By Guest Blogger, Caitlyn Martin
You’ve wanted this baby so badly…
You (or your partner) carried them for the better part of the year, through the ups and downs of pregnancy, and now you get to hold them in your arms. All the love you have been storing in your heart is spilling out into this sweet bundle of joy and you can’t believe you get to keep them with you forever.
So then why does it feel so hard?
The first few months after birth, also known as the fourth trimester, is a time rife with fluctuating hormones, sleep deprivation and anxiety. Having a new baby, regardless of how happy you are to have them, is really difficult. And there is so much information out there, from loved ones and strangers, books and internet searches, that it can feel impossible to sort out what’s “normal” and what isn’t.
As a postpartum doula and a mom, I’ve seen what the fourth trimester actually looks like and I am here to share some new parent experiences that feel completely wrong but are actually much more common than you may think.
“The first night home from the hospital was hell”
Yep. Whether you spent zero nights, one night or a week or more in the hospital, the first night home alone with a new baby is often very hard. Many parents go into that first night with a sense of relief to be alone, back in their own space with all the setups they so carefully prepared… only to be completely blindsided by a sleepless night with a crying baby.
If you gave birth in the hospital, it makes sense to assume that things will be calmer at home. However, when you consider what the hospital was like, it makes sense for the transition to be difficult. Sure, there were way too many machines and interruptions, but there were also prepared meals, knowledgeable staff, someone bringing you pain meds and water whenever you needed them, and a nursery to send your baby to just in case you needed uninterrupted sleep. And while home is by far more comfortable, you are also now on your own and away from the only environment your baby has ever been in outside of your womb. That’s a huge change for all of you!
Maybe you gave birth at home. That first-night-home-alone experience begins when your midwives leave. They took care of you in labor. They cared for you and your baby after the birth. They cleaned up. They fed you. They tucked you into bed and then they left.
Luckily, not all nights will be like this first one and you will fall into a rhythm. Your home will feel like home again before you know it.
“My baby wakes up SO MANY times in the night”
In modern society, there is a lot of talk about baby sleep. Your parents constantly ask if your baby is sleeping through the night yet. Your friends want to know if you’re going to sleep train or not. Articles pop up online telling you at what age your baby should be sleeping X number of hours in one stretch. It can be overwhelming.
All of these things can make you feel like your baby is abnormal for waking multiple times a night or needing a lot of help to get back to sleep, but it isn’t true. New babies are thrust into a world that is much less comfortable than the one they are used to and it takes a while for them to adjust. They wake from being hungry, cold, hot, lonely, and many other reasons. Babies have needs that they cannot meet themselves and they wake up to tell you about them. It helps them get the comfort they are craving and it helps them survive.
Knowing this doesn’t make the sleep deprivation any easier, but it can help to remind yourself that it’s amazing you are able to fully care for this little human AND that this period of intense need won’t last forever. You can do this.
“I have terrible thoughts”
This one is a bit tricky. The word terrible can mean different things to different people, but many new parents have thoughts that they feel this way about. I’ve known moms to say things like “I hate her” and “I don’t want to take care of him anymore” while in sleep-deprived fogs in the middle of the night. I’ve known dads who worried that their baby was ruining their relationship with their partner. This is SO COMMON.
Regardless of being typical, it can feel scary to have these kinds of thoughts, both for yourself and your partner. And even though you should not shame yourself for them, it is still incredibly important to ask for help in these moments. See if your partner can do the next diaper change. Ask someone in your home to give the baby a bottle instead of breastfeeding for one meal. Put the baby in their safe sleep space and walk away for five minutes. All of these things are totally okay and often necessary if you have hit a wall. Take a shower, get an hour or two of uninterrupted sleep in another room while your partner stays up with the baby, cry, have a snack, talk to a friend… do what you need to do to feel better before you go back to taking care of someone else.
And if these thoughts are not fleeting or do not go away with some sleep and a break, please reach out to your doctor, midwife or someone you trust for help. While these kinds of thoughts can be normal when you are lacking in food or sleep or going through hormonal changes, they can lead to dangerous situations if they are ongoing or continue for a long period of time. Talk to a loved one to make sure you have support to see the difference.
“I should feel physically better by now”
You may think that your doctor is exaggerating about the length of time you should take it easy after giving birth, but it is essential to listen to them and listen to your body. The first 3-4 weeks after having a baby are generally hard for everyone, but after this it can vary greatly. Many new moms think that once their baby is a month old, they should be fine lifting heavy items or going back to their exercise routine or having sex again… but this is not always the case! It is so important to take it easy, move slowly, and follow both your doctor’s instructions and your own intuition. This is especially true if you have had a cesarean birth, but it applies to vaginal birth as well.
Even if your doctor clears you for sex at 6 or 8 weeks, you may not feel ready until 12 weeks or 6 months or more. Even if you are starting to feel good moving around, you don’t want to lift anything heavy until your doctor says it’s okay. Even if you are dying to get back to working out, try starting at a slower pace than you’re used to and work up to it. Similarly, if you feel like you need more time to rest, trust yourself! You are not being lazy or a bad parent or selfish. You are recovering from a significant life and body-changing event. It’s the perfect time to have a little extra grace for yourself, ask for help when you need it, and take things slow.
“I don’t want to share my baby”
“It takes a village to raise a child.” We’ve all heard it a million times and in a lot of ways it’s true. It can be helpful to have a partner or a doula or a parent or a friend to assist you in the early days of parenting. It can be nice to receive meals and have someone vacuum for you or take your dog on a walk. But then there are the people who think “helping” is just coming over to hold the baby. That might not be what you want, and that’s okay. Sure, sometimes it will be nice to get extra sleep or shower or eat in peace while your baby rests in someone else’s arms. But if this is not your favorite idea, there is nothing wrong with you.
Whether it’s from anxiety or that all-consuming newborn love, if you don’t want to let other people hold your baby, you don’t have to. It doesn’t matter if it’s your dad or your mother in law or your best friend or your sibling… You can love that person and want them to be a part of your baby’s life and still not want to hand your baby over. Or you may only want to allow them to hold your baby for short periods of time. Or only when you need to sleep. Or one day, but not the next. It’s all okay. You make the rules and there is nothing that says you have to parent a certain way or that you can’t change your mind at any point. If you don’t want to share your baby, you don’t have to.
Your thoughts may not feel normal, but they are.
You may be questioning your parenting, but you don’t need to.
You may feel like the only person who feels this way, but you aren’t.
Being a new parent is unlike anything else you will ever experience. There is so much joy, but also plenty of difficulty. Just remember though, even when parenthood feels really lonely…
You are not alone.
About Caitlyn Martin
Caitlyn Martin is a Certified Postpartum Doula and Newborn Care Specialist. She is a team member and blogs for Family Tree Doula Services in Portland, Oregon. Family Tree Doula Services provides expert support to new parents and their babies. Caitlyn has always loved working with children and families and she believes that supporting parents first is the best way to establish a healthy foundation for their babies to grow. It is her goal to provide nurturing care to all new parents while teaching invaluable skills that will build confidence in her clients throughout their parenting journeys. She currently lives in Happy Valley Oregon with her own baby as well as her husband and her dog, Petey. In her free time, you can often find her in the kitchen making specialty decorated sugar cookies!