What to say to Newborn Parents

When our little Bean was born, we were inundated with advice and offers of help. Some things that were said were very helpful and other less so. Seeing as the theme on the blog this week is advice, I have decided to make a list of all the wonderful things people said to me during my son’s first few weeks of life which helped me immensely and for which I am eternally grateful.

So, if you have a friend or a family member who is about to have a baby or just had a baby, here is a list of things which you can say, should you want to help out:

‘I will take care of the baby so that you can get some time to yourself’

Contrary to popular belief, a new parent does not have time to sleep when the baby sleeps. Well, I didn’t anyway. While Bean was sleeping, I was expressing milk, washing and sterilising the pump and bottles, feeding myself or having a shower. If I had 5 minutes left after all my chores were done and before Bean woke up again, I allowed myself the luxury of a warm cup of tea.

Being able to have my hair done and to focus on myself (even if it was only for 1 hour) really helped me recuperate some of the inner strength needed to take care of a little newborn.

‘I will do the chores while you get to spend some time with your baby’

Now, nobody really offered to do this for me. When family came to our house to help out, I invariably ended up doing chores while they looked after the baby. Although the rest of the family of course also need and want to spend time with the new addition to the family, I at times became quite resentful of having to run around while someone else got to spend the precious little time Bean was awake and happy during the day, with him.

I have to add here, that I am very proud and quite a busy body, so I also never asked anyone to help with the chores. I did not want to seem like a useless woman / wife who cannot manage her own household. I therefore only had myself to blame when I did become resentful.

So, if your friend / daughter / sister is like me, just go on over and do the chores. She will be eternally grateful!

And if you are a first time mom, do not be afraid to ask for help with things around the house! Being able to just spend time with your little bundle without having to worry about chores or what needs to be done next is really wonderful.

‘I have cooked some freezer meals for you’

I cannot begin to explain how much this helped. It was one less chore to worry about and it ensured that we got at least one decent home cooked meal a day.

‘I am going to the shops, can I get something for you’

Family would every now and then drop off supplies from the shops. Trying to go to the shops with a new baby is daunting enough as it is and nearly impossible during one of the many growth spurts which newborns go through so this was a huge help.

‘We will give you some space to just be – let us know when we can visit you’

Everybody allowed us some space so that we could find our feet with our little newborn. This was very important to me: my husband and I needed the time to get used to a little baby, to start to get to know his cues and to establish some sort of routine before we could face the world as a family of three.

‘We will bring the cake and some snacks when we visit’

Being a parent to a newborn is exhausting enough without having to worry about entertaining everybody who wants to meet the little baby. Whenever our family came to visit, they brought everything with them, i.e. food, and they would help to make the tea and coffee.

‘Keep calm, your baby feels what you feel’

This is so true. When I cried, Bean cried harder, yet when I managed to calm myself down, Bean calmed down to.

‘Sing ’

I never thought this would work, but whenever Bean was upset for whatever reason, I sang and it immediately calmed him down. It also made me happy as I started remembering all the nursery rhymes from my own childhood. I still sing. All the time.

 

Photo Credit: http://www.canva.com

Advice To My Pregnant Self

“If only I knew then what I know now, it would have been a lot easier, I could have handled the situation a lot better”, is a thought which often haunts me and just this once, I wish I could go back in time, sit my pregnant, ‘know it all’ self, down and give the following advice:

  1. Do proper breastfeeding research

Before Bean was born, I did not really give much thought to breastfeeding. I had decided that I will try but if it was not going to work out, there was always Formula. I did not realise how emotional my breastfeeding journey would be and I definitely did not take into account the guilt a mother feels if breastfeeding is not quite as easy as anticipated.

Once I had Bean, one of my friends invited me to join the La Leche League group on Facebook. This helped me get through all the growth spurt stages and the fear of not having enough milk. Seeing other mommies pushing through their breastfeeding hardships helped motivate me to keep on breastfeeding and expressing in times when I almost gave up.

  1. Spend some quality time with your husband

I was one of ‘those’ pregnant people, the one who was convinced that having a baby cannot be that hard, that it would not affect my life too much and that my husband and I would simply glide into our new roles as parents with ease, while maintaining our relationship as husband and wife.

I was wrong of course.

As parents we now often focus only on our son and we tend to forget that we need to work on our relationship and enjoy each other’s company, as individuals, not parents.

Before the baby is therefore born, take the time to enjoy each other. Take the time to further lay the foundation of your relationship. Trust me, you will need it.

  1. It will get hard, really hard but it will also get better

Having a newborn to take care of is hard. Breastfeeding is hard. There will be times when all you want to do is cry, when you feel so utterly useless and so, so tired. But it really does get better.

It is also oh-so-rewarding. You will find a routine; you will learn to read your baby’s cues and, I promise, you will manage.

  1. Ask for help

I am a very proud, do it yourself, type of person and I did not like asking for help. I told myself that I had to manage on my own. The only person I would ask for help was my husband and this put a lot of unnecessary strain on both of us and in turn on our relationship.

If family and friends offer help, take it. And if they don’t, ask for it. Do not be too proud to ask for help or to accept help.  Everybody knows how hard it is to have a newborn – nobody will look down on you or judge you for not doing it all on your own. In fact, nobody expects you to do it all on your own.

  1. Soak in every minute of this new life unfolding

 The first few weeks with my son were really hard and I often found myself wishing that this phase would be over soon. Then, suddenly it was over and I realised that I had missed so many moments with my beautiful little boy by feeling sorry for myself and wishing the time away.

Please therefore, try and soak in every minute of this precious new life unfolding in front of your very eyes. Before you know it, another miraculous moment, another milestone has passed.

  1. Take a breath and calm down

When my little Bean was born, I had no idea what I was doing 90% of the time. So when he cried for no apparent reason or when I could not settle him down immediately or when he wanted to constantly feed, I would go into panic mode and it would just escalate the situation. After a while however, I learned to read his cues and I learned how to settle him down. All that was needed was for me to remain calm.

  1. Don’t be so hard on yourself

 I can be a bit of a control freak and while still pregnant, I read all the books. I had lists and lists and lists of various scenarios which could occur and their solutions and set routines I would follow. Come what may, I would be ready for this child and raising him would be a piece of cake. All I had to do was follow all the advice in all the books.

Needless to say, everything was turned upside down when Bean was born. Not being a robot which could be controlled, he of course would not simply follow the routine which I tried to force on him. The solutions to all the various scenarios which were given by all the books also did not always work. I thought I was doing something wrong and I was very hard on myself because of it.

In reality though, I was doing nothing wrong. I just had to realise that not all babies are the same, that they do not all react the same to the solutions given and that they are little human beings who will eventually settle into their own routine.

  1. Don’t try and be perfect

 I tried to be perfect at everything and I was convinced that I would be able to nurture a perfect baby.

Life though is not perfect, humans are not perfect and, most importantly, babies are not perfect. We have feelings and emotions and we make mistakes. And that’s OK. Learn from the mistakes and move on.

You do not have to be perfect. You just have to try your best. And I promise that you will automatically try your best, as this little baby will mean the world to you.

  1. Cuddle as often and as much as possible

I often placed Bean into his cot or his little crib while sleeping even when all I wanted to do was let him sleep on me and cuddle. I did this because I was told that he should not develop these type of sleep associations as it would be very difficult to break them when he was older. I really regret that now.

These little babies are only so small for such a short time and all they need is love. They cannot be spoiled so my advice is to cuddle. Cuddle as much and as often as you want to.

Hard Knock Life with a Newborn

‘It was not supposed to be like this’, I thought crying, yet again, while I was trying to feed my screaming child. He refused to eat and although he would root for food, once placed into his feeding position, he would scream. He did not have a wind and his diaper had just been changed. He was hungry. Yet, whether I gave him a bottle or my breast, he simply would not latch. Panic, confusion, fear, anger and that ever-present guilt, washed over me. ‘Why did nobody warn me that it would be this hard’ was all my panicked, severely sleep deprived, brain was capable of thinking.

Truth be told, people did warn me. Sort of. In a nice and funny way – ‘sleep while you can’ they would say, laughing. Well, if they are laughing about it, it cannot be that bad – this was my logical conclusion anyway. But it was that bad, or should I rather say, just really, really hard. So, dear reader, here is the truth, my truth, about what life with a newborn as a first time parent is like:

It is exhausting. It’s a sort of tired feeling you have never felt before. A severely sleep deprived, emotionally drained and anxious sort of exhausted. Because although you have read all the books and you have listened to everyone’s advice, you have no idea what you are doing 90% of the time.

If you did not know this already, babies go through a lot of growth spurts and many wonder weeks within the first couple of months of their lives. This means that they are not only extra niggly during these periods, they literally hang on your boob the whole day. Bean went from drinking every three hours, to every two hours to every hour, to every forty minutes at one stage. This meant that on some days, by 14h00 in the afternoon, I was still in my milk stained pajamas, in my bedroom, my teeth were not brushed – in short, I smelled and looked like I had just crawled out of a cave (which for a person who is obsessed with cleanliness is horrible to say the least). At that point in the afternoon, it felt like the walls were caving in on me.  I was filled with despair and loneliness.

It is lonely. And although you are constantly getting phone calls and texts from people wishing you well with your new bundle of joy, you feel that you just cannot tell them how sad you are really feeling at this point. Are you the only one going through this? The only one who cannot seem to get a handle on this motherhood thing?

It is relentless. It does not matter how hard this day is, tomorrow, you have to get up and do it all over again. Actually, tonight, you will have to get up and do it all over again. There is simply no time off, no break – you are this child’s mother and he needs sustenance and love, regardless of how tired you are.

Most babies have an issue – whether it is colic or reflux or the fact that the baby will not sleep, there is usually something. In my case, Bean had reflux. This meant that as he was feeding, or after a feed, the milk would come back up, burning his little throat. In an effort to soothe the throat, he would then want to feed again and so on – to a point where he would then refuse to feed. Bean, in other words, was either crying for food, attached to my boob, or screaming because I was trying to feed him. Either way, there were days where he just cried. He was seemingly inconsolable and I felt like a failure as a mother.

It is hard to maintain a sense of self. You just become so completely and utterly entrenched in caring for this child, that you lose yourself. There is no more you, only mom.

The Guilt. It is as if being a mother automatically makes you feel guilty. Guilty for feeling sad and frustrated sometimes, guilty for not having enough milk, for having too much milk, guilty for wanting to sleep, guilty for feeling guilty. If you let this feeling run rampant, it will consume you.

Relationships suffer. Whether it is because you are both just so tired and overwhelmed or because you are frustrated with yourself, the baby, your milk supply etc, your relationship definitely gets put under strain. Both parents are experiencing so many raw emotions and it is just too easy to let out negative feelings onto your loved one – they promised to stick around until death do you part after all. My husband and I fought almost daily, about silly things, like leaving the milk out of the fridge, and also about the bigger things, like breastfeeding. We in fact still fight, but I have learned (rather, I am still trying to learn)not to take things too personally. We are both parents for the first time, we are both tired and we are both trying to navigate our way through these emotions

Through it all, these little babies bring with them such an intense feeling of love. It consumes you and every fiber of your being wants to keep them safe. To ensure that they feel loved, that they are happy, that with your guidance, they become well rounded, strong, lively, compassionate and successful children and later adults. It is this love, which makes you stare at their peaceful little faces for hours on end, while you could be catching up on some sleep, wondering what life has in store for them, dreaming about their future, envisaging them running through a field of flowers, flying a kite, laughing.

One morning, I woke up and the fog through which I had been trying to navigate myself for the last couple of weeks had lifted. Everything just seemed a lot clearer, easier. I got used to the lack of sleep and I learned to read and understand by child. I was managing!

My baby now smiles at me as I walk into the room in the mornings – a smile so wide that his eyes close. I realise that this special time with my  baby has not been about hardship after all but rather the precious seconds, minutes and hours of a new life developing and growing.

So, to all the new mommies out there:

As hard as this time can be sometimes, try and soak in every moment with your precious little bundle of life, hope and dreams. Although it seems like forever while you are in the midst of it, it does pass, faster than you realise. It does get better. In fact, it becomes wonderful.

 

Photo Credit: http://www.canva.com

Another Birthing Story

I have had my fair share of operations as a child, from grommets to having a spare rib removed, and from what I can remember; I did not react well to the anaesthetic. I woke up crying and in pain every time – it was horrible.

So, when faced with the question: c-section or natural labour, my answer was always a loud and resounding: natural! Natural labour, simply because I could not face the idea of having to undergo major surgery. And let’s not kid ourselves here, a c-section is major surgery. Do you know how many layers of tissue they need to cut through to even get to the baby? And then stitch all those layers back up again? I could not imagine anything worse.  Not to mention being bed ridden for the first day of your baby’s life. No, I was determined to push my baby out.

My Gynaecologist was onboard with my decision and my pregnancy was progressing well. I had no complications, picked up the right amount of weight; blood pressure was fine – a text book pregnancy. I typed up my birth plan, handed it to all the relevant people, thereby setting my plan in stone (or so I thought) and waited patiently for the big day.

Then, at around 34,5 weeks, I had some spotting. As any pregnant woman or mother will know, blood is never a good sign. My husband rushed me to the hospital where they strapped me to the foetal heart rate monitor. The result was good, everything was fine, but I had to stay overnight so that they could monitor me. The next day however, my cervix had started to dilate – this baby wanted to come early. Cue a couple of steroid injections, progesterone tablets and lots of bed rest later and my baby was still inside my belly, snug and warm, where he was supposed to stay until 40 weeks. I could go home and was ordered to rest for the remainder of my pregnancy.

Over the following two weeks, I was told that my placenta was calcifying and the amniotic fluid levels were decreasing rapidly, which meant that our Bean had to come out within the following week.  He was however still lying in the posterior position and the Gynaecologist gently told me that although induction was of course an option, the chances were high that it would end up in an emergency c-section. It seemed that my determined walking (or rather crawling) around the house on all fours (yes, I crawled around the house like a baby, simultaneously arching my back like an angry cat – my husband thought I was mad) had not made my strong willed child flip. He stubbornly stayed put.

Although I was filled with fear, dread and disappointment, I definitely did not want to end up having to undergo an emergency c-section while my baby was in distress. And so, I guess, I caved – my c-section was booked.

That Monday morning, my husband and I got to the hospital ready to meet our son. We were both a bundle of nerves and eventually the time came for me to get into my hospital gown and to be wheeled to the theater. Once inside the theater, I remember thinking that it was not as cold as I had anticipated – the team of Doctors was friendly and calm, explaining everything to my husband and I in detail. The spinal block and the catheter (yes, a catheter – it was bad) were administered and my Gynaecologist and her assistant started to cut the many layers of my stomach open. It was strange, being so alert and awake, my husband sitting next to me holding my hand, while I was being cut and although I felt no pain, I could feel them tugging and pulling.

Then came the moment Al and I had anticipated for so long:

I could hear his cry before he was even properly born.  As they lifted my son out of his world into ours, my first thought was that he looked exactly like the picture of his 4-D scan – with a mouth like his dad’s. My doting husband, always by my side, had eyes for his son only. He was now a dad, and such a proud one at that.

My distraught, but beautiful, baby boy only calmed down once they placed him into my eagerly awaiting arms. He knew that I was his mother, his place of safety. And there was my son, already eating his little hands. All I could feel was an overwhelming sense of gratitude and love. It did not matter, how he had come into this world, just that he had. My ray of sunshine had arrived, the dawn to my new world.