Well, my baby is three months old, and it looks like we’ve survived the Fourth Trimester together. It’s around this mark that babies stop being considered newborns and instead become plain old infants, and I can see why– she’s bigger and more independent, we’ve settled into a semblance of a schedule, and overall things are just getting easier and feeling a bit more like normal life.
The first three months were both easier and harder than I thought they would be. By the time my daughter came along, I had lots of friends with kids and had already heard the horror stories about the newborn days, and I was anticipating long hours of crying, completely sleepless nights, countless 3am walks around the house with a screaming baby. Luckily, all those things were minimal; my baby isn’t the kind to cry for hours on end for no reason, and she settled into a pretty nice nighttime sleeping routine around three weeks (although, for some reason, that’s regressed significantly in recent weeks). I was also worried about post-partum depression and wondered if I’d have trouble connecting with the baby, and luckily I didn’t struggle with either of those things. Those were my biggest worries and they never really came to fruition.
That said, I was not prepared for how difficult the physical recovery from giving birth would be, and how non-stop/around the clock being a new parent is.
I had a long and difficult labor and delivery (48 hours total, a failed epidural after 30-some hours, and an emergency c-section) that left me in very bad shape and in the hospital for longer than normal, and I still struggled physically for weeks after getting home. Specifically, I lost a lot of blood and my red blood count became very low, and since red blood cells are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout your body, that meant I was very dizzy whenever I tried to walk– for days I couldn’t take even a couple of steps on my own, and it took weeks for me to be able to walk up stairs without becoming dizzy and needing to sit down, and I had a blood clot scare that required extra medical attention. On top of that was all the normal postpartum crap that all women have to deal with, none of which is pleasant. For instance, I had no idea that contractions continued after giving birth, so it was the surprise of a lifetime to feel them starting up again the next day. Those weepy postpartum hormones that settle in about a week after giving birth are no joke, and WHY did no one warn me about the night sweats?
And– unsurprisingly– babies require round-the-clock care, so getting a break to do basic things like eat and shower become difficult. When my husband went back to work and I started being home all day with the baby, every nap– when she took one– turned into a race against time to try to do whatever various things needed to be done, from feeding myself to putting in a load of laundry to filling out paperwork or answering emails. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Yeah right, only if you never have anything else to do.
I found breastfeeding to be particularly all-consuming and challenging, since newborns eat every hour or so, which mean that I felt like I did absolutely nothing for the first six weeks other than sit in my pajamas on the couch with my boobs out and my daughter attached to them. I had a lot of difficulties in general with breastfeeding and I probably would not have continued if I hadn’t had a good midwife who gave me the guidance and support I needed. In fact, ALL of this would have been so much more difficult if I hadn’t had her. One of the best things about the German healthcare system, in my opinion, is that your insurance covers the cost of about 20 home visits from the midwife after you give birth, and this really saved a lot of my sanity. Without her, I’d probably have been dragging my daughter into the pediatrician every other day to ask if such-and-such thing was normal, or if we should be worried. (Spoiler alert: most things are totally normal and it’s just new-parent freaking out.)
I also wasn’t prepared for how paranoid I’d be about the baby’s safety. I’m a rational person but I woke up in a blind panic at least a couple of times a night at first, thinking that something had happened to her, and to check her breathing. Eventually the “blind panic” part went away, but I still woke up every now and then to check her breathing for the first few weeks, at least. (Now I hear her fuss in the middle of the night and keep my eyes closed, hoping it will stop…) I was also really worried about SIDS and overly vigilant about people not putting blankets in her crib, putting her on her stomach, etc. (Which I still stand by and don’t regret, and still don’t do.) Apparently this protection instinct is an absolutely normal thing that comes from brain changes that you experience in pregnancy– The Boston Globe has a good article about it here. Those changes peak in the first month postpartum and then taper off, which has been my experience.
Even with all that, the newborn days are unbelievably sweet, full of snuggles and bonding time. Babies change quickly and by the end of the first month, my daughter already didn’t like sleeping on my chest the way she had in the beginning, and while I absolutely love the fat, smiley, cooing, interactive three-month-old that she’s become, I already miss how tiny she was (and the pile of baby clothes she’s outgrown continues to grow into a mountain; really, they do grow that quickly!).
Like I mentioned, things are getting easier and more normal, and I’m slowly re-joining the land of the living. We’re getting out a bit more with the baby– we took her to an art museum and take her out to restaurants sometimes, or to run errands as a family rather than one person staying home and the other one going, and I’ve taken her out a few times on my own to socialize. It’s not always easy– some days she’s perfectly content to go along for the ride, and other days she cries nonstop, but part of adjusting to having a baby is learning how to deal with those public crying jags calmly instead of letting them stress you out. Little by little, we’re figuring things out.