First of all, there's the labor. You never know what to expect with that, especially if you are a first-timer.
Then there's the postpartum healing. Some women bounce right back. Most feel like they've just hiked Mt. Everest. A few feel like they've just stepped out of a torture chamber. They give us that 6-week postpartum check-up, but nobody actually tells women they most of them won't feel or look "back to normal" at that point.
I feel pretty fortunate. I've dropped over half my pregnancy weight in 2 weeks and fit back into my clothes. Well, my breasts are giving my shirts and winter coat a run for their money, but other than my slightly enhanced figure, everything else is good. (And is it just me, or do the breasts get bigger with subsequent babies?)
Then there's the relationship factor. No sex for 6 weeks, the introduction of a teeny little need machine hanging off mom's chest, and the inability to keep up with housework, which basically amounts to a husband left with no one to give him attention and to his own devices when it comes to things like dinner.
Some moms can do these things. I still manage to clean most afternoons and make dinner most nights. But no one should force themselves to do these things if the strain is just too much. A healthy partnership is so important here.
My husband is willing to hold a fussy baby so I can have two hands free to eat, take care of the pets so I don't have to, do the cleaning I usually do, and make dinner. Yesterday, he actually sent me to bed from noon to 5 p.m., because I was tired. He told me to go nap with the baby, so I did, while he took care of any cleaning and made dinner. Heck, he even helps me "stuff diapers", as he puts it - replace the inserts in the diapers after they come out of the dryer.
He's also amenable to other forms of intimacy and sexual activity until after my 6-week check-up. This is something we talked about ahead of time - it's not a topic either one of us shies away from. That communication is very important.
When it comes to middle of the night feedings, I take the baby out of the room and do everything (feeding and diaper changing) in another part of the house, so my husband can get his rest. Right now, I go to my son's room and use his bed. When he returns next weekend, I'm hoping Ro and I will be pretty well in sync, and I'll be able to feed her in the dark in my room. If not, I'll buy a nightlight for my room or use the couch (which is ridiculously comfortable anyway) until she starts sleeping through the night.
There's some give and take there, as you can see. It's important to keep that up in a relationship, and remember the month (or months) a baby is mostly fussy and needy are only temporary.
The same goes for coping with stress or frustration. Remember that certain things, like sleepless nights, are only temporary. My son was a terrible sleeper, until I figured out that co-sleeping worked best. It may be a whole 10 years later, but my first thought upon holding Ro was, "I can't wait to get you home from the hospital, so I can sleep with you in my bed." After all, you know how hospitals are about that. :P
Gavin was a needy sleeper. He needed to be held, cradled in someone's lap, or at least beside a person to sleep peacefully. The first 3 weeks or so were incredibly frustrating, as I tried to figure out how to handle this. I would remind myself, "This is only temporary. He's going to outgrow this." What actually happened, was I found a solution by co-sleeping and side-lying for nursing. Once I figured that out, and we got into a routine, he started sleeping through the night peacefully at about a month old.
But I had my frustrating moments at first - those moments when I just had to set him down in a safe place (such as the bassinet or crib he rejected, and ultimately never, ever used), and walk away for a minute or two to get my bearings.
When you combine sleeplessness with hormone levels that haven't quite returned to normal, coping with frustration is perhaps the trickiest part of having a baby. I feel really lucky the second time around because, right off the bat, I applied everything I learned with my son, and I'm getting more rest.
Of course, I'm seeing that Gavin and Rowan are two totally different children. Rowan will nap quite contentedly for a couple of hours by herself, without being held, cradled or having someone next to her. When it comes to sleep, she isn't quite as needy as Gavin was. I have two hands free for at least a few hours a day, and that's nice.
She's not perfect, of course. The growth spurt is definitely testing me this week! She is cranky when she's awake and that isn't fun for anyone. But I tell myself it's temporary, talk to her in a soothing voice, respond to her demands, and keep entertainment close at hand.
After all, once she's settled down to eat, what is there to do but relax with a show or DVD, a book, or write a blog post? ;)
Copyright (c) 2013 Wendy L. Callahan