1. Newborns are Ugly
That magical moment, the one every pregnant lady dreams of--holding your precious newborn in your arms and feeling the surge of warmth and love like you've never experienced before, to see your child as the most beautiful, precious being in the universe. I was excited for that moment, but it never came. Even though I was blessed with a complication-free, relatively easy natural delivery, all I saw when I held my baby was a scrawny, hungry, mole-like infant who seemed to have no defining characteristics. She had a bit of dark hair, she never opened her eyes and she had lots of skin rolls (not the cute, chubby rolls, but the I-lost-100-lbs-and-now-have-all-this-sagging-skin type of skin rolls).
I studied her for weeks feeling like I could not identify her from a line-up of babies. Eventually, she grew her mohawk hairstyle and gave me special "I know you're my mom" smiles and hugs that made me feel like her mom. But, for those first couple of months, I felt like a glorified 24x7 baby-sitter who had the remarkable (and exhausting and sometimes annoying) role as sole food source. During that time, my mom's confession that newborns are ugly comforted me. My mom loves me very much and is a great caretaker, so I knew that feeling in awe of baby's cuteness is not a requirement for good motherhood.
The Motherly article, "I didn't fall in love with my baby right away and that's ok" by Betty Boiron recently made me realize that I am far from alone in the feelings of strangeness upon meeting my newborn. In fact, about 50% of women experience Baby Blues after birth. Since Baby Blues include intense emotional swings from euphoria to deep sadness, I would guess that those who feel the the intense rush of love are more prone to feeling intense sadness. Don't get me wrong, I still experienced deep and superficial emotions that made me cry at every sappy tv moment, but my more intense feeling was anxiety, which leads me to my next advice.
2. Postpartum Anxiety is a Real Thing
Postpartum Depression is covered in most parenting classes and screened for before you leave the hospital and at your postpartum doctor's appointment. Postpartum Anxiety is not. It was briefly covered in one of my parenting classes, but not enough for me to remember it. I didn't understand Postpartum Anxiety until Pregnant Chicken wrote this article 8 months after Alexis was born.
Suddenly, my inability to sleep and turmoil in my stomach for the first four months made sense. Most new moms with Postpartum Anxiety feel anxious over their baby and mothering abilities. I felt anxious about returning to teaching. I couldn't stop thinking about my students and my classes. I checked my work e-mail constantly and stressed about whether I should return. I dreamed about teaching while baby-wearing. Even though my coworkers encouraged me to stay home and enjoy time with baby, I felt more complete when my maternity sub would check in with me and I visited the school weekly.
Because Alexis cried a lot (more on that later), I needed to sleep until 9 or 11 to function. When seriously considering returning to school, I made several crazy mistakes in one 24-hour period. That's when I realized driving to school at 6 in the morning would be a hazard to me, everyone else on the road, and my new baby. At that point, I asked my husband to tell me every day that he was glad I stayed home. Although he wasn't perfect, he told me often enough to get me through. Thankfully, my anxiety was mild enough that his reassurances were all I needed.
Dr. Hilgers at the St. Pope Paul VI Institute found that women with Postpartum Depression tend to have low progesterone and usually feel much better after only one or two progesterone treatments. NaPro Technology, the medical application of Dr. Hilgers's research, recently started treating Postpartum Anxiety the same way with many success stories. Because NaPro technology is holistic, the St. Pope Paul VI Institute also has a certified Clinical Psychologist to help women and couples through depression, anxiety, infertility, repeated miscarriage and other fertility-related mental health needs. If I had known about Postpartum Anxiety and the treatment options, I could have enjoyed my first four months of motherhood without the distraction of my worries and fears. I now have a list of resources on my site, including books on pregnancy/postpartum depression and anxiety. Please check it out and please please please go to the doctor if your symptoms make it difficult for you to take care of yourself or your baby!!!
3. It's OK to Let Baby Cry
By far the most useful piece of advice that came from my Birth Matters parenting class was the Circle of Comfort. It starts with picking up the baby, talking to baby, assessing baby, feeding baby and comforting baby (with a list of 18 comforting measures, including the famous car-ride trick). Then comes giving the baby to someone else, seeking outside help and finally putting baby in a safe place and walking away for 5 minutes before starting the cycle again. In parenting class, I never thought we would need the last step, but it saved our sanity on several occasions.
After walking away from trying to comfort Alexis one evening, my husband said, "Now I know why there's Shaken Baby Syndrome." The sleep deprivation and frustration at having a newborn who won't stop crying from after dinner until 10 or 11 or 12 or occasionally 1 will tempt even the most patient and loving of parents to try ANYTHING to get baby to stop. Without the ability to change hands and step away, some parents resort to shaking their baby. Unfortunately, the New York State Department of Health reports 1,000-3,000 babies in the United States suffer from Shaken Baby Syndrome each year. One forth of these babies die and 80% of survivors suffer from permanent damage including brain injury, blindness, seizures and paralysis.
I know there were times when we skipped some steps and resorted to walking away a bit too soon. After checking that her basic needs were met, our exhaustion overcame us so we set her down in her pack-and-play, turned on the TV and tuned her out for a few minutes before starting again. I know a lot of concern exists about the long-term psychological effects of leaving baby cry. I can't speak for long-term effects, but Alexis will be 2 in February and I get asked ALL THE TIME if she is always this happy. She tries to take care of me by giving me back pats and bringing me water when I don't feel well and is always excited to see me or her dad. I don't think she holds a grudge against us for "abandoning her" to regain our sanity. Sometimes you have to take care of yourself so you can care for baby.
4. Baby Poo Matters
Now that I think about it, baby poo might trump the Circle of Comfort. Paying attention to baby poo allowed us to identify the food allergy that caused Alexis the discomfort that made her cry for hours on end. Her slimy green poo indicated a food allergy. Stringy poo also means a probable food allergy. Dairy, egg and soy are the most common food allergens for infants. Since I enjoyed a glass of milk with each meal, we decided to cut out dairy. Her poo became a beautiful infant yellow and she stopped crying inconsolably and spitting up ferociously on a daily basis.
After a baby shower a few months later, Alexis started crying inconsolably again. My mom made the connection between her now unusual crying bursts and bell peppers. We still make mistakes, but when Alexis avoids dairy and bell peppers she is a generally happy child.
The other baby poo tip is bubbly poo indicates baby is trying to drink too fast and getting air bubbles. If breastfeeding, this means leaning back to nurse to slow the milk flow. If bottle feeding, you may want to try a different nipple/bottle. I imagine all the air bubbles in baby's tummy would make baby irritable too!
5. You Don't Need to Entertain Guests
My mom and sister gave me one of the greatest gifts possible postpartum: the gift of time. They would come each week to visit, do dishes, and watch Alexis so I could shower or nap without worries. As an extrovert whose primary love language is Quality Time, having them and the many other visitors come gave me peace and joy. The fact that they would step in clean when things piled up made me excited instead of anxious about their visits.
On the Eneeagram, I'm a 2 wing 1. I may do an entire Eneeagram blog later because it is pretty neat, but a 2 means I love helping others and have a hard time accepting help. The wing 1 means I'm a perfectionist. Postpartum taught me the great blessings that come from humbling oneself to accept help. The meals that came from family, friends and my church community meant I could enjoy time with my baby and with visitors without worrying about buying groceries, making dinner or cleaning dishes. Teaching and pregnancy taught me to let go of the things that don't matter all that much in the end. My loving, caring husband would come home each day and say that as long as I took care of Alexis and myself, it was a good day. He helped me see the value of just being with Alexis instead of seeing how much I could accomplish in a day. I really don't know how people survive postpartum without a good helper/lover/friend by their side.
My lessons were to accept help instead of being the helper and to adapt a viewpoint of myself that sees my success in who I am instead of what I'm able to do. Because you don't have the same personality I do, "Not Entertaining Guests" might mean limiting the number of people who visit or adapting a strict "visiting hours" policy if guests wear you out. If you're a gift-giver, you may struggle to accept gifts without having something to give in return. THAT'S OK. The gift of seeing you and baby is a GREAT gift. Maybe your personality revolves around being the life of the party and your lesson is not stealing attention away from the baby. If you have an "in-charge" personality, you may struggle with allowing others to enjoy your baby without dictating how to hold baby or pat baby (as long as baby stays safe). One of the hardest obstacles that effects many personality types is the feeling of "having it all together." Babies are unpredictable and you can't prevent your baby from spitting up on/having a blow-out diaper on/crying in front of your guests. No matter what personality type you have, postpartum provides a plethora of opportunities to grow in virtue towards your baby, your spouse and your visitors.
Bonus Tip: Coconut Oil!!!
Coconut Oil rocked my world postpartum. We used it daily for nipple cream and bottom cream. You can also put it on before the first poo to make the meconium easier to wipe off, but we forgot about that trick. It worked wonders for us, but you have to buy it from the cooking section so you have 100% pure coconut oil that is safe for you and baby.
What's your take?
Every baby is different (this was a shocker to me!) and every family is different. I would love to hear what helped YOU the most postpartum. Maybe you want to share how having a baby helped you grow in virtue in unexpected ways or other advice that helped you get through the day. Please share your experiences in the comments section. If you don't have a baby, but have advice from family members and friends, feel free to chime in!
Stephanie started her Creighton Model journey in early 2014 and entered the program to instruct others in 2017. She enjoys equally adventuring in the great outdoors with family and friends and reading a good book with a cup of tea. For more details, visit her About Me page.