Yes, I see you with your exhaustion and your slightly maniacal searching google for ways to get more sleep and just cope with having this gorgeous but exhausting new baby… I have been there too.
And the advice out there is endless. Lots of it is really helpful. I read some things that encouraged me to keep going and made me feel less alone and less of a failure!
I don’t know about you but some of it seemed helpful, but tricky like I just couldn’t quite get my head around how to put it into practice. The words sounded good, but when it came right down to it, what do they actually mean you should do?
So I decided to put together a list of the advice I was given that did actually help me. With how I actually did it. And maybe some if it will work for you as well. I hope so!
Friends, I will be honest: I’m sharing some of the worst times in my life since those hard lessons gave me so much strength to get through and become a good-enough Mama despite all the chances I was going to screw it all up. And I don’t say that to exaggerate and make a point. I had bad depression after my baby was born as well as other health complications after a traumatic birth. It was bad enough to mean there were professionals coming into the house to make sure I was safe enough to have care of my child, as well as others trying to actually help me improve. Frankly, it was humiliating.
That all sounds kinda hard-core. But I am trying to give you some context. If you feel useless and like you can’t do this… well, I am here to say that you can do it. If I can, then you can too. Really.
On to the advice!
Sleep When You Can
This was almost the first thing I was told when my baby was born.
But what does it mean? I didn’t feel like there really was any time to sleep. The baby woke so often at night and during the day there were things to do.
Then I was told I should sleep whenever my baby slept. Ok… but then when do I shower, or vacuum, or get washing done…?? I wanted to sleep. All the time. Still do if I am honest!
So there had to be a way to figure this out. How did I manage to do it all?
And there, my friends is the real key to the puzzle.
Don’t try to do it all. Sleep INSTEAD.
Yes, you will not get the floors clean, or the washing done, or whatever else does really need to be done. But you will cope with what needs to be done, or things not being done, so much better if you have some sleep.
So really what this advice is actually telling you to do is to choose to sleep instead of doing other things, and to accept that the other things will be done later and maybe by someone else and maybe not well (this was my biggest bugbear… I do not like how my husband hangs out washing… time to let go of some of the control!!)
A wonderful counsellor helping me during those early months of my new baby told me that she always had to worry about new moms who had clean and tidy houses more than ones who were a bit messy. It told her that they had more concern about appearances and therefore were going to have to work at letting things go to get the necessary sleep and to cope with that first year in particular.
If you see other people who have lovely houses while they have a new-born, you need to realize that there is something you don’t know about them. Either they have lots of help, or they are getting no sleep…
Choose sleep! Please.
Head Out of the House
When you first have this tiny fragile human and you have to put him or her into a car the first time… well, you know how that feels. Scary. Overwhelming. Some of us don’t want to repeat that again in a hurry. Yes, I am totally talking about myself!
Even going out for a walk involves quite a bit of time and preparation with this tiny person.
But it is all worth it. It does wonders for your headspace. Even if you are a homebody, most people don’t spend days and weeks on end in their own house without going out in their usual everyday life. So doing that once you have baby is not sensible.
I struggled to walk after the birth of my first child. I really was a bit of a mess! But we found a stroller that I could almost lean on to walk with once I was able to. So when I went out for walks – and they were pathetically short to begin with – I felt safer in knowing I would not make baby fall if I stumbled!
Choose ways to feel good about getting out of the house. Maybe you prefer to go to a shopping mall and be surrounded by people. Maybe you want to go out to a place where there are no others. Or a mother’s group where there might be a mom struggling with the same issues as you so you feel a little less alone…
But whatever you decide, a little bit of pushing yourself to make sure you actually do it is worth the effort.
Spend Time with Friends that Lift You Up
This is an extension of the previous point in many ways. But it is different enough to warrant its own section. After all, your mom friends may be new ones since your old circle of friends might not include any mamas.
This a judgement-free zone. So let me say right away that you do not have to spend time with anyone who is not helpful or encouraging… well maybe unless it’s close family who feel they must see the baby! But we all have those people! And try to limit those times 😉
Seriously though, choose to spend time with anyone who makes you feel like you are doing ok, that you can do this thing. You will know who these people are: either you feel safe enough to cry with them, or they don’t make you cry when they have left!
For me that means a mix of face-to-face time and messaging in various ways. Not all of my most encouraging friends live nearby. And messaging sometimes was better since I felt relief sending the words to someone in the middle of the night, even if they wouldn’t get them for a few hours. It released some pressure in me! But we have so much wonderful technology nowadays for sharing. We can use it positively especially for these kinds of times.
As an aside, social media can be a help for some people, and horrible for others. I avoided Facebook for literally years. It was too hard to watch certain aspects of friends’ lives and I couldn’t cope with interaction with random old school friends! This is another one of those times where you need to watch for yourself. If something makes you feel worse, is it really worth it??
This is about self-care. So that you can care for your precious new baby. Be wise. And very kind to yourself.
Say yes to help
You will hopefully have at least a few people who will offer to come and sit with your baby while you shower, or do something you need to do.
Accepting help is a sign of true strength. Asking for it is even more so. And I say that as a hugely independent, highly capable, and rather controlling perfectionist-in-recovery. If you say yes to help you also allow others a chance to have precious time with your gorgeous baby, as well as a chance to feel useful. Don’t underrate those things.
You know how they say it takes a village to raise a child? Well, start building your community and your baby’s community by letting other people come in and help out. It is healthy for your child to build relationships with other people too.
Of course, there are some people who you won’t feel ok about saying yes to. And that is ok. Nor am I suggesting you let a complete stranger have sole charge of your baby!
But please do ask yourself why you are not saying yes. If it’s any reason like “I shouldn’t” then turn around and say yes immediately. My postpartum depression got better only when I started being able to accept help.
Honestly, my pride took a massive hit in saying yes, but that’s only because I thought I should be certain things to be a good mama. My idea of doing it involved unrealistic expectations of coping with everything when actually I had this really traumatic birth experience and major health issues to deal with.
What I needed to be was healthy enough to take care of and love my baby. And that meant I needed a little space to feel a little normal so I could go back to loving my baby well.
Try it. It feels awkward at first. And for me it felt guiltily like relief not to be responsible for this tiny person for a while. You may just not want to leave your adorable baby!
But do try. Say yes to offers of help.
And what could you do with that time away from your lovely baby? Well here are a few suggestions:
A Shower Can Work Wonders!
It really can! Just having clean hair and no more baby spit-up all over you… well, it does make you feel like a new person.
Get some lovely soap to use in the shower while you are at it!
I couldn’t resist putting in a couple of my favorites…!
Get a Manicure
Or do one yourself at home. Make-up felt too much like hard work to me and I never got to see it. But a manicure not only lasts, it is also where you can see it all day and all night long as you tend to your wee one.
Expert tip: using a light shade means that as it wears off it is less noticeable and can last longer.
Have Your Favorite Beverage – Slowly!
Whether your choice is coffee or iced tea or coke or a smoothie, being able to drink it at a leisurely pace while sitting down somewhere comfortable and not having to get up for baby, well, that sure felt like bliss to me!
But the point is have something you really enjoy in a way you don’t usually get to. Sit and enjoy it.
I do highly recommend a favorite cup as well. These would do me nicely, but you may like something else 😉
Read or Watch Your Favorite Thing
I’m a reader. Many people prefer to watch something.
Whatever your choice, get a little bit of escapism in that time. A chapter or an episode doesn’t take long and can be surprisingly refreshing.
Humour like this was always good for me.
But make it something you enjoy that makes you feel good. Novels are my favorite but I hate being pulled away once I have become engrossed in it, especially if I don’t know what is going to happen! So I chose not to read novels until I had longer time to do it in. I did find a few short story collections which worked well for me too.
I’m really hoping that you can see yourself being able to do some of these reasonably simple things to take care of yourself while you are taking care of your precious new baby.
A healthy and happy mama does usually make for a healthier and happier baby. So if you feel selfish doing it for yourself, do it for baby!