A Long One about PPA

I contemplated breaking this up into two posts, but whatever. If it’s too long, take a break & come back later. Or skim it for the most interesting parts! Godspeed if you’re on mobile.

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month, and some states also recognize it at Maternal Mental Health Awareness or PMAD Awareness Month. PMAD stands for Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders, most commonly postpartum depression, anxiety, and/or psychosis. Is it as fun as National Ice Cream Month? Probably not. But it’s vitally important to talk about so the stigma and shame are removed from parents going through it. I was officially diagnosed with postpartum anxiety at my first postpartum check up, and as with everything else on this blog, I can only speak to my experience.

I’m incredibly thankful to have a forthright group of friends who became moms before me, and I’m grateful to be a patient of a hospital system that is putting continually more resources towards parental mental health education pre- and postpartum. PMADs don’t just affect the birthing person; partners can absolutely suffer, often silently, as well. I wouldn’t say I had negative expectations about my mental health after becoming a mom, but I had realistic ones. I was definitely more versed in the signs of postpartum depression, however, so when my provider first said “postpartum anxiety,” I tried to brush it off as hormones and a lot going on in my life.

In retrospect, I suffered from anxiety my whole pregnancy (and, let’s be honest, my life.) My husband had his pay permanently cut by 25% due to COVID two months after we conceived, and my small business was greatly affected by the uncertainty of quarantine. We’d had our house listed for sale then took it off the market. We went for a month without health insurance (not recommended when pregnant AND in a pandemic!) Thankfully my business stabilized, he found a new job with insurance, and we moved when I was 36 weeks pregnant. In those final few weeks, I laid awake at night ruminating over how we were going to keep our baby safe from COVID, mass shootings, and being bullied by other kids while trying to not outright have a panic attack any time I glanced at news about the upcoming election.

All of this is relevant because at my six-week postpartum appointment, when the conversation turned to my mental health, I reported that I was “back to normal,” and I meant it. I was now in the process of selling my business and transitioning to a new job while figuring out how to be a mother to an unsleeping newborn with a husband who only had five days of “if HR asks, tell them you’re working from home” under the table paternity leave. We had supportive family nearby, a new home with tons of potential and a healthy baby. Nothing to actually complain about! Situational anxiety was my normal.

What wasn’t my normal was the panic I’d feel leaving my son with my mom or husband if I had an appointment. I’d get shaky in the Trader Joe’s parking lot thinking about how I had to rush home because they’d be mad at me for being away too long. (They weren’t. They would never be. This was something I’d made up in my head.) I thought it was “just hormones” that for the entire 12 minute drive to my son’s first doctor’s appointment with just me taking him, I was convinced he wasn’t breathing in his car seat. On more than one car trip, I’d pull over to check on him in the backseat despite having a mirror where I could see him while driving. During the really gnarly first week of baby blues home from the hospital, my husband went upstairs to take a shower, but I had insanely dark thoughts that he was doing something else up there and would never come back down. I had terrible insomnia, and it would take hours to go to sleep even when it was my husband’s turn to be up with the baby.

I didn’t realize that when I got up to do anything away from my son, I wasn’t breathing. (I mean, technically my brain stem was doing what it needed to in order to keep me alive, but it was the shallow breaths of a panicked person. I probably didn’t take a full, deep breath his entire month of life.) I was constantly waiting for him to need something from me and anticipating his cries. He’d meltdown during diapers changes his first two months of life, he hated getting dressed– I was constantly on edge. I thought since my anxiety wasn’t always about him, though, it wasn’t PPA. Since I felt confident as his mom and had bonded right away with him, I figured this was just how I handled life now.

My doctor finally convinced me it didn’t have to be this way. She prescribed me a low dose of Zoloft which I took for a few weeks. I shared on Instagram that I was taking it for a PPA diagnosis and so many other people commented or sent private messages that they, too, had been there. But I didn’t want to be medicated. I know, I KNOW. I believe in medication for other people, I believe there should be no stigma around medication for your brain, and yet I’ve got a lot of subconscious baggage from being raised in a “tough it out” (or drink through it) environment that had me wanting to get off the meds. So I decreased my dosage and eventually stopped taking them after maybe a month.

Things were fine; nothing crazy happened. The business transaction closed, I got more comfortable in my role at my new job. I stopped breastfeeding and tried to embrace formula feeding. Most of my clothes started to fit again. Things got even worse with his sleep, but then we Ferber-ed and our lives were suddenly *clouds parting, angels singing.* Out of the woods, baby!

Oh, boy. It was like once my brain knew he could actually sleep through the night and would be fine, it came completely unglued. This was not the situational anxiety of before; this was full on PPA. Did you know that PMADs can happen any time the first year postpartum? I didn’t! So many of the other parents in my Reddit monthly bumpers group were experiencing the same right around that four month mark. Did you know your body has another insane hormone surge (or drop, I don’t remember which- I’m not a doctor) around 16 weeks after birth? I was a ball of panic. I had to leave Walmart because I couldn’t find Total in the cereal aisle but couldn’t take the time to slow down and look again for it because I had to get home to my baby.

Thankfully, I’d kept picking up my prescription when it auto-filled and this time, I felt no shame in using it as a tool in my mental health toolbox. My son is now over six months old, and things are a lot better than they were two months ago. In the next post, I’ll share the litany of things that have helped get me to this place, fully realizing that this really is a journey I’m not at the end of (and I loathe when things are described as a #journey!!)

Infertility Awareness Week

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week!

Here is the website with more info about NIAW– resources to share, hashtags to follow, colors to wear (orange on Wednesday!)

Zero of my friends trying to get pregnant want to hear from me, someone who was “devastated” for the three cycles it took to conceive. While those feelings were real, I can look back now that my tears were shed over my lack of control/ things not happening on my exact timeline vs. the truly gut-wrenching, soul-searching “why can’t my body do what it’s ‘supposed‘ to do” rollercoaster of feelings over infertility. So instead, I’ll be following the hashtag #WhatIWantYouToKnow and learning from people so I can be a better support to my many friends who are 1 in 8.

Every time someone “comes out” with their infertility story, my husband and I wonder, “why didn’t they say anything?” But we’re naive, and we have no idea what they’ve been through, and maybe we’re not great listeners. We know so many people who have conceived via IVF, people who had adopted after failed IVF cycles, and people who have been trying to conceive for years but fertility treatments are expensive. There’s a whole lot to be said about intersectionality and privilege and non-hetero couples, but I am 0% qualified to speak on any of that. So go read and learn and listen to people who are different than you!

Shameless plug for my cousin’s Instagram— their first was conceived via IVF in 2018, and they’re currently publicly sharing their journey for a second. Oversharing must be in our shared DNA 🙂

The One Your Partner Needs To Read

We have our VERY FIRST GUEST POST, YA’LL. Today’s knowledge is being dropped by Morgan, resident mom to us new moms because she had a kid first AND THEN another one *scary ghost hands to face emoji* She’s the wise old soul that shows up at your house with pizza and alcohol to listen to how it’s really going. (She did that! For me!) I told her she could write about whatever she wanted because her well of advice is vast and deep, and she chose to address your dear, sweet partner. Maybe passive aggressively send your partner the link to this if it resonates with you!

Hello to the partner who did not physically birth the baby yourself; this one’s for you.

I want to start by acknowledging that your life has completely changed. Your experiences that come with this baby are difficult. Your feelings on this change are valid. But I also want you to know that the birthing person is experiencing those feelings and navigating those changes on hormonal steroids. 

You both now serve at the pleasure of the baby. Mom is Chief of Staff and you’re a staff member. Because you’re probably a millennial, you want me to get to the “list.” I will cut off the 16 paragraph intro to the “best-chili-you’ve-ever-had!!” recipe here and get to it. 

  1.  Don’t make your partner ask for what she needs. Get used to looking for what she or the baby needs and just doing it.

That’s it. That’s the list. 

To drive it home, here are a few suggestions:

  • Is there a dirty bottle or pump parts somewhere? Clean them as this is now your JOB. 
  • Does baby need a diaper change? You’re on it. 
  • Is mom’s water bottle full? We become a dog in Pavlov’s experiment when it comes to nursing and needing our hospital-issued water bottle. 
  • Speaking of nursing the baby – is it taking an hour each time? Can you clean a bathroom or massage mom’s shoulders while they work that latch? If baby is bottle fed, can you do this feeding? (You can!)
  • Did someone drop off a gift for baby yesterday? Write the thank you note and put it in the mail. 
  • Do you have a plan for dinner tonight? Start thawing the enchiladas your coworkers sent over BEFORE it’s 6 p.m. and everyone is starving. 

But she won’t let me help!

Help anyway. There is a strong narrative out there that partners don’t always know how to help moms during this transition. Or baby only wants mom. Help anyway. 

To be clear, mom may have legitimate postpartum anxiety. She may overbear, not allowing another to handle baby’s needs. Whether anecdotally in my own and friends’ experiences or scientifically speaking, postpartum syndromes are real and serious. The hormonal plummet that occurs in those first weeks is the subject of much research and has given rise to some amazing Instagram communities. Research shows 80% of mothers have some form of the baby blues (which in my opinion is an incredibly diminutive term). PPD and PPA are prevalent and warrant attention and conversation. In fact, it’s likely mom may need your help identifying and working through these conditions. But that’s an entirely different blog post.  And if the above rings true, it’s all the more reason to start honing your ability to read the room. Take the initiative because you truly have the ability to make things a little easier on the people you love during this time. 

Bonus Tip: Do not suggest that baby is hungry every time he fusses. Especially if his saint of a mother just got done feeding him 10 minutes ago. 

A Rant

I’ve been reading the blog A Cup of Jo for many, many years & recently read this post, “Why Formula Feeding Was Best For Us.” Even the title tells you they’re going out of their way to make it as universally appealing and non-offensive as possible! The post goes on to share real stories from people in all walks of life who, at some point in their child’s first year or from the beginning, fed them formula instead of breast milk. As someone who stopped breastfeeding about two months after the birth of my son, I found it interesting to read other people’s stories of how they got to where I am. It was a lovely, informative post.

And then I read the comments.

Why, Brittney. Isn’t don’t read the comments the #1 rule of the Internet?!?!?!

I am angry. And I want answers. Why why why do women tear down other moms– people they DON’T KNOW– for choices that absolutely, 100% will never affect them?! The government isn’t looking out for moms, many employers and male colleagues aren’t looking out for moms. If we don’t support one another and the choices we make for OUR families because NO ONE is a better parent for your child then YOU, who else will!?!? (You can tell I’m hot and bothered by the amount of all caps words I’m typing. I do not apologize.)

The majority of the comments were, “Thank you for this,” followed by stories of their own formula-feeding journeys. A few simply said something like, “But breastfeeding is proven to be best. Stop trying to make formula feeding sound like an equivalent choice when it’s not as good.” I mean, fine. I don’t disagree that breastmilk is awesome for babies. The reason I wanted to breastfeed is because it’s so chock full of everything my baby needs straight from me to him. (Also, I’m cheap. Formula costs more cash money, yo’s! But, if time is money, breastfeeding isn’t exactly free.)

But then there were the comments that REALLY got me all fired up. Comments about “why are you trying to turn lemons into lemonade. You failed/ formula is second rate/ society shouldn’t glorify to parents that choosing formula is ok.” I! Can’t! Even! As a person who “failed” at breastfeeding and is now reading your comment, what is your intention? To make me feel like shit even more than my complex feelings about the situation already do? I highly doubt these same people would comment on a post about conceiving via IVF, “Why are you trying to turn lemons into lemonade? You failed.”

If you’re so concerned that my formula fed kid is going to have a smaller brain than your breastfed one, shouldn’t you be celebrating? Your kid will get a scholarship to Harvard while my little dunce still lives at home, attempting to repeat the 11th grade. (As if Harvard is a marker of success… but I can’t get off track here– I’m too incensed!)

And making lemons into lemonade is kind of, like, life? Not every parent in the original post ever wanted to breastfeed, so they didn’t have “lemons” to begin with. But those, like me, who weren’t able to breastfeed as well as we’d imagined while pregnant, have certainly grieved our lemons, thankyouverymuch. I didn’t look at my screaming child who was hungry but unable to get enough ounces out my boobs and think, “I’ll just go grab some formula and not once look back on this moment with a huge amount of self-flagellation!” Believe me, there were lemons. As humans so often do, I had an experience, I had emotions, I felt them, I processed them, I’ve learned things from it. If that’s what we’re calling lemonade, then come on over, honey, because I’m setting up a stand in the front yard!

If I sound defensive, I absolutely am. I’m defensive as hell against people who look at women in the most upside down/ twisty turvy/ you have no idea what journey I took to get here/ who even am I anymore/ period of their lives as new mothers and decide to tear down the choices they’re making. I don’t disagree with their core belief that breastfeeding is a wonderful option, but I’m disgusted in their conviction to impress these beliefs on people who are just trying to survive this hormonal hellscape while feeding their babies.

I fully plan to try to breastfeed again if we have another child, and I’m confident I’ll be more successful than I was after my first pregnancy. I had NO idea how hard it was going to be on top of a ton of other things I had NO idea how hard they would be. If it doesn’t work out for whatever reason– and you absolutely don’t have to give anyone else your reason– you can bet your ass I won’t be reading any blog comments.

Bounce Back

I was talking with a pregnant friend last night– the Natalie’s are everywhere!!!– and she asked worriedly, “Does everything… you know, go back?” motioning around her stomach.

Ahhh, postpartum body changes. As if the truckload of hormones wasn’t doing enough to your brain, your body is also gonna be shapes for a while. As a white American woman whose had body image issues as long as I’ve been able to form memories, the post-birth body was just another thing adding to my truly WTF mental state the first few months. I’m by no means an outlier with that sentiment, so let’s talk about it.

You will gain more weight during your pregnancy than the approximately 6-9 lbs. your baby will likely come out weighing. A whole bunch of fluids and retained water come out during your hospital stay, too, but it’s unlikely you’re going home at your pre-pregnancy weight. Even if you do– yes, I know an actual human person who was at her pre-pregnancy weight two days after giving birth– your body is not going to look the same. I’ve read to expect that you’ll still look about five months pregnant after birth. Even if you had a snatched as hell body and your weight gain was “all baby!” your uterus has not yet contracted to it’s original size and your skin will take more than a day to not be a home for another person anymore.

You probably won’t care the first few weeks. There’s enough going on getting to know your brand new child that the state of your abdomen hopefully isn’t of much concern. Eventually, though, you might get a decent night’s sleep and take a real shower and find yourself naked in front of the bathroom mirror going, “Yikes. It happens. You’re not alone. If you had more than one baby at once, I have no further advice for you because I was in enough of a mental hell after only having one and being told for the entirety of my third trimester that I didn’t look very pregnant.

I think it was around three months postpartum that we got rid of our bathroom scale (gave it away for free to a rando on Instagram!) I wasn’t weighing myself daily, but whenever I would, the number was higher than I could imagine, and that would dictate my entire mood for the day. “The child has exited! I don’t have time to even eat that much! I’m drinking 1% of the beers I ever did pre-pregnancy! How am I not a lithe poolside nymph?!??!” As a loyal reader of this mind-blowingly insightful blog, you know my numero uno post-birth tip is to communicate with your partner, and I’m proud of myself for using my words and letting my husband in on my brain prison. “Is there a number that won’t make you hate yourself?” TOUCHE, DEAR. Bye bye, scale.

I accidentally packed my smallest pair of jeans on a weekend trip when my son was about 3.5 months old (I thought they were my maternity jeans! There is NO SHAME IN THE WEARING MATERNITY CLOTHES AFTER BIRTH GAME!) and I was shocked I could actually get them zipped. A few weeks later, I found I could wear all of my pre-pregnancy clothes without too much scandal. However, I know (I can just tell!) I’m not at my pre-pregnancy weight, and although the clothes technically fit, they don’t fit the same. Things are … lumpier? The places I gained weight in pregnancy are still squishier than I’d ideally want them to be. I’m not as confident sans clothing than I was before getting knocked up.

Is this because society has told me for three decades that women’s bodies go to hell once they have babies? Because I didn’t “bounce back” right away and have to slowly work at it daily like any other person wanting to change their body size would have to do anyway?

I follow a famous-ish personal trainer on Instagram who is engaged to a Super Bowl-winning quarterback; they just welcomed a daughter. She’s younger than most of the people I know who have recently become moms, and she was petite to begin with PLUS her literal job is to be fit as hell. On one hand, I’m like “get your life, girl” as she’s posting Instagram stories of her in the gym already or poolside with a crop top on. BUT. So many people are complimenting her in the comments about how great she looks just weeks out of the hospital. I feel she’s sending a wildly unnatural (and dangerous? problematic?) message to her younger followers who haven’t yet had children about what they should aspire to postpartum. Not that they can never go in the gym again or look even “better” post-baby, but it’s an unrealistic expectation that only fuels the already tenuous new mom narrative of getting right back into life as it was before baby arrived.

Most doctors won’t even clear you for exercise until six weeks postpartum. Even if you feel great, things are still healing internally. Where your placenta was attached to your uterus is allegedly a wound roughly the size of a dinner plate! In an ideal, not posed-for-Instagram life, I’d appreciate some transparency on what’s morphing it’s way back to her “normal” in her lower stomach area that’s being held up by high-waisted leggings (bless the inventor of those, they truly do suck up and in.)

I wish I had a pretty little thesis to wrap this whole thing up in a bow with, but everyone’s relationship to their own body and the space they take up physically and metaphorically in this world is messy and complex. As much as I tell myself, “OF COURSE your body looks different, you grew and birthed a HUMAN PERSON,” there are days where I’m just mean to myself. As much as I rationally know, “You’re doing a kick ass job and this kid is thriving and you’re taking care of your brain and that’s all so much more important than how your jeans fit,” there are still days where I think my bloated face means I’m a failure. So be kind to yourself. Unfollow people who make you feel certain ways. If you haven’t yet had a baby, please know that your body will change, and try with all your might to have grace for yourself when it does.

Resentment

Ooh la la– sharing the first ever image on this here non-mommy blog. I saw this on @expectingandempowered’s Instagram this morning and thought, “How did @psychedmommy get into my head and put my thoughts into a photo?!”

Maybe not all of these will ring true for you in parenthood, but it’s likely many of them will. Resentment towards your partner after the baby comes is inevitable, no matter how much you think you two are the exception. As the birthing person, the baby will need you more. Period. You are biologically hardwired to do more for the baby. Things will come naturally to you– stuff you’ve never once thought of before and didn’t even know were buried in your animal brain– that won’t come as easily to your partner. This will cause resentment.

The baby needing you for food while your partner sleeps soundly will cause a well of anger deeper in your sleep-deprived soul than you ever thought possible. The fact that your partner gets to leave the house unencumbered while you have a maxi pad the size of a canoe between your legs and your boobs are leaking and you don’t know why the baby’s crying but you do know that leaving the house is just not possible will make you seethe with jealousy. I describe it as my husband getting to cut & paste an adorable baby into his normal life while everything in my life changed on the cellular level. This is likely an unfair description, and some day it would be worth getting my husband’s perspective (he felt helpless & unsure of himself & also sleep deprived) but it takes a far more evolved person than me to not get petty as hell about, “How could you possibly have not noticed he needs a new diaper????”

My biggest advice is to communicate. Say it aloud. I absolutely told my husband more than once, “I was up at 4:00 really resenting you.” “I’m feeling very angry at you right now.” He’s allowed to talk back– it is supposed to be a dialogue– but the important thing is getting it out. Feeling resentment, then feeling bad about feeling resentment so keeping it inside and beating up on yourself, is a surefire way to cause more problems down the road for both your relationship and your mental health. This isn’t carte blanche to verbally berate whomever is helping you out with baby, but your feelings are valid and putting them out in the open takes away a lot of the weight immediately.

Your partner will eventually say something innocent like, “I’m so tired.” It is at this point you will weigh the pros and cons of committing first degree murder. You will wonder how someone could be so shockingly insensitive as to say to you, the NEW MOTHER, the MOST TIRED PERSON EVER, that they’re short on sleep. Try to be a decent human being in this moment. You being tired doesn’t negate your partner’s tiredness. It’s not a contest. It’s not fair to expect your partner to not also be open about what they’re going through (lack of sleep, stress of the baby, wanting to connect as a couple) because it might set you off into a “well I’m the most tired” rage. That’s not a cute look.

Beware of becoming a martyr. When you are doing the most– because you are, and it’s hard not to notice– don’t take on even more things because “well I’m doing it all anyway and he’s a piece of shit and if I continue to not ask for help I will eventually have a laundry list of things to throw back at him.” Believe me, that vindication feels good! It feels great to demand to be seen for all you have sacrificed. But what feels even better is asking for help and acknowledging when you feel put upon instead of one day boiling over from burnout. Remember, everyone involved is feeling fragile and no one is at their best. One day you’ll look back on The Cottage Cheese Incident as a fun marital story to laugh about even though you went to bed not talking to each other that night. (How in the F*CK was I supposed to know the seal on the cottage cheese was broken when I bought it and what the HELL do you want me to do about it now?!)

Postpartum Hormones + In-Laws

I was going to text Natalie about this instead of making it a public post, but this blog is about things I wish I knew, and this topic is definitely something I wish I knew. After talking to other new parents, turns out I’m not the absolute bitch monster I assumed I was, and many people have experienced the same. I know many pregnant people right now who don’t have the great relationship with their in-laws that I do, yet this still happened to me, so they may need a double heads up. If you are one of my in-laws reading this, hopefully you’ll realize the point is that you never did anything wrong! My brain just decided you were scary thanks to the insane amount of who-even-knows-what pumping through my new mom self.

I have a great relationship with my in-laws: they’re lovely people, I want my son to love and have fruitful relationships with them as he grows, and hopefully in a post-COVID world they’ll be a reliable source of occasional childcare… basically zero reason to expect anything would be different I gave birth. And yet! While I was comfortable with some of my own family being around the baby, something inside of me became very anti-my partner’s family. They never did anything wrong– if anything, they were far more respectful of our new parent boundaries than my own family. But thanks to postpartum hormones, it felt like the baby was mine, and they couldn’t get it on it.

What was I afraid of? Nothing that could be well articulated. That they were going to steal my baby? Push me out? Overstay their welcome? None of the above, and yet all of the above. Like most things postpartum, it’s hard to describe– it was just a strong motherly urge; another feeling that made me feel absolutely crazy on top of the sleep I wasn’t getting.

I read a theory that this happens because your primal parent instincts come rushing in, and even though your in-laws might be the warmest, most respectful people on the planet, they’re not your tribe. When the cavewoman hormones flood your brain, your family is safe while the clan you partnered into is unknown. They’re not your blood; they might eat or steal your baby. Is there any science to this? I have no idea! But it makes a little bit of sense to me, and I hope you read this in time to know it might very well happen to you.

So what do you do. If you have truly overbearing in-laws– the kind that are wildly inappropriate or don’t respect your boundaries for COVID protocols or anything else– you are completely justified in drawing a hard line and not budging. I’m not saying you have to keep your baby away forever, but this is a fragile time for your new family, and if trying to force time with them is going to put you over the edge, please prioritize your baby and your mental health. If it’s too much for you to be around but you value your in-laws getting to meet baby, consider having your partner take the kid for a visit, or you going out for an errand while the in-laws come over. If the in-laws are over and it becomes overwhelming, you can either exit the room solo for some downtime, or you can excuse yourself with baby to go nurse, put them down for a nap, or just get your mom hormones back down from “internal rage” by taking the baby to snuggle yourself. Does this sound selfish as I type it out? Yeah, kinda. But you’re already giving 145% of yourself to someone else; your mother-in-law can deal with not getting to hold the baby for her entire visit.

This is a great time to lean on your friends who are already parents. They will 100% understand if you send a text “sister-in-law is here plz help.” You both know your sister-in-law is only excited for you and over the moon to meet your kid, but a great friend will respond, “SHE’S THE WORST” even though they’ve probably never met. You can do a lot of loving kindness meditation towards your in-laws later once the hormones clear and you realize they’re actually extremely helpful to have around (hopefully.)

Baby Blues Advice

Since I’ve had one child and am extremely qualified to give all the parenting advice in the world, here’s the much anticipated follow up to my experience with the baby blues period of being home with a newborn. If you missed that, click here to read it first, duh!

So. You are extremely overheated and underslept and possibly undernourished– what do you do.

  1. Know that what you’re going through is normal* and it will get better. This is absolutely the shittiest advice to get because WHEN will it get better and HOW will it get better would be much more helpful, but just know that it will. *People far more well-versed in postpartum depression, anxiety & psychosis will thankfully give information and warning signs on that before you leave the hospital. I’m using “normal” as a relative term; if you’re ever scaring yourself with your thoughts, PLEASE say them aloud to your partner or a medical professional. Do not keep it inside and assume “it’s hormones, it’ll pass.”
  2. Give yourself all of the grace in the world. This is the time to strip everything in your life down to the basics. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you are starting from the bottom. You get to accept all of the help you need and turn away all of the extraneous people and to-do’s that you want. If you post a picture of baby on Facebook and receive a record number of congratulatory comments, you don’t have to respond to a single one. It’s more than ok to not respond to texts, or to tell people “No, we’re not receiving visitors any time soon.” If it’s going to give you a blip of joy to fall down a TikTok rabbit hole, don’t feel guilty doing it. The first few weeks home are the wild west of doing or not doing whatever most benefits you and your baby.
  3. Communicate. Mind reading wasn’t something your partner could do before baby came; it sure as hell isn’t something either of you can do now. Saying “come take the baby” to your partner when you’re done nursing, or texting your mom “bring orange juice at 12:30 and put the load of clean clothes in the dryer when you get here” is so much more helpful to you and your helpers than them trying to guess what you might be needing right now.
  4. When baby is sleeping during the day, ask yourself, “What will I be most upset I didn’t get done if baby wakes up early?” and then go do that thing. If the answer is take a nap yourself, attempt it. If the mess in the kitchen is absolutely driving you bonkers, load that dishwasher (or communicate to someone else to do it!) If you need to pump, this is your time. My answer was usually to take a shower. It was the one thing I definitely couldn’t do while holding baby. You will absolutely astound yourself with the amount of things you’ll figure out how to do one-handed, but showering is never one of them. And since you’re always weirdly hot and sweaty, a daily shower will generally be warranted!
  5. Don’t rush “normal.” I was hell bent on proving to the world (and myself? why??) that I hadn’t fundamentally changed as a person after becoming a mother. I wanted to do All The Things and get back to my old routine, hobbies and habits to prove having a kid wasn’t a major disruptor. Reader, I am an idiot. Having a kid is a major disruptor to your physical body as well as your brain (and your relationships, but that is a whole separate post for a later time.) Six days after baby was born, my mom came to watch him while my husband and I went grocery shopping. We were in the canned foods section when I had to tell him, “I’ll push the cart, but I need you to make all the decisions,” because my brain could NOT focus on the task at hand. I should not have been making pantry choices at that moment. I wanted to get back on my feet and be in the world, but my brain sat my ass back down.
  6. Don’t overthink it. When you’re crying, just let it happen. Wondering why you’re crying is probably moot, and it will pass. Don’t worry your gorgeous brain one second beyond the moment that’s happening in front of you. At some point you will have the thought, “I could never do this again,” regarding any subsequent children, and honey, this is NOT the time to be thinking about that. Getting pre-sad about when they start daycare or wondering what color they’ll want to paint their room when it’s no longer a nursery is a waste of this current moment when you can be staring at their squishy face that everyone assures you doesn’t look like an alien but you’ll look back on in a couple months and realize that actually it totally did. All newborns look like (cute) aliens.

On Parenting in a Bubble

At the time of this writing, I’ve been a mother for three months and one day. When I found out the blessed heir was on his way, coronavirus was still something happening half a world away. There was no talk of stateside quarantines, masks or vaccines; I was thinking about baby shower hosts, where the hell a kid would fit in our bungalow-style house, and when my magical bigger boobs would arrive (spoiler alert: NEVER! Turns out you gain pregnancy weight in the usual areas you gain weight. So I just looked like a 14-year-old boy with a round face and ham hocks for upper arms.)

The only upside of living in a red state with very lax COVID restrictions is that my husband could attend all doctor’s appointments with me. I know that’s not the case for most people, and I truly feel sorry for those who had to experience those exciting and sometimes scary appointments and tests alone.

I was able to have a lovely Zoom baby shower, but will never get to have the “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” themed baby shower I’ve been secretly planning for at least seven years. I fully recognize there are bigger problems in the world– hundreds of thousands of people are dying, so many couples are waging the war against infertility– but if I learned anything from my mother-in-law’s death two years ago, it’s that grief is not a contest. Truly unthinkable things can be happening to others, and you’re still allowed to be sad for losses in your own life.

You lose so.much.sleep. over “how will I keep my baby safe?” “I want my parents want to meet him, but my mom is getting her hair cut a week before my due date and how do I know her hairstylist wears a mask in the grocery store?!” “WAS THAT A COUGH OHMYGOD I’M CLEARLY PREGNANT PLEASE FALL DOWN A FLIGHT OF STAIRS LADY AT THE OTHER END OF THE PARKING LOT.” Followed by pre-delivery virus tests, not getting to leave your hospital room, and, God forbid– laboring in a mask. (Which I didn’t have to do! But was so real for so many people!)

And then the baby is here. And it’s a Saturday night and he’s been around long enough that you’ve just started thinking, “I’ve… maybe… got this?” And in any other year, you’d be meeting up with friends at a brewery so they could hold the baby, or having your cousins and their kids over for dinner so you could all be like, “lol wasted on half a beer #momlyfe” but you can’t. And that’s what’s been the hardest. All of the texts and Instagram DM’s and FaceTimes from other moms and family have been a lifeline, but you can’t replace the in-person village.