Friday, May 6, 2011

Kate’s First Month: The Unexpected

After this I have just one more post about our first month home with Kate. This post in particular was the hardest to write and I feel a lot of guilt writing it. I follow a lot of blogs and several of them are new moms or I'm reading posts from back when the bloggers I follow have had their babies. And I'm not hearing a drop of bad. But I know out there somewhere, there has to be someone who's having a rough time. Not postpartum depression bad. But not all unicorns and gumdrops all the time either. And that was me. So, even though I'm a little ashamed and embarrassed to be putting this out there when it seems like no one else is, I'm doing it because I have to believe that I'm not the only one who feels like this. And it makes it worse thinking that I am. So here it goes.

I love Kate, more than I can express in words. In fact, the first couple of weeks I was blissfully happy, though tired. I mostly stared at her. I couldn't believe she was mine! But as the weeks passed and she grew more active and the lack of sleep piled up, things started getting harder. I was trying to get over some serious bad mojo from my delivery and felt a lot of guilt and shame about the way it went. In addition, Kate had some rough nights and the occasional rough day that would leave me exhausted and praying for something to help her because obviously I wasn't enough.

Once we got home with Katie it was so strange to have her there. Bringing her home was an amazing, wonderful change. But it was definitely a change. Also, I think I was especially worn out leading up to her arrival for several reasons. First, I had been so sore and uncomfortable the week leading up to the delivery and had been unable to sleep more than a couple of hours at a time for weeks. Not to mention that the week before her birth had been Christmas and was packed with a lot of activity. Add to that an exhausting delivery and stressful hospital stay and I was so overwhelmed and discouraged. I was sure all I needed was to get home and everything would be ok.

Instead, I was surprised how I continued to feel overwhelmed by everything. For the longest time it had just been Brad and I and now there was this beautiful little creature living with us who needed us for everything. And (surprise, surprise!) being there for another little human 24 hours a day is kind of a lot of work! And it didn't leave a whole lot of room for anything else to get done. The first couple of weeks I was lost in baby bliss and totally fine with that. (What dishes? Laundry who? What clutter?) But as I slowly crawled out of my new mama haze and looked around at my wreck of a house I started to twitch.

You see, I'm a little bit of a neat freak. Even my messes and my piles have to be organized. When I go out to dinner, I'm one of those people who stacks the used dishes in a pile for the waiter and puts them near the edge of the table in a not so subtle, please-take-them-away-now gesture. Being Type A and a neat freak and not being able to get anything done or cross anything off my growing to-do list was so stressful for me.

People offered to do stuff for me but who wants people doing their laundry if it means digging through their unmentionables?? Plus I'm kind of particular about housework and I had a feeling I'd end up re-folding or re-doing whatever anyone else did. (I'm becoming more and more annoying as I drone on, aren't I?) And as much as I LONGED for people to bring over food so I didn't have to cook every night, I hated asking for it. And while there were a few people who asked if we needed anything, very few actually offered specific help. No one said "I'm coming over and doing your laundry" or "I'm coming over and bringing you dinner." They just asked if there was anything they could do. And the thought of saying "Why yes, would you be so kind as to spend your money and drive your butt all over town to grab us take out?" Or even better: "How about spending your money and slaving over a hot stove to make my family dinner while I'm sitting on my butt, not working, ogling my own baby?" I hated to outright ask for help! It seemed so selfish of me, not to mention embarrassing! So instead I told them how sweet it was for them to offer and politely declined.

Even though the housework was piling up, you might think the baby was the easy part. I know I thought it would be! I expected that since I've worked with infants for years that having one of my own would be a breeze. Shoot, I was used to having 3-5 babies at a time as a nurse and 8-12 patients as a nurse practitioner! Surely one baby was nothing! I definitely expected to have just as much free time during the day as I would between patients at work, if not more since I would only have ONE baby and wouldn't be taking her vitals or charting her assessment! But when people say it's different with your own child, I never realized how right they were. Somehow my entire day was eaten up by diaper changes and breastfeeding (not to mention feeding myself). It seemed like my entire day revolved around a continuous cycle of changing and feeding. And it seemed like I barely finished when it would be time to start all over again! And it just made it all the worse when people would come up to me and say "Wow this must be so easy for you since you work with babies all the time!" Um, no, and now I feel like even more of a loser. Ugh.

Not to mention the constant worry and wonder. Is there something wrong? Is there a way to do this better? There has GOT to be an explanation for this that I'm not thinking of? Why is this so stinking difficult? And in an effort to answer these questions, I found myself Googling things I already knew the answer to. Wondering if I could find some golden nugget of information that would make our lives easier. And I had to laugh out loud every time I would stumble upon an article that would answer a question using the same words I would use to answer the same question asked to me by parents of my patients.

It knocked me back and made me realize that I needed to relax and trust in what I knew. And what I knew was how to care for newborns. I'd been doing it for several years and rethinking everything just because this particular newborn was mine was just stupid. I found myself falling into the trap of so many new parents that I counsel at work; thinking there HAD to be an answer to every question, a way to make everything better and a reason for every little thing. After a while, I realized that I had to have more faith in myself and (again) trust in my own knowledge. And when there wasn't a clear answer, I had to tell myself what I tell my patient's parents: trust your instinct and don't overreact. Sometimes babies just cry. And sometimes they sleep. And sometimes they spit up. There isn't always an answer to every tiny thing. There's no magic bullet that will make life with a baby easier. But you'll know when something's wrong.

In general, I'm a pretty on-top-of-it kinda girl. I'm used to crossing things off my "To Do" list and never getting too far behind. My house is neat, my life is organized and everything is in order. And when things do get a little behind and life starts getting messy, I can only take it for so long before I go on a cleaning/organizing/catching up binge and all is right with the world again. (Yes, I have been accused of being psychotic by my husband, why do you ask?) I don't necessarily need to be the best at everything but I'm used to at least being good at things and doing well. One of the reasons that I think that first month was so hard on me was that it felt like the standard that I held myself up to was now completely unreachable. I prided myself at being on top of things and now that I (really, really) wasn't, my confidence and self-worth crumbled.

As much as I wanted to go on a cleaning binge and try to catch up with everything that needed to be done, I just couldn't. There wasn't enough time. And I certainly wasn't going to make Katie sacrifice because Mama didn't have her sh!t together. And sitting in the middle of that mess and knowing everything that I had to do (for work, at home, for Kate, etc) just made me more and more miserable. As for me, I averaged a shower every other day to every third day or so. Not only was it hard to get away from Katie (even more so when Brad went back to work) but recovering from a C-section made showering more difficult and uncomfortable. My house was a mess, I was a mess and it's not like I as doing one thing well to the exclusion of everything else! Nope, I felt like I was letting everyone down and not doing anything well. Crappy wife, lousy mother, shoddy homemaker. Why couldn't I handle this?

That first month we had to learn how to do every thing differently. Things took longer to get done, we were slower. The house was a mess for a while and it was mid-January before our Christmas tree came down (which is a big no-no for this Type-A-by-the-rules girl who always has her tree down the day after New Year's) and even longer before all the Christmas presents were put away. Brad was amazing the first time I told him how I felt. He said that he'd love to help but he didn't know what needed to be done. He told me to write a list of everything that needed doing and he would work on it. Even after he went back to work, he wanted me to be with Katie so he would come home and do some chores at night. Bless that wonderful man.

It felt like our house was a disaster but we slowly got through it. Laundry always needed doing but it got done eventually, and we even switched to paper plates so that we didn't have to do dishes as often. Also, I started ASKING FOR HELP! I still couldn't bring myself to ask friends but I did ask family to help with meals when they offered (aka I asked if Brad would ask when they offered). And I also asked my family if someone could come over and sit with Kate while I got some stuff done. That way I could be crossing stuff off my "To Do" list and Katie could still be getting the attention she needed. That, in and of itself, was a huge help and made me feel productive and worthwhile again. It was so nice to be on my feet bustling around the house, cleaning up, folding laundry, etc. I can't explain the high I feel when I'm being productive and getting things done. Whether it's at home or at work, I really enjoy being busy and accomplishing things. Brad calls it a sickness but I love it!

By the end of the first 4 to 6 weeks, we had gotten our rhythm down. And gradually I needed less and less help staying on top of things. And by the time I headed back to work Katie and I had worked out our own rhythm and we were able to get all our tasks done without any help. I was even back to getting home-cooked meals on the table most nights of the week. And since I love cooking, I was so happy to be doing it again.

My biggest piece of advice for new moms is not to be afraid (or in my case, embarrassed) to ask for help. And I will remember in the future that instead of asking new parents if they need anything I'm going to TELL THEM what I want to do for them and ask if they need anything else, that way they don't have to feel bad about asking. Also, as hard as this lesson has been for ME to learn, it is so important not to judge your worth based on the length of your "To Do" list.

I read somewhere that as a new mom, you have to think of your baby as your "job." Priority #1 is the baby, priority #2 if the baby is fine and you have free time is doing chores related to the baby (laundry, preparing feeds, cleaning bottles, etc) and priority #3 is taking care of yourself so that you can continue to take care of priorities #1 and #2 (eat, shower, sleep, etc). Very far down the list falls housework and the like. Looking at things like this made it a lot easier for me because it helped me realize that by taking care of Kate I was getting things done, the most important things.

Of course, this far out we are doing fine. Even better than that, we are amazing. Kate is such a joy to take care of and she is so full of smiles and personality. She loves going out. It's no big deal to run to the grocery store or to Target or out to meet her Daddy for lunch during the day. And I can do almost all my household chores while she's napping or if she's awake I just put her in her bouncer in the room with me and she'll happily play and keep me company. She sleeps better at night but somehow I'm still tired ALL THE TIME . . . but the best part is I've never been happier.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you for such a wonderfully honest post! I will definitely attempt to ask for help, because like you, it is VERY hard for me. 2 of my neighbors on either side of us are pregnant also, so thank you for the advice on just bringing dinner over instead of asking.

  2. First off, there is no shame in asking for help. I would LOVE it if my friends could tell me exactly how I could help them. Second, thank you for posting such an honest post. I am going to take this advice for my own friends and offer specific help. Thank you!!

  3. Very best thing I received was a "casserole shower" before the birth of our second son. The joy of just having to heat up dinner during that first month of a new baby and a toddler was wonderful. So yeah, I always just show up with food for anyone with a baby.
    Your honesty is sure to help someone who is feeling overwhelmed.
    And remember, the dust bunnies will wait for you so, no hurry. :)

  4. Fabulous post! And to answer your questions about Patrick....yes he was discharged from the NICU you at the same time and got to go home with us (they just wanted to monitor him for 24 hours but they wouldn't transfer him to the regular nursery since they weren't sure when i was going home and they didn't want to do all that stuff for just one day...) and no he didn't have any blood sugar problems. Where is your birth story??? I want details! Maybe I missed it but I think I've caught up on your whole blog now. :)