“Just enjoy every moment. It goes so fast!”
When I had my oldest, I heard this bit of well-meaning, yet meaningless, advice from everyone. I heard it in the line at the grocery store, at the pediatrician’s office, in a restaurant (when I finally mustered up the guts to go out with my baby) and even at my six-week postpartum checkup.
With bags under my eyes, spit-up crusted on my pants, milk stains on my shirt, and a baby with another full diaper, I grumbled “thanks,” but what I really meant was “I’m supposed to enjoy this right now? Is it supposed to feel like time is going fast? Does this person remember any of the newborn stage?!”
The newborn stage is a blur
Nothing seems to go by fast when you’re up for the fifth time in the night and it is only 2:30am. It doesn’t make sense: all day long, you yearn for nighttime so you can get some sleep, but now in the middle of the night, you just want morning so you can get up and start chugging your coffee. Repeat.
Time doesn’t seem to fly when you’re home alone with a newborn all day, counting the seconds until your husband returns so you can try and accomplish a task, any menial task, to feel like you’ve been productive in some sense that day. In your mind, you look like a lazy sloth when your spouse gets home, like you’re trying to blame the sweet little baby on your inability to get the dishes in the washer or push a button on the laundry machine. You beat yourself up over it.
It is difficult to explain how exhausted you are to anyone who may visit or a spouse who returns home to a disheveled mess (whether that mess is you, or the house, or both). Wait, visitors?! You are a thousand percent not obligated to have visitors over during a newborn time, even if they are close relatives. The privilege of meeting your newborn does not supersede your critical time of bonding (and, if you’re breastfeeding, getting it well-established) early on. Have visitors that are only supportive, encouraging, and helpful to you in those newborn days. Everyone else can wait.
Going anywhere is exhausting
From the outside looking in, it looks like you’re just sitting there on the couch holding a peacefully sleeping baby. On the inside, as you’re running on fumes, it is turmoil.
Those first days and weeks go on and you wonder when that magic moment happens: that moment a little river of hearts starts spraying out of your ears and bugging out of your eyes any time you look at your baby. You wonder when it will all just “click” and suddenly, you’re able to indulge in a spontaneous outing with a content, happy, predictable baby. Because right now, you can’t seem to make it to the bathroom to pee when you need to and just thinking about getting to baby’s next checkup on time has you in tears.
Your “get somewhere on time” mental math looks like this: “So nursing sessions are taking twenty minutes, sometimes more, and all afternoon my baby is hungry less than an hour after nursing and every time he nurses, he poops, and half of those blow up his back so I need to make sure that won’t happen right before we leave, or even worse it could happen in the car seat. So I need to start to feed him an hour before we go, change him, pack the diaper bag, then give him another quick feed before getting him in the car but also have time to change him real quick if he blows out a diaper. Wait, he has randomly had one long morning nap recently though so maybe I need to make sure I pump so I’m not drowning him or in pain, too. OK so if baby’s appointment is at 2:00pm, and it is 10:30am now – oh, I needed to start getting ready two hours ago.”
Realistic advice is OK
It should not be taboo to give expecting parents raw, honest advice about what life will be like in those first weeks after their baby is born. Those first few weeks home are largely about survival, not household chores. It is nothing like what you’ve seen on TV (save for a few recent rom-coms whose bases are literally all about new parenthood). The idea that your newborn will sleep hours at night in a crib? Ha! Newborns are hard-wired to feed frequently. Their tummies are tiny, and if you breastfeed, you will notice that your baby needs to feed very often, day and night—breastmilk is a very easily digested food for your baby. This is biologically normal, it is healthy, and it is absolutely exhausting.
New moms and dads should be told that having a baby is a joyous, beautiful thing—a new and amazing chapter of life is beginning! But new parents should also be told that the reality of the newborn period is incredibly challenging, but that does not mean something is wrong. If new parents are completely blindsided to the realities of life with a newborn, we have failed them.
Then, you wonder how it seemed to pass suddenly
The newborn that inspired this post is now an incredibly intelligent, generous, ambitious, outgoing, funny seven-year-old who has a toothless grin and reads chapter books to me. In those early weeks of his life, I dreamed of the day that I could shower for more than thirty seconds, when I could eat a hot meal with both hands again, when I could just get up and go to the bathroom when I needed to, when I could just feel any sense of normalcy and at all like myself again. Then, it seems like that long-awaited day came suddenly. When you’re in the throes of new motherhood, it is impossible to picture that your helpless, clingy, always-hungry baby becoming a helpful, independent, (but still-always-hungry) school-aged kid.
When I see a new mom out with her baby, I remember what that time was like. I remember how time seemed to go in slow motion many days, and it felt lonely because saying anything remotely realistic about how you were feeling just seemed wrong. When I see that new mom and fresh baby, I want to tell her that I know this is the hardest stage, and that she’s doing the best she can. It is OK not to “just enjoy every moment.” Even if she doesn’t realize it right now, it gets easier. I promise.