8 Things I’ve Learned in 8 Weeks of Motherhood
My first child made her appearance at the end of November. Between mistakes and lack of sleep, these are a few things that have helped me.
Figure out feeding
As I prepared for my baby, I just assumed I would be breastfeeding. It just sounded like the easiest solution. I knew that breastmilk was rich in antibodies and other disease-fighting elements, but I also knew it was free, easily available, and the perfect excuse to duck out of an unwanted social interactions (“Oh sorry, baby is hungry and my exposed boobs are needed!”)
Then, my daughter was born and I was completely thrown for a loop. She not only showed no interest in my life-giving teats — she actively hated them. She thrashed and screamed whenever I tried to get her to latch. The hospital lactation specialist showed me few holds that could potentially help, but to no avail. I tried a nipple shield, self expressing… nothing helped. Meanwhile, my daughter was hungry and not afraid to let us know. I ended up using the hospital-provided breast pump to squeeze out the nutrient-dense colostrum, and continued to pump consistently once I got home.
What I was truly unprepared for was the guilt. Every time I fed her using a bottle full of pumped breast-milk, I felt like I was doing her a disservice.
Ultimately, it was my pediatrician who helped me turn those thoughts around. “Breast milk is breast milk, no matter how she’s getting it, and calories are calories. People talk about bonding, but what’s most important is that she’s getting fed.”
I took this to heart and continued to pump and bottle feed for several more days. One night, tired and out of pumped milk, I gritted my teeth and decided to try, one more time, breastfeeding. In a moment of mercy from my baby girl, she latched. I don’t know what changed, or why, but she hasn’t had a problem since.
I am going back to work in about six weeks, and I’m working to increase my milk supply and storage in the meantime. So far, this has included pumping on one side while feeding on the other, pumping after feeding to get the last little bit out, and lactation brownies. Supplementing with formula has been another good decision for us — her diet is mostly breastmilk with some formula mixed. This helps in times when she’s still hungry or I haven’t been able to pump enough to keep her fed while we’re out and about.
Let them sleep in the crib
Sleeping in the hospital was tough. Baby girl screamed and screamed and didn’t give us any chance to sleep ourselves. Coming home, we weren’t sure what to expect. I set up the bassinet on my side of the bed so that I could easily access her when she woke up. Predictably, she kept us up all night. After a few nights of this, we decided to take the plunge and put her in her crib. We put her Owlet sock on, positioned her right under the baby monitor, and shut the door. It was an improvement, and got even better as we conquered the swaddling game.
At two months, she’s slept through the night a handful of times. Usually, she’ll wake up once, after sleeping about six or seven hours. It’s a lifesaver. Our routine includes: feeding, changing, swaddling, cuddling and waiting till she falls asleep. Then, we place her in the crib, lights out, and monitor the monitor for about 10 minutes.
Future sleep regressions aside, things are looking hopeful from the sleep side, and I believe it’s because we started her early in the crib.
Make the most of your time together
Many French parents believe babies come out of the womb understanding much more than we might initially suspect. I decided to believe this. Since the moment baby girl has been here, I talk to her all the time. I tell her about the people in her life, about things like colors or animals, and I always tell her what to expect from our day’s plans.
I also believe, at this point, that she also understands when I’m not paying enough attention to her. I’m prone to doomscrolling, like the good millennial I am. When I hold her, trying to get her to sleep or even just settle down, it’s tempting to use that time to look at my phone. When she’s feeling playful and awake, she knows I’m not paying enough attention to her. She’ll kick, coo, and try and get my attention. As soon as I respond, she calms down. She knows, as little as she is, when my attention is not where it should be. I’m learning the importance of treasuring the time we have together and putting my focus where it should be.
View parenthood as partnership
The weekend our baby was conceived, my husband and I had a long conversation about parenthood. We decided, together, that once our kids came (which turned out to be sooner than we anticipated — thanks, Vegas), we would share the load, equally. We’ll both work, we’ll both parent, we’ll do it all equally and together!
Once baby girl was here, it became clear to me that parenthood is not an exercise in equality, but rather a practice of partnership. We don’t measure the amount of time either of us are up with the baby and compare stats at the end of the day.
From the beginning, motherhood has felt instinctual to me, like stepping into an old, familiar pair of shoes. My husband is a wonderful father, but his comfort with the role has built up slowly, moment by moment. As we adjust to this new stage in our life, we’ve learned that partnership towards our goal of raising a good human matters more than equality in tasks. While I may spend more time feeding in the middle of the night, he’s great at making sure the rest of our household runs smoothly. We’re in this together, and as long as we’re both putting forth effort, it doesn’t really matter who is doing what.
Lean on your tribe
Raising a child was never meant to be undertaken alone. A baby may have two of the most committed parents in the world, but they’re still going to need plenty of help. Kids need more than just one or two people shaping their worldview and life. As a parent, you’re doing the best for your kids when you choose to lean on the tribe you’ve built.
“It takes a tribe to raise a human” — Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
For my husband and I, our tribe is our parents, my siblings, and our close friends. Baby girl has at least three “uncles” who aren’t related by blood, but are family nonetheless. Their willingness to dedicate time and care to contribute to our child’s life has made all the difference in our experience of parenthood so far.
People in your life will love your child because they love you. Give them room to express that love. Let them help when they offer to help, and ask for help when you need it. Help can be holding the baby while you take a night to yourself, or bringing food when you don’t have the energy to procure it yourself. Allow people to love you the best they know how, and your child will flourish as a result.
Slowly build a routine
I’m a person who thrives with a flexible routine. When baby girl came, any routine went out the window, flexibility be damned. I struggled as a result. Sleep was strange, which made daytime even stranger. I started eating meals at odd hours, or not eating meals at all and surviving on snacking alone. Showering was sporadic and the gratitude I felt when I finally got to take one was over the top.
Eight weeks later, and we’re slowly building our own routine. It’s more nuanced and expansive than my old routine. We don’t do certain things at certain times. Instead, I have things I need to do every day, and I slowly check them off, depending on my baby’s needs and my own energy levels. I’m still recovering, and she’s still getting used to being here. We’re working together to make our days make sense, and to help our nights be less taxing. I consider it a good day if I eat at least two meals, exercise, read, write, and shower — and, of course, if my baby is healthy and happy.
Use your Kindle app
Before baby girl came, I went to the library and rented a dozen library books. I was convinced that I could read while holding her, and I was determined to use that time to my reading advantage. As soon as she was born, I realized that this intention was good but a tad misguided. Holding a book and a baby would require at least three hands, and alas, I only the usual two.
Thankfully, I have the Kindle app. I’ve read about five books in the eight weeks since she was born, all through Kindle. You can rent Kindle books through the Libby app, or purchase books at a discounted rate on Amazon Prime. My library books were left unread, but luckily I’ve still been reading.
Engage in intentional building of self
I lost myself for a few weeks after I had my baby — to be honest, even before I had my baby. The last month of pregnancy and the first few weeks postpartum were tough ones for me. I wasn’t able to do several things that I have always loved — running, soccer… even sleeping. After the baby was born, I was lucky to have ample maternity leave, but the loss of work was difficult, in some ways. For the first time in my life, the things that had defined me weren’t options.
“Motherhood and writing mark the same new beginning for me, and both have been a joy and a privilege.”
Ashley Audrain’s sentiment at the end of her 2021 novel “The Push” hit me hard. I read it about three weeks postpartum (on my Kindle app, of course), and it was something I was grateful to see articulated. Parenthood marks the end of many things, but we would be remiss to forget that it is the beginning of even more. If we are intentional, we can rebuild our sense of self around the tender newness of parenthood.
My time as a mother has been short, sweet, and stretching. What I’ve learned is my eight weeks postpartum have helped me progress as a parent and a person, particularly during the difficult times. There’s nothing I’d rather be doing, and I hope to learn to do it well.