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?