Before we even begin, let me get one thing clear:
If you have newborn baby, you are going to malfunction. It's normal. In fact it's so normal, I'm surprised it's not more expected or talked about. I think one of the greatest crimes we face as new mothers and fathers is that we are not made more prepared or aware of just how crazy, stressful and exhausting having a newborn is. Of course it's not something you can describe to someone who's never been through it, but as a new mum myself just leaving the worst of the newborn stage behind (until the next one, oh G-d the next one!) I wish I'd been told a few things, and most importantly told that pretty much everything I was feeling was totally normal. I think that would have saved me a lot of heartache, tears and unnecessary anxiety.
Of course, if you do feel there is something wrong with either yourself or your baby, trust your instincts! That goes for fathers too, by the way. Don't be afraid to bang on doors to get what you want or to get yourself taken seriously. Your health and the health of your baby both physically, mentally and emotionally are your top priorities. Do not back down, and do not take no for an answer if it's not the answer you want or feel you deserve.
As a new mum, my experience was most definitely not unique, special or out of the realm of normality. My baby was born 3 weeks early at 37 weeks and 2 days. My waters broke at a broadway show (but that's for another blog post) and I had to be induced 34 hours later as my labour was not progressing. My daughter was small (2.6kg) but 100g over the threshold for NICU (2.5kg and under). She slept amazingly well for the first 2 weeks and then she didn't and at 3 weeks old she started consecutively losing weight and we had to put her on formula top ups on advice from out pediatrician (which you'd think was the worst thing in the world to some of my doctors, but that's for another blog post at another time).
I will go into all this detail and more over the coming weeks and months but for now, let me just say it was overall a relatively text book experience, yet medical professionals have a habit of blowing things way of proportion and society teaches you that if your baby is not a robot then you have a problem child which is not true at all. You just have a child. A tiny human child who is adjusting to a brand new world they've never seen or experienced before.
So here are my tips on how to survive the newborn stage, and what I think of those well worn adages I was told in the lead up to and during this hell storm that is a tiny little human child.
It is okay to rock your baby to sleep, encouraged to hold your newborn if that's what they like and expected that to be a good mum you must never let them cry, heaven forbid - until you simply cannot handle it anymore, you are at risk of postnatal depression if you do not get at least an hour of sleep in your own bed without your baby on top or next to you and quite frankly you would like to pee and have one bite to eat before you have to go pick them up and start the whole process again.
Give your baby to someone else to hold. Or if no one is available, put them down in their bassinet/rocker/swing and go wee. Go splash your face with water. It's okay if they cry for a minute if you need to take time to centre yourself and gather yourself together. You cannot be the best parent you can be if you are worn down, hungry and absolutely busting.
Utilise friends, neighbours, siblings and parents. My family live interstate, but I have a couple of angel aunts and cousins who readily stepped in to come and give me hand when my husband was at work.
Once your baby is 2 weeks/1 month/6 weeks/ however old you should be back to being dressed to the 9's, makeup perfect and house clean and sparkling. Except that, in most cases, for the first 3 months AT LEAST, and often the first year (or more - babies aren't robots remember) anything beyond feeding, rocking, weeing and maybe eating is absolutely beyond your capabilities.
Remember, if you are a birth-mother, you have just either pushed a baby out of your body or had one cut out of you after 9 months of being a walking incubator. And if you are not a birth-mother, you have a tiny human who has only been in the world for an x amount of days, who is used to being warm, snug and constantly fed and is struggling to understand why that has come to an abrupt and sometimes traumatic end.
It's an adjustment for everyone and a process that will take as long as it needs to take. So let it. There is nothing wrong with staying in your pyjama's all day, staring at the vacuum cleaner from the couch and deciding that you'd rather spend these precious and rare few moments of quiet eating chocolate and watching TV than doing any form of productive housework.
Hire a cleaner if you have to. And if you can't, ask friends or family to help hang laundry, cook dinner or hold your screaming baby so you can shower and actually wash your hair. My husband, aunts and cousins were SAVIOURS in this regard.
Sleep when they sleep - except that when they FINALLY sleep you need to Wee. Shower and Eat (order is personal choice).
Ignore that stupid piece of advice. Sleep when you can, yes, but also go to the bathroom when you can, shower and get dressed when you can and eat when you can. Sometimes you need to feel human more than you (most definitely) need to sleep.
And if you can sleep when they sleep GO FOR IT. As mentioned above, the housework can WAIT a few months.
The textbooks insist:
You are going to love your baby the moment you set eyes on him/her/gender-unspecified-until-such-a-time-as-they-can-decide-for-themselves. You are going to have endless days of frolicking with them in meadows of hazy happiness with not a care in the world and adjust to your new normal immediately - except when you have no idea what to expect, your baby is confused and overwhelmed by the new world around them and you have no resemblance of routine or "normal" in this new CHAOS. You feel wrong for looking at your baby and wishing they would just sleep because aren't you supposed to just have endless patience??
No!! It is absolutely NORMAL to look at your baby and think "What the heck have I done??!!" and it's absolutely normal to not think that. You're life doesn't resemble anything you are used to and you are scrambling around to try and find anything to hold on to to keep yourself sane.
Find something, anything, that gives you a moment to yourself to feel normal. This will be like your life raft in the beginning, that little beacon of light at the end of your daily tunnel (or beginning, or whenever this ritual needs to take place) that will help you get through to the next day.
For me it was a shower and once I was a bit more healed, a walk around the block every day. I needed these daily rituals/activities to feel as though I had some control over my day. Over time as things got easier (and they do get easier, although not always on their own. Sometimes you need to have the courage to ask for external help) these rituals became less important.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP. INSIST ON IT IF NECESSARY.
Ask your husband/partner/ex to clean the house for you.
Ask friends to come over so you can shower.
Ask your doctor/nurse/lactation consultant to help you find a solution to anything.
Go to a sleep school if you are struggling and cannot cope and need your baby to sleep so you can fight off any depression/anxiety threatening to sink in or already reeking havoc on your mind.
And I actually agree with this one.
Make sure those around you know to ask you each and every day - "How are you?" and make sure you answer honestly. That is the only way you can get the help you need and deserve.
Being a parent is hard work. Being a new parent is like nothing you've ever experienced before. The text book flies out of the window.
But don't worry, soon you'll begin to understand your baby and they'll begin to understand you. It may take a few minutes ,hours, days or weeks but trust me, you will form an unbelievable bond with them even if you don't feel like you have one now. The fog of this next little while will slowly lift, you'll find your feet but you must not be afraid to ask for the help that you absolutely deserve.
Seek counselling if necessary. I did. I mean, my therapist sucked but you know, I tried! I went to sleep school to help me figure out my baby, I found a GP I trust more than anything and I followed my own instinct with my child.
If you are struggling, please seek help. You deserve to be happy, you deserve to take time for yourself and get the physical, emotional and mental help you absolutely need. No one has the right to expect superwoman/man/unspecified out of you, so don't try live up to that ridiculously unrealistic expectation.
feel free to leave a comment or tweet me with your own stories and advice (if you have any to give). I would love to do a follow up post at some point with any additional nuggets of wisdom.
And share this with your friends if you think it will help them. Sometimes just hearing these words can help someone out more than you'll ever know!