This month, Mom Musings is going back to the beginning. I’ve discussed the pregnancy... and the birth. Then I skipped over to Positive Discipline. My brain works like that. I try to keep things in order, but then a random thought pops in, and I have to explore it. (If anyone has an idea or request, I’d love to explore it.)
Next comes baby. Until our son came, I was focussed on one thing: keeping him safe inside and getting him out. I didn’t think about anything else. I didn’t think about the fact that I knew nothing about a baby. I knew nothing about being a mom. Nothing.
I had finally gotten comfortable with keeping him safe on the inside. Now I had to figure out how to keep him safe on the outside.
I keep seeing these memes that talk about how people with babies shouldn't complain because the toddler years are coming, which is basically saying that the baby years are easy compared to what is coming.
I disagree. It’s all tough. The first month was tough. It was really tough. There were two major reasons that made it harder than all the other moments I've had as a mom:
First of all: I had no idea what I was doing. No idea. None. I was going in with no experience and no real knowledge of what it takes to take care of a newborn.
Secondly: I had no confidence as a mom. I didn't trust myself. I didn't trust my instincts. Instincts are sometimes all you have, and I didn’t trust mine... yet. As far as I can tell, motherhood is about constantly second guessing yourself. It’s not always fair, but it seems to be a major mom truth.
Every stage is hard in different ways. I keep thinking that if I have a second child, it would be a lot easier because I now know how to be a mother to a newborn and, for the most part, to a toddler. Unfortunately, I don't know how to be a mother to a newborn AND a toddler. (Also, it’s highly unlikely that I will have a second.)
I’m getting ahead of myself.
Anthony was born at 7:24 pm on a day in May of 2016.
In the recovery room, the nurse that was helping me gave me the best piece of advice. Every new mother should not only hear it, but believe it. We were trying to see if Anthony would breastfeed, and she said, “You are going to get a lot of pressure from everyone, including the nurses here, to breastfeed. You don’t have to listen to them. Do what’s right for you.” Perhaps I am paraphrasing. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but at the same time, I’ll never forget the sentiment.
Breastfeeding is incredibly stressful to many new mothers. It’s pushed on you as a beautiful choice, a bonding opportunity with your child, and the healthiest choice for your child. It is all of these, if it works. Mentally, it’s not always the healthiest choice for the mom, and I truly believe that. This, of course, is my humble opinion. I’m not a doctor. I’m not a nurse. I’m not a therapist. I have my own experience, and discussions with others to go with it.
It’s not something you are told at any birth or parenting class before the baby comes. In fact, if I recall, they show a video where a baby instinctively, after being placed on the momma’s tummy, will squirm and wiggle their way to the momma’s breast and latch all by themselves. I’m sure this happens. It’s never happened to me, or anybody I specifically know. It seems a little bit like false advertising. If you did find it easy, that’s wonderful. I’m happy that some people have a better time. I just think maybe it would be appropriate to let people know that it’s not always that easy. Sometimes it’s hard.
I was lucky to take an exercise class for prenatal moms at a place that had just opened. This place was called Fitbump. The instructor (and owner) had a one-year-old, and hearing about her experiences was the closest I got to hearing real stories about birth and breastfeeding. She was the ONLY person to tell me it was hard. Possibly my other friends found it easier... or maybe they just forgot. You tend not to focus on the bad things when your friend is expecting a baby. I think people should know that it’s sometimes hard. It’s worth it, but it’s tough as hell.
My mom, dad, and sister came to visit while I was in the recovery room. They were able to hold my son and joke about what nicknames they would call him. Unfortunately, I was exhausted, and the medication was wearing off so I wasn’t able to joke back. They kept my partner, Clint, company while I was getting cleaned up. Then Anthony was set into a baby warmer because his temperature was down. My dad told me that Clint held Anthony’s hand the entire time. My family’s visit was short because we just wanted to go to our room and be a family of three (and rest). We received a private room, which was the best thing ever. My friend actually had her baby twelve hours later, and she wasn’t so lucky.
We were taken up to our new room. I want to add that I have no idea how we got there or where we were. (Side note: once the new children’s hospital is completed, everything will be done in one room, or so I’ve heard.) Anyways, I think I was wheeled up on a bed with Anthony on my chest. I was incredibly proud to be showing off that I was a new mom. I made him! I brought him into the world... with a lot of help of course.
As we settled into the room, we had a nurse with us. She was working the night shift. I’m not certain how many nurses there were on that floor, but I imagine they were pretty busy. We worked on breastfeeding. Then she told us to get some sleep, and she would come back in three hours to help with the next feeding.
I cannot even begin to tell you the panic that set in when she said she’d be back. I honestly had no idea what we would do. I had no idea what to do with a newborn. I was shocked she was leaving me alone with this baby. I actually forgot that I was an adult.
We made it through the night. Clint had to change the first poopy diaper because I was recovering from surgery. I will always remember the commentary coming from him as he changed it. The first poop is apparently quite tar-like. I wouldn’t know, but from the description and concerns that Anthony’s butt would never be clean, I imagine it wasn’t wonderful. This was also Clint’s first experience putting a diaper on backwards. Many of us have done it (myself included).
I slept in a bed with Anthony in his bed next to me. Clint slept on a tiny mattress under the window. I felt bad that we were keeping him awake while I was trying to breastfeed with the nurse’s assistance. When I apologized, she made sure to tell me I shouldn’t be saying I was sorry. I’d been through so much to have this baby. She was right, but I felt sad he had to sleep on the floor.
If there are any new moms reading this, I need to tell you something that they forgot to tell me: There is a kitchen around the corner. It doesn’t have a lot, but it has toast and possibly yogurt. I had not eaten since 6 in the morning, and I did not eat much then. The next morning when they tested my blood sugar (because of the gestational diabetes), they were surprised it was so low. I told them I hadn’t eaten in twenty-four hours. It was then that they sent my partner to the kitchen we had previously not known about. I was too exhausted to think about food the night before, but the next morning it was very important.
After we got breakfast sorted out the following day (it’s important to note that I also had a second breakfast brought to the room), Clint went home to get some sleep and check on Drogo the dog, and my mom came in to spend the day with us. We had different visitors throughout the day. My friend, Crystal, made it a priority to take time off work to see me. She had been telling her employers for two days that she would be coming to see me and meet my son after he was born. This particular visit means the world to me because my friend is no longer with us.
The recovery was going well. I had to get help every time I went to use the washroom. Meals and coffee were provided, but not too much coffee. Friends brought me sugar and salty snacks.
Breastfeeding was a struggle. At one point, I remember three different pairs of hands on my breast trying to get them in the right position for my son to drink. It was uncomfortable. I know everybody wanted to help, but I think having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen’ was definitely the appropriate saying during this time period. There was pressure, and they did encourage me to keep trying. It’s not a bad thing to encourage somebody to keep trying, but we also had formula with us just in case. When I mentioned it, the nurse agreed (not as a permanent solution, but to make sure he was getting food while I waited for my milk to come in).
When you’re giving birth, you have no privacy. Honestly, you stop worrying about anyone potentially seeing something inappropriate. And it doesn’t really stop after the baby is born. It’s all about the baby, and sometimes people forget to check on Momma’s comfort level.
Anthony wasn’t taking to breastfeeding, so we learned how to finger feed with a tube. This was not an easy task, but Clint and I learned how to do it together. We had two things going against us at this point. My milk wasn’t coming in quickly, and Anthony had a tongue tie, which was preventing him from latching properly. This is something many newborns have. If the physician thinks it’s bad enough, it only requires a clip at the doctor’s office. And by “only,” I actually mean that nothing about it is easy for a momma to see.
This happened a week or two later, but I’ll talk about it now. When I say it’s not easy for the momma to see, it’s mostly because I didn’t see it. The second the doctor started explaining the procedure, I started to cry. He asked if it would be easier if I waited outside. I stepped outside and cried until Clint came out with Anthony. My brave little boy never even woke up.
So we hooked up a tube to our fingers and finger fed him until we had our next move figured out. All we wanted was to ensure he was eating. The nurses preferred finger feeding to bottle feeding. For the time being, we were using formula.
I had a quick check-up to see how I was doing. The check included questions about my recovery. The young male doctor then asked about passing gas and pooping. Then he proceeded to say, “I don’t know why women are so shy about answering.” I wasn’t shy. In fact, I’m not sure how many women would be shy after giving birth. I think maybe his assumption was inappropriate. I’m never embarrassed to talk about my farting or pooping (you may have noticed this from my birth story). He just had not given me a lot of time to answer.
We were released the next day in the afternoon. I was recovering well. Usually after a C-section, they keep you an extra day, but luckily things went well. They don’t let you leave the hospital until they know you have a car seat and can properly strap your baby in the car seat. It took us a while to figure it out, but we finally got him strapped in and left the hospital.
As we left the hospital, I had the same feeling as I did when we were left in the hospital room alone the first night. “WHY ARE THEY LETTING US LEAVE WITH A BABY??? WE HAVE NO IDEA WHAT WE ARE DOING!”
Driving home, all I wanted to do is yell out the window that we had a baby in the car. A brand new baby! I didn’t yell it, but I wanted to. I also wanted everybody around us to be VERY CAREFUL, and I was on edge until we arrived home.
We got home to an empty house. My parents left flowers for us before leaving. We were alone with our baby. The first thing we did was introduce him to the big dog. Our puppy was interested, but a little indifferent. He was just happy that Clint and I were home. We were excited to finally introduce them though.
We were nervous the first night, and we kept a watchful eye on him. We set our alarms to get up and finger feed him every few hours. The only good thing about finger feeding was the fact that it was something we could do together.
The next day, I finally figured out that changing the speed on the breast pump would get the milk out. It’s really the little things you need to know – like how to use a pump properly. He still wasn’t breastfeeding, but now we were able to give him breast milk. Also, now that I had milk, it gave me some motivation.
Our second night with Anthony was rough. It was really rough. It was the first time I felt defeated. We fed him, we cuddled him, we tried to get him to sleep. He cried all night, and we were exhausted. I noticed that night that my partner and I reacted differently. I was feeling defeated and helpless. He was frustrated and tired. He wanted Anthony to sleep, but he was patient. The difference was he didn’t blame himself. That night was hard. I blamed myself for the fact that my son was crying. I blamed myself because I felt I couldn’t properly breastfeed him, and I couldn’t properly comfort him. I knew it was my fault. At one point Clint asked me why I was crying. I could not even begin to put into words how I was feeling. He didn’t ask it meanly; he just didn’t understand.
This was also the night we finally sent our dog to sleep in his kennel. He had been so nervous and worried that nobody was in bed. I have never seen such relief on a face as we did when he went into his kennel.
Just a quick side note: I became the mom who posted cute and adorable photos of her son sleeping on Facebook. I’ve since gotten much better at mixing the cute with the truth.
Saskatoon has a wonderful program called Healthy and Home. You have two home visits from nurses as well a phone call. They weigh and measure baby, check to make sure everything is okay, and they offer help with breastfeeding.
Between persistence, the tongue clipping, and something called a nipple shield, we eventually figured it out. I kept giving myself timelines. I started with a month. Then I went to three months, and then six. After a while, I knew I could continue with breastfeeding. We were lucky enough to make it a year before my son decided he was done.
I was just looking at some hidden photos on my computer that I wanted to remember. I named the album realities. These photos are kept to remind me that none of it was easy. The newborn wasn’t easy, but neither was the recovery. My body was covered with a rash of some sort, but it eventually went away on its. I had an aching C-section scar. I couldn’t lift heavy items. I was exhausted. Now, the scar is my favourite part because it reminds me of where my son came from.
This is what I remember from one of the Healthy and Home visits: My partner was outside with the dog, and it was just the nurse and I with Anthony. She asked me how I was doing. Instead of answering, I burst into tears. I cried. I was too busy crying to answer. I felt so embarrassed. I was sure she was judging me. I was sure she’d think I was an unfit mother. As I looked up at her, she said, “It’s hard, isn’t it?” I could see from her eyes that she had seen this many times.
Just like the nurse in the recovery room, her words meant so much. It was that moment that I realized I was not alone. I was not the only person who felt like this. I was not alone. I felt instantly calmer. My anxiety lessened.
This is one of the reason I’ve started writing about being a mom. No mother’s experience is the same, but sometimes it helps to know you aren’t the only one going through it.
I also had anxiety. This wasn’t something that was treated, but it was definitely there. I moved on from it, but it made things harder. Asking for help isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good thing, and believe it or not, you are brave for asking. I wish I had asked.
Those were our first few days of parenthood. I could go on and on about it, but I will get there. It’s all an adventure. All of it. At times, it is an amazing adventure; other times, it’s frustrating and gut-wrenching. It’s still an adventure though. Your heart fills more than you ever imagined it could, and through the anxiety, pressures, and fears, you’re so in love with this new being in your life.
Stay tuned for more Mom Musings from a Write at Home Mom.