There have been few things in my life as humbling and horrifying and just plain bewildering as having a new baby and wondering how in the world I was going to cope. Before I had my first, I knew all about how to be a mother. I had been raised on cozy stories of how my mother carried me around the house in my baby seat and talked to me all day long while she worked. Perfectly lovely. I was going to do that, too. I’d get all my work done. My baby and I would have scads of interaction. Our little home would just bubble happily along. Then my beautiful baby girl was born. The next day, I placed her in her bouncy seat so I could eat dinner.
She hated it.
And I realized that I was never going to get anything done ever again.
That was seven-and-a-half years ago. Needless to say, I did manage to accomplish a few things since then (including having four more children), but the terror is still fresh in my mind. So when I get comments like the one I got this past week from Mommytoo, the empathy wells up strong enough that I suddenly find the emotional energy to write a blog post even in my current postpartum state. Here’s what Mommytoo says:
I was such a mess when my baby was born. She’s 11 months and I still feel all disheveled. It took me almost 3 months to cook a full meal. We have no family nearby. I’m expecting my second and I’m so nervous how I’ll be able to do everything with 2. I wish someone would write a book about mommy scheduling… A very detailed hr by hr, day by day book. When do you fit your prayer/reading time in? Thank you for your blog. And congratulations on your new baby!
I would love it if I could tell you what to do hour by hour and day by day. Besides being a power trip for me ;), it would be thrilling to be able to bless you with that kind of omniscient help. Actually, a lot of people have made a lot of money telling worn-out mommies what to do when, but the problem with most of their glistening advice is that the only person who can really safely and effectively make a schedule for your family is you. (I wrote a post about some of why that is here.)
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any ideas to pass along (which I’m sure comes as no surprise to anyone). Here’s what has been bashed into my head during my brief seven-and-a-half-year stint in the School of Hard Knocks for Mothers (and of course, other mothers may have gotten knocked around differently and so may have learned some completely different coping skills, which I hope they’ll share, too):
The First 40 Days are Sacred, or This, Too, Shall Pass, Maybe Even by Tomorrow
I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating, the best advice I got on new-mommyhood was “The first month is the hardest.” During the first 40 days, you are recovering from labor, your milk supply is getting established, your baby is adjusting to life outside the womb, you are both getting breastfeeding figured out, your family is adjusting to the new little person, and life is changing on an almost daily basis. Plan for this beforehand. If at all possible, get your house extra clean before the birth so you can coast a while after, stock your freezer with meals, and once the baby’s born try to accept as much help as possible. Job One during this time is just nurturing the people in your life, especially your baby. This kills me. I always feel like I MUST get all of life established RIGHT NOW for evermore. If my house is messy that first month, I despair, thinking that it will be messy forever. If my front flowerbed is an astounding mass of tall grass and dandelions, I cry to my mother that “we’re hicks, just hicks” (yeah, that one happened last week). BUT, I know from experience that actually, despite the postpartum insanity that puts such nonsense into my brain, actually things level out considerably after 40 days (and then again even more around four months). Those early days are just about surviving and establishing relationships, NOT housework. And stuff that seems horrendous has a way of just vaporizing when you least expect it.
Make Full Use of Prime Time
Once you’re past those first 40 days of healing, cuddling, and adjusting, you may be feeling like you want to start getting your new life organized. This is where scheduling really comes into play, and it’s also a major mental adjustment. Suddenly a lot of the times that used to be the most logical for you to do certain things lose all connection to your new reality. Take dinner prep for instance. Most people without babies prepare dinner right before it’s time to eat dinner. But with a new baby, this is a sort of Russian roulette. Just when you want to be zooming through your kitchen whipping up something nourishing and tasty, your little snuggle bunny is likely to put in an urgent request for a gourmet treat of his own, and you’ll find yourself nursing to fill his belly while yours growls. Instead of being tied to your old view of logical times, your baby’s rhythms become your new logic. If your baby is really happy to sit in his swing first thing in the morning or he takes a good nap in the early afternoon, that is when you do your dinner prep. Know in advance what you are going to make, and do everything you possibly can ahead of time when your baby doesn’t need you. Brown your meat, mix your batter, cut up your vegetables, load the stuff in a crock pot if you’ve got one, get everything all set for a quick and easy one-armed throw-together at the last minute.
And don’t forget that nursing times are prime times, too. That first early morning nursing is a great time for prayer and Bible reading. Other nursing times throughout the day are wonderful for reading to older children, planning meals, checking e-mail (especially if you’ve got a laptop), making phone calls, and teaching homeschool.
You basically have three categories of daily life with a new baby. There’s stuff you can do while nursing, stuff you can do easily while holding your baby, and stuff that you really need to have your hands free to do. The key here is knowing which tasks fit which category (with my second baby, I actually made three lists) and then picking a task every time your baby’s status changes. At first, you’re probably not going to have an awful lot of housework in that middle category (stuff you can do easily while holding the baby), and that brings me to my next idea…
Think Like an Amputee
One of the hardest things for me about being a new mother was that my baby didn’t like to be put down. And that was a big problem because I had spent my entire life with two arms, and now I suddenly only had one. I figured that since I had always used two arms for everything from laundry to dishes that I needed two arms to do those things. But I was forgetting about amputees. Every day thousands of people face the one-armed life, but rather than dissolve into permanent inability, frustration, and despair (usually), amputees get occupational therapy so they can learn to do all their normal daily activities with only one arm. And if amputees can learn, then mommies can, too. I still remember how I just didn’t get it when an older, experienced mother brought me dinner after my first baby was born and tried to tell me how she held her babies with one arm and wiped counter tops with the other. I thought I could never do that. Now that I’ve had some years to practice, I know how to do laundry, sweep the floor, help my toddler use the potty, make beds, file paperwork, and do many other things I never would have thought possible while holding a baby. It’s slower with only one arm, but it can be done. The trick is first believing that it’s possible and then strategizing creative ways to tackle each task. If you can learn to just keep plugging away at things even with only one arm, you’ll find that you accomplish a lot more than you ever thought you could even while taking care of a needy baby.
And, just like amputees get to have some special equipment to help them out, there’s some great equipment out there for mommies, too. I’m talking about those soft carriers that keep baby close and make him feel like he’s being held while leaving your hands mostly free. These are things like Moby Wraps, Mei Tais, Snugglis, and slings (the SlingEZee is my favorite). Different people find that different carriers work best with their body types, so it’s great if you can try out your friends’ carriers before you buy one. A carrier that you and your baby both like will be your BFF, allowing you to fold laundry, heft around new treasures at the resale shop, and help your toddler get on the swings at the park. You can even learn to nurse in them, which is how I managed to march my four older children around the Creation Museum when our new baby was five days old. (For me, those first 40 days MUST include a lot of distraction because I am a quivering ball of hormonal adjustment and just sit and cry whenever I’m alone.)
Plan, Reassess, Rinse, Repeat
This is what ties it all together. Adding a baby to your life is a huge change requiring a lot of adjustment, and you need to do a lot of planning to make your new life work. The problem is that your first plan will probably fail. At that point, instead of getting discouraged, look carefully at how the plan failed and make a better plan instead. Did you plan to run errands in the afternoon while your baby slept in his car seat, only to have him wake up wailing the minute you carried him into the grocery store? Try something different next time, like shopping at a different time of day or transferring him to a sling for his nap. (This is a real example from my life–it actually took me weeks of defeat and frustration before I figured out that my babies won’t sleep in their car seats in stores, but they’ll nap beautifully in a sling.) Decide what you need to do, and keep trying until you figure out how to get it done.
There are very few things that a mother with a baby truly cannot accomplish with some strategy, creativity, and lots and lots of trying again. And who knows, maybe one day you’ll find yourself as competent as I’d imagined I’d be before that fateful evening when my daughter shattered the air and my illusions with her pitiful wail from the bouncy seat. Managing a house with a new baby is rarely as simple as we’d like it to be, but it can be done.