After coming home from the hospital with a new baby, I found that if I did absolutely nothing except sit in a chair and breastfeed for two weeks, I could bounce back and begin to feel better. But if I started doing things, like meals, a little laundry, a little clutter control, whatever, it took me at least two months to recover.
The catch here, of course, is that with other children around, how do you do nothing for two weeks? By shamelessly asking for and accepting any and all help available! Call on your mother, sister, other relatives, in-laws, friends, neighbors, and countrymen--anybody willing to lend a hand. When well-meaning friends ask, “Is there anything I can do?” smile wistfully and say, “Actually, there is some laundry...”
Then, of course, there are usually husbands. The ideal situation is for him to get some time off work to take over at home. Encourage him to take some family leave time or paternity leave, or whatever they call it. But I have to tell you a story. Once I went to visit a new mother after she had been home from the hospital two days with her fourth child. I found her scurrying around the kitchen, looking like death warmed over as she tried to boil a million baby bottles, fill them with formula, and fix dinner for the family all at once. Her husband, who had taken some time off work “to help out at home,” was sitting in the living room with the other kids watching TV.
Did I blame him? Well, yes, at first. Afterwards, however, I realized that he probably didn’t know what to do and didn’t realize how his wife felt because she didn’t tell him. So, open your mouth and ask. Tell people exactly what you need and if necessary, how to do it.
If there’s no handy husband available, lean on the other children. The problem here is that as soon as they are big enough to be a help more than a hindrance, they go to school. Still, even little ones can fetch and carry. Bottom line is take any help you can get and be ruthless about doing nothing except sit and feed your baby. Don’t get the guilts for all the stuff that’s not getting done.
It will all still be there when you are ready to face it, I promise. The first couple weeks of this baby’s life will not be there and neither will your health if you blow it. My kids often heard me quote the last lines of the poem, “Song for a Fifth Child” by Ruth Hulburt Hamilton:
The cleaning and scrubbing will wait till tomorrow,
For children grow up, as I’ve learned to my sorrow.
So quiet down, cobwebs. Dust go to sleep.
I’m rocking my baby and babies don’t keep.
I had a dear friend who was feeling pretty good after being home a few days so she decided to do some ironing (back in the days when people still did that). She thought she was being careful because she sat on a stool. But after about an hour she began hemorrhaging, had to be taken to the emergency room in an ambulance, and was seriously ill for several weeks. I’m not kidding about this one--take it easy!
Another reason you need to do as little as possible is that you’re going to be tired (I’m talking bone-weary, sleep-deprived, psychosis here) for three reasons: first, your body is recovering from the trauma of giving birth, second, your body is readjusting to it’s non-pregnant state with hormonal fluctuations, and third, you won’t sleep at night. Add to this a constantly crying child and you’ll be ready to suck your thumb and crawl back into the womb yourself.
One morning at church I looked around and saw all five couples with new babies dozing in their seats. I told people I used to faint a lot to get some rest. Once I even fell asleep at a doctor's appointment, laying on my back with my feet in the stirrups. The nurse said she’d never seen that before.
If your baby cries all the time (and some of the little stinkers do), check with the doctor about a possible physical cause. If the pediatrician says there’s nothing wrong, or “it’s just colic,” you may have to grin and bear it for two or three months. No one seems to know what causes colic, therefore there is no medication to “cure” it. The main theories include intestinal pain due to allergies or gas. Here is a good website for helpful suggestions: http://www.babycenter.com/0_colic-how-to-cope_1369745.bc
One of the best books I’ve seen about soothing a crying baby is Harvey Karp’s The Happiest Baby on the Block. He outlines the 5 S’s: swaddle, side, swing, shush, and suck. I often give this book at baby showers and it’s not an exaggeration to say I’ve seen this method do miracles.
Then there is the old stand-by of a ride in a car. I heard that some desperate father somewhere invented a device you could attach to the crib which makes it move gently, like a car in motion, and at the same time makes a noise like a car engine. You may reach a point where you’ve tried everything and nothing works. If this is the case, the best thing you can do for both of you, is to leave the baby with a sitter and take a nap, with earphones, preferably once a day. Believe me, someday the crying will no longer be so constant, and your baby will get her days and nights in balance with the rest of the world.
When one woman’s baby was about a month old, her husband woke up and groaned, “I only got five hours of sleep last night.” At the same time the mother sang out happily, “I got five whole hours of sleep last night!” Everything is relative.
Next time: The First Year