These weeks with a newborn napping on my chest again. Days filled with nursing, resting, diapers, nursing, too much TV, reading, nursing. They are such precious moments that slip by too quickly. I know this in my heart.
Yet, it is still a challenge for me to be truly present in these moments, to savor them and not wish them away.
I like control. I like planning. I like organization. I like knowing what is coming next. Infants turn that all over on it's head. There's part of me that can so easily go to, "I can't wait until the baby is older . . . I can't wait until we get regular sleep again . . . I can't wait until I have some more freedom."
Furthermore, a newborn brings on many challenges that make it more difficult for me to relax, to be laid back, go with the flow of things, enjoy those precious moments and trust in God's plan, things that I'm usually pretty good at despite my appreciation of planning and organization.
Tiredness, hormones and anxiety are huge roadblocks for me when it comes to enjoying the first weeks with a newborn.
So, what to do?
Here are some ideas that have helped me . . .
Above all, begin with prayer. Prayer puts everything in perspective. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill your heart, to guide you and bestow you with the grace to appreciate these precious moments and find joy in them. No other action will set your heart right like prayer.
During my pregnancy, I prayed a novena to St. Gerard, the patron saint of expectant mothers, asking him to pray for me. I prayed for an easier and faster labor. Apparently, it was not in God's plan for Maria's birth to be faster or easier, but rather the opposite really.
However, I would also end each prayer asking above all, for the Holy Spirit to fill my heart and to grant me the grace I need to mother these five children with love, kindness, patience, strength, gentleness, understanding and humor. This was the real prayer of my heart, my utmost desire during that novena. I struggle with these things each day, but I also can feel the Holy Spirit stirring in my heart, an answer I think to that novena.
Motherhood is above all, a spiritual journey, something that I hope to write more about in the future, possibly in a book :)
2. Paper Plates
From the spiritual to the very practical, use paper plates. At least for the first few weeks. Just take a whole lot of dishes off of your plate (ba-dum-bum), and make your life a little easier. If you're worried about the environment, buy compostable plates and you now have one less thing to feel guilty about.
3. Pictures - LOTS of them
There's something about taking photos that forces you to find beauty in the everyday moments. The baby you've been studying so intently is a piece of God's craftsmanship and creativity, created in His image. Photos help us to realize this, even during the most mundane, tired days, and make it possible for us to remember those precious moments for the rest of our lives.
4. Find a Good Book about Infanthood
Something what calms my nerves is to read the chapters out of What to Expect the First Year. I know very well that all babies are different and that they develop at different rates and reach milestones at different times.
However, when it seems like life will never be normal again, it is comforting to me to read that around four months is when you might be able to put a baby down to sleep when they are awake but drowsy. It comforts me to read about all of the milestones they will eventually reach, ones that will make life easier and ones that are so much fun and exciting, like their first laugh.
This helps me to keep in mind that it's all a phase and nothing is permanent. So appreciate the now.
5. But Also, Realize that Babies Don't Work like a Math Textbook
Sometimes it's so tempting to think that once a baby does something, they have that skill down. Oh look! They soothed themselves to sleep on their own. Check that skill off the list. Now they slept for five hours straight in the middle of the night! Check that off. They will never now need to be fed in the middle of the night more often than every five hours.
Nope. Sorry. Babies don't work like that, especially in the early weeks. They aren't like a math textbook, in which one picks up skill after skill, in the correct order and continues to add onto the previously acquired skills, becoming more and more advanced babies.
One day they nap for three hours straight. The next day they nap for a total of 30 minutes. One night, they are up every hour. The next night, they sleep for five and go right back to sleep after nursing. One day they seem pretty content. The next day, they are so extremely fussy, you are sure something is very, very wrong.
Every night and every day is different. You just have to be prepared for whatever they are going to deal out on any given day, and you can't hold them accountable for any previously learned skills.
6. Accept Help (or even ask for it!)
If someone offers to bring you a meal, let them. If someone offers to care for your other children, let them. If someone offers to fold laundry, let them. If someone offers to clean your house, let them. Let them, let them, let them. You will have future opportunities to be generous to others and to pay it forward.
This is something that we are so very bad at. In so many other time periods in history and other cultures, a whole village, family or community would gather around the new mother and baby, and take care of their everyday needs. We live such reclusive lives for the most part, that this wise and ancient custom has practically evaporated.
Have someone create a meal sign-up list for you so that people can bring you dinner at a web site like TakeThemAMeal.com. Friends have done this for us when we have welcomed a baby into our home, and it is such a blessing.
And the next time you know a woman in your community who is expecting, ask her if anyone is doing this for her! Most likely, no one is, and you will have the opportunity to serve and bless that family.
7. Watch Too Much TV
What else are you going to do? In those early weeks, the baby sleeps A LOT. And very often they are asleep on your shoulder or while nursing. You are exhausted. Your body is recovering. You can read, and I do plenty of that as well, but your attention span and focus abilities will most likely be lacking. So watch movies!
With a little planning before the baby arrives, you can have all of your favorite movies on hand and not be browsing desperately for something to watch on Netflix and Amazon, or even more desperately, on daytime television.
I put many of my favorite movies on hold at the library before the baby arrived, and now, they just keep coming in! There are two categories - movies that I can watch with children around and those I cannot.
Here's what is on my list:
Able to Watch with Children
Swiss Family Robinson, Old Yeller, Anne of Green Gables, The Incredibles, Finding Nemo, Robin Hood, Monsters Inc, The Parent Trap, Out of Africa (most of it's fine for kids), Gone with the Wind, Enchanted, Sinbad, Anastasia, Mr. Holland's Opus, Dennis the Menace, Fiddler on the Roof, West Side Story, Oklahoma
To Watch Without Children
Million Dollar Baby, The Great Outdoors, Julie and Julia, Mamma Mia, The Fighter, Love Actually, National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, P.S. I Love You, Little Women, Mr. Holland's Opus
The important thing is no guilt. At our house, the TV is not on very much. The children basically don't watch TV during a normal week unless we have Family Movie Night or they get to watch a couple of episodes of something together on Saturday mornings. Jason and I really only watch TV after they are in bed.
So it's hard for me to have the TV on so much without feeling guilty, especially on gorgeous June days.
But here's the thing. I can't really enjoy the outside a whole lot right now. The breeze, the bright sunlight and the fact she can't wear sunscreen all make it difficult for Maria Grace to be outside. If she can't be outside very much yet, then neither can I. Right now, I spend the majority of my time on the couch nursing. So I might as well watch a good movie while I'm at it :)
Furthermore, it's just a phase.
8. Go For a Walk
That all being said, if I stay inside on gorgeous, sunny days all the time, I will in fact go insane. I bought a Baby K'tan, a carrier that works well even for newborns. I bought the Active version, which is made with breathable mesh and SPF, perfect for warm summer days. I don't get a walk in every day, but I try to several times a week. And I'm not talking anything long. Just 10-15 minutes as a slow pace. This is more for mental health reasons than real exercise.
9. Or Just Go Outside Your Door
Fresh air helps. Yesterday, I just nursed Maria outside once in the afternoon, and it felt so good to just get out of the house, even if it was just to my back yard.
10. Your Mantra - It's Just a Phase
It's just a phase. The bad and the good. All of it.
Middle of the night feedings. Spit-up. Blowout Diapers. Incomprehensible, hysterical crying (from you and your baby). Extreme tiredness. Lack of sex. Feeling like a hermit. Too much TV. Too much comfort food. Nursing all day long. The complete unpredictability of life. Oh wait - that one pretty much sticks.
Long periods of time gazing into your baby's eyes. Napping on the couch with them asleep on your chest. Incomprehensibly small fingernails and toenails. That newborn smell on the top of their head and on their neck. Losing weight without trying even though you are eating whatever you like. The softness of their skin. Getting so extremely excited and even teary when they smile.
All of it.
The overwhelming, humbling knowledge that this babe, this creation of God, is one of your grandest blessings, an undeserved gift from God for you to care for and love.
And who loves and adores you back, even though you don't deserve it.
It's all just a phase. Everything frustrating will eventually be in the past. Everything amazing about this precious time will pass as well.
Don't wish it away. Don't overlook the beauty and joy of this time. Savor it. Enjoy it. Be grateful for it.
It's all just a phase, and quicker than we think, it will be gone.