filled with feedings, diaper changes and tears (hers and mine) all melted into each other like one never-ending day. Friends would visit, bring food and hold my child as she would sleep her way through the day, only to then be up all night.
But it didn’t really matter. For those first exhausting weeks, my husband and I lived as if time didn’t exist. We ate when we were hungry, slept when we could and made a point to get some fresh air at least once a day, even if that meant going for a walk at 10 p.m. I’m not sure I even noticed the weather—simply being outside was a much-needed break from being cooped up in the house. After six weeks, we were just beginning to come out of the fog, and it was already mid-January.
Eventually my husband went back to work, and I resolved not to be overcome by cabin fever alone at home with the baby. After being cleared by my doctor, I joined mommy and me yoga, started regularly attending circle time at my community centre and joined Mumnet, a local mom group that offered fitness classes and workshops for new moms, plus two hours of child care (two hours!). I learned how to use my super-complicated looking Ergobaby carrier and took my little sidekick everywhere. (It should be noted that baby-wearing in the winter is the best—cozy and warm for both mom and baby. Definitely much better than the hot, sweaty mess of wearing your baby in the summer months.)
One day a week, I kept my plans completely open so I could stay home with the baby, be lazy and spend naptime binge-watching Netflix (which is not so different from what my friends without newborns were doing at this time of year).
Once the snow melted and the first signs of spring began to appear, I had made an entirely new group of parent friends who had babies the same age as mine, had learned how terribly inaccessible public transit in downtown Toronto can be when you have a stroller, and I had completely forgotten to complain about how much winter sucked. And since everyone else had also spent the winter mostly in hibernation, I didn’t feel any of the usual FOMO you get from scrolling through social media.
As the days began to get longer, warmer and brighter, my daughter had somehow turned six months old and loved rolling around on the grass in the park while I attended an outdoor boot camp. Now that she could sit up and scoot, she was no longer satisfied with the minimal floor space in our tiny condo, so the timing was perfect for getting outside. She could also (finally) wear sunscreen, so I didn’t have to panic about using clothes to cover every exposed inch of skin or worry about her overheating.
As the streets and patios in the city began to fill up again, I too, was back and ready to rejoin society, my mini-me in tow. Shedding my oversized winter layers, my postpartum body had had some time to recover and I almost felt back to “normal,” ready to wear less-forgiving spring and summer attire. We went back to the public pool where I’d spent so many lazy afternoons the summer prior. Just as I was coming out of baby-induced hibernation, the rest of the world was emerging, too.
Friends and family often remark about the winter my daughter was born as being one of the longest, coldest and greyest. But that’s not how I remember it. Instead of feeling like I was missing out on all the things I did during my pre-parenthood life, I felt like I was being given the perfect excuse to stay inside and process this major life change. In the darkness of those 2 a.m., 8 a.m. and even 4:30 p.m. feedings, I learned to love that the only thing I had to do was bond with my new baby girl.
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