The Calm Before the Storm

Storm

Maybe you came home from the hospital or birthing center just a couple of days into this new parenting gig and thought to yourselves, “We’ve got this! There’s food in the fridge, the house is calm and peaceful, our gorgeous baby is sleeping quietly in the bassinet. What’s everyone complaining about? New parenting is a breeze!”

And then, your baby wakes up. But I don’t mean like waking up from a nap. No, I mean they wake up and they are hangry! I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced being hangry before? It’s when you are hungry and angry at the same time – and it isn’t very pretty.

But no one experiences hanger quite like a newborn when they first really wake up. Which happens for most babies, somewhere between day two and day five postpartum. Think about it – they’ve never had real hunger before this, but now they have to ask for it, and their bellies are so incredibly small that they digest their food in no time at all. After they wake up for real, any warm, fuzzy, sunny idea you might have had about parenting a newborn, turns into the cold, dark, stormy reality of actually doing it.

Coupled with your baby’s desire for food, which can seem like it’s constant, you have to deal with lots of other stuff – especially in those early days postpartum. Like a body that has changed so dramatically that you barely recognize yourself. Your pregnancy hormones are trying to regulate, which is no small task. But now you’ve also got to deal with other hormones being triggered so you can make the milk to help quiet the squalling infant that seems to be always at your breast.

Your baby starts to pee and poop – a lot. And suddenly, the pile of laundry climbs three feet higher from yesterday (how can an eight pound newborn create so much dirty laundry?) Your sleep schedules have been seriously interrupted and you find all those warm, gooey, love-feelings that you were having for your partner start to give way to a scorecard of who is doing what in terms of caring for the baby. And unless you’ve set some solid boundaries ahead of time, you’ve also got loads of spectators, I mean visitors, to watch this whole thing unravel.

I’m not painting this lovely picture to freak out anybody who is still in the “waiting to give birth” category. It’s just that I get great feedback from my former students when we get together for a reunion. The last group I met with really would have liked more information about what those first few days might really be like. I know that it’s close to impossible for them to hear about the postpartum period. When they’re in my class, their brains can only take in the answer to one very important and specific question: “How do I get the baby that is currently inside of me to come out?”

But when this group of former students talked about how different their reality was from what they expected in those first few days, and more importantly, how they didn’t know if what they were experiencing was normal, I knew I’d need to address it here as well as in my classes from now on.

Your baby will seem like a little angel at first, and they’ll be your angel again someday, I swear it. But initially, you could get duped into thinking that you’ve got the baby that everyone wished they had, only to find out that you actually have the baby that everyone warned you about!

Take heart. It’s not like this forever. You will see the sun come out again. There are many, many more blue skies in your future. But if, initially, it feels like a storm cloud has settled directly over your house I want you to know that you’re not alone. There are lots and lots of other new parents who are going through the exact same thing.

Finding them and talking about it can be a great way to get those storm clouds to blow over. I could tell at this reunion that even though their babies were months older and the storm clouds were nowhere in sight, they were better for the sharing of what those first days felt like. Knowing that you’re not alone really can help.

So another plug for educators to hold reunions. Seventeen+ years in and they still inform my teaching and what I focus on in my classroom. Also, a plug for new parents to find a support group – either one that’s attached to the hospital where you gave birth, or an independent one in your community. You’ll find great comfort in knowing that you’re not alone.

Did your experience with your newborn look like this? All sweetness and light until… How did you cope with the immediate switch between expectation and reality in those first few days postpartum?

Ready or Not?

Ready

As the couples file out of the classroom at the end of my Childbirth Preparation series, I usually ask them something: “Are you ready?” This might seem like a loaded question, and it is. I’m hoping that I’ll hear something along the lines of, “I guess I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” or “I’m not sure you can ever feel completely ready.” If that’s the response I’m getting, then I feel like I’ve done my job.

That might surprise you. Shouldn’t they walk out of the room feeling like they’re completely ready to give birth and become parents? I don’t think so.

I hope they feel a sense of increased confidence in their ability to meet the challenges of birth head on. I hope they feel more prepared for what might or might not happen. I hope they’re broadening their expectations of what a positive birth story looks like. I hope they’ve come closer together as a couple during their de facto date nights with me. But do I want them to feel completely ready? No, I don’t.

I spend a lot of time encouraging my families to lean into their feelings of vulnerability, to explore what it feels like to have the earth shifting below their feet, to be okay with not feeling ready. Because, there’s no way any one of us has every truly been ready for the transition to parenthood. I taught classes for two years before I had my first baby, was I completely ready? I may have had more information than most, but no way did I feel completely ready.

I think all of us who work in this field of prenatal and parenting education need to take our jobs seriously and try our hardest to prepare our families for the realities of birth, breastfeeding, and new parenting.

I think we need to remember that it’s okay to help them set realistic expectations of themselves, their partners and their babies.

I definitely wish there was more time devoted to adequately address the postpartum period (I’m hatching some new ideas and curriculum to address the ever-widening gap that exists between what expectant parents are willing and able to take in prenatally about that 4th trimester and what they will actually be experiencing in those first days, weeks and months after their baby arrives. Stay tuned).

But I’m okay with their honest assessment after my classes end that, no, they are not completely ready for this life change. This doesn’t worry me at all. Quite the opposite – it makes me feel as if they were really taking it all in and coming to their own conclusions that they’ll probably never feel completely ready.

That’s life, yes? Always changing, always evolving, always keeping us a little off-guard.

And just when we think we’ve discovered the pattern to perfect parenting, our babies will remind us that they are not automatons that prescribe to one and only method. They’re forever changing and evolving as well. We all are.

Are you ready for that?

How ready did you feel to become a parent? What could we as professionals in this field have done to help you feel more ready? Do you think it’s okay to not feel completely ready for this life transformation?

Why Does Embracing Change Have to Be SO Hard?

Embrace10:4I think that many new parents feel that when they have a baby they’ll essentially remain the exact same person they were before. Only now – they have a baby. And there is great appeal in that because as human beings, most of us don’t really like change. We like things to be pretty predictable. It’s not that we’re a boring species, exactly, it’s just that we’d like to be prepared for anything different or exciting. We’d like to plan it all out a bit so that there are no hidden surprises.

Well, surprise! Parenting doesn’t really prescribe to this method – at all.

It’s no wonder, then, that it takes some time to embrace our new roles as parents. I use the word “embrace” purposefully because it’s not just about acknowledging that there’s been a change. No, embrace by definition means to “accept or support (a belief, theory or change) willingly and enthusiastically.” Hmmmm…this might take some time.

That’s okay. I want you to know that it’s okay to buck against this embracing of new parenthood – for a little while, at least. But at some point, you’ll realize that remaining the same person you were before the birth of your baby just isn’t realistic. And the longer you fight that idea, the harder this newborn period of time will be for you as an individual, a couple and new family. So how do you go from fighting this new change to truly embracing it? That can be different for different people.

Take me, for example. With my first baby, I remember in the beginning that I tried desperately to get her to nap during the day. I’d nurse her, burp her and nurse her again. She’d nod off in my arms and I would wait for her to show those signs of deep sleep before I’d even think about putting her down in the bassinet.

But the minute I tried to lay her down her eyes would pop open and she’d be wide awake! At first, I thought maybe it was the cold sheets – so I put a heating pad in the bassinet to warm it up before I laid her down. As I removed the heating pad I could feel that the sheets were toasty warm now, so this ought to work, right? Wrong. Again, the minute she was out of my arms she would wake up.

I was getting nothing done and I could feel my frustration climbing with every passing day. This had become our new pattern: baby is calm and sleeping when she’s against my body – awake, alert and fussy when she’s not.

Wait a minute…

The thought that was stuck in my head was: “The only way I’ll ever get anything done is if my baby sleeps on her own during the day.” Imagine how hard it was for me to turn that thought into: “I’ll wear my baby everywhere during the day so that she sleeps and I can get my stuff done.” That was a big stretch for me. It might not be for you. But after I embraced this idea willingly and enthusiastically, everything about that newborn stage changed for me.

 I wore my baby during the day almost non-stop for the first three months of her life. And I got really good at being able to go to the bathroom with a baby strapped to my chest. I ate all of my meals with a napkin over her head so that the scraps of my food didn’t end up in her hair. I even took the heat from others who claimed that I was spoiling my child and she’d never learn to take naps or get to sleep on her own (totally not true, for the record). But I persevered in this new way of doing things because I embraced that my life had actually changed.

Whatever I thought might happen before the baby was born was replaced by the reality of what was happening now that the baby was here.

I knew that if I wanted to get things done that I’d be much more successful in that goal if I kept her close to my heart – which is where she apparently most wanted to be. Now, your baby might be a napping dream and sleeps in their bassinet during the daytime with no problem. If that’s your experience, than I’m really happy for you. But, if you’re like me, and have a baby that’s not so sure about daytime separation from you – take heart. This was a temporary solution that greatly impacted how I felt about being a new Momma.

This was the first of many things that I remember having to embrace in my role as a new parent.

You might have a different challenge or struggle that’s keeping you from embracing your new role. How could you change your perspective to help you lessen the grip on your fear of change? Does it help to place whatever it might be into the status of temporary? “This will probably not have to happen forever, but right now what’s working for us as a family is _______________.”

All I can tell you is that my transition with each subsequent baby was so much easier when I realized from the very beginning that I’d just be wearing my baby during the day until they were about three months old.

I didn’t waste any time fighting or resisting this change – I embraced it wholeheartedly.

Are you finding it hard to embrace your role as new parent? What has been the biggest challenge for you? How do you think you could embrace this challenge instead of continuing to fight it?

(PS – I look at this picture and my back screams NO WAY! But secretly, I want to see this in real-life. I would love to watch this studly guy try to take two steps with a baby strapped to his hip like that. Totally cracks me up!)