It is so hard to believe that just five days ago I gave birth to my fourth child. As I sit here and I look down at her, I see two tiny feet, ten itty-bitty fingers, and a head that can fit in the palm of my hand. It amazes me that she is actually mine. It also scares me that she is completely dependent on me. Mostly, she reminds me that no matter how amazing your baby is, being a new parent, be it for the first, fourth or tenth time, is not always rainbows and butterflies.
There is a song written by Laurie Berkner called “ Five Days Old”. I simply cannot get it out of my head. Laurie sings
“I’m sitting here I’m five days old, five days old and no days more.”
Five days old and the adrenaline rush of the first forty eight hours is wearing off and the, I hate to say the H word, hormones, have kicked in. Five days old and I’m starting to forget some of the new mom survival basics that I tell expectant and new moms all the time.
The pressure to say yes to visitors is so strong. Everyone wants to see the baby. That’s so nice of them. The challenge is many people want to see the baby when it’s convenient for them. Sure they may ask you when will be a good time to stop by, but it’s hard to answer that question when it feels like there is not going to be a good time for 18-20 years. Friends tend to want to come in pairs or after work or on weekends. As a new mom, you may feel like you are the one “just” sitting around with the baby, so you may feel the pressure to work around other people’s schedules rather than doing what is best for you. Let’s not forget that babies always seem to want to eat just when your best friend and her husband arrive for their visit. That may not seem like that big a deal generally, but five days (or even five weeks) in, if you are trying to breastfeed, there is a fifty/fifty chance you are walking around with a boob hanging out. Speaking of breastfeeding…
Breastfeeding does not always come easy. As I sit trying to get this tiny creature to latch onto me and she is falling asleep after two sips, I am quickly reminded why breastfeeding is one of the biggest struggles that new moms talk about in my groups. How could I have ever forgotten that feeling of being tethered to another human being all day long? Five days in and I am quickly reminded of how much time each day is devoted to this task. If breastfeeding works for you, great, and also if it’s not working for you, it can feel overwhelming. I know the Wellness Mama Mantra that I constatntly remind my clients is “ I’m not a good mom if I do or a bad mom if I don’t”. I hear it. I hear it in my head. Yet as I sit here pondering how long I continue nursing, I too feel the pressure to keep it up. Somehow nursing seems like the only metric I have on day 5 to measure my success as a parent. Oh and did I mention my boobs are killing me. Speaking of….
Your body may not feel like it is your own for a while. I, like so many other expectant moms out there, started to say things like “I’m just ready for the baby to come out so I can have my body back”. The challenge is, five days in, I look down and this body doesn’t feel any more like my body than it did a few days ago. In fact, I somehow feel even less like myself. Just when I thought my boobs couldn’t get any bigger, they somehow are. My legs are so swollen that I can barely slip on my flip-flops. Oh and the belly that I used to touch to feel the sweet kicking of the child I was looking forward to meeting, well now it’s just a belly. I am a smart woman. I have done this before and I know intellectually that my body won’t stay like this forever. Emotionally, however, in this moment, it’s just hard. It doesn’t help that other people want to rationalize your feelings. They say things like “nine months on—nine months off” or “You look great for just having a baby”. They mean well. They want to help. That however doesn’t stop me from wanting to scream, “Can someone call my pre-baby body and tell it I’m ready for it to come home now”.
You can have a great partner in parenting and also you may want to kill him. I am really, really lucky. I managed to find someone in life that not only is a truly great husband, but he also happens to be an amazing father. That said, five days in, while in many ways I feel closer to him than ever simply because this child exists, in some ways we are passing ships in the night. You know the expression “there is no such thing as a dumb question”? Well when a new mom who is covered in spit up asks you to get her a burp cloth and you respond, “Where do we keep the burp cloths?”, you have just asked a dumb question! Seriously, there is the rational side of me in this moment that knows he just wants to get it “right” in his own way and get me the burp cloth as fast as possible and ultimately make me happy. However, the emotional part of me is thinking just go look for it and figure out this parenting thing like I have to!
Laurie goes on to sing
“Some day I’ll be a year, then I’ll be two then three then four…”
As I sit with all of these new mom feelings, I glance over and see Laurie’s words in real life. My other “babies” are now 6, 5 and 2. As they chase each other around playing superheroes, it is almost impossible to recall the time that they were small enough to cradle in my arms. What a great gift this is. It is like looking into a crystal ball. It reminds me that those three crazy kids taught me what I needed to do to survive the early days of new motherhood and how to be a better mother and person.
My kids have taught me the importance of saying no. Saying no isn’t about being mean, it is about setting boundaries. So whether it is those visitors who want to stop by or that unsolicited advice, try to set limits as best as you can. In the early days you may even need to ask your partner to do this for you. Saying no is not selfish—it is self-care! Setting these boundaries now will only serve as good practice for things to come.
My kids have taught me to not let one moment in time define whether I am a “good” or “bad” mom. These three kids running around have all been breastfed for different lengths of time. Formula has also touched their lips. I can honestly say as I sit here that they all turned out pretty great regardless of how long I nursed them. It also reminds me that nursing is just a moment in time. There will always be the next thing to judge yourself by as a mom if you let it. So remember, “you’re not a good mom if you do and you’re not a bad mom if you don’t”. If breastfeeding works for you, great, and also, if it doesn’t, move on, there are other options.
I have done the baby thing three times before and each time I have gotten back into my pre-baby clothes. Being mom to these kids has taught me the lesson that my body can become a totally different shape and also return back to something close to its original form. That said, it doesn’t mean that in this moment, I have to feel any more happy about the way my body looks or feels.
One of the greatest lessons that these kids have taught me may seem surprising. It is instinct, especially in these early days and weeks, to be so focused on the baby. After all, your baby is completely dependent on you. It may feel totally unnatural to give yourself or your relationship top billing. That said, when I have prioritized my relationship with my partner, when we have made time to nurture our relationship just as much as and sometimes more than we do our kids, the parenting becomes so much easier. When we are happier, our kids see that, and in turn they are happier. Despite feeling like passing ships in this moment, I do know that eventually the conversations will revert back to larger topics than how much the kid is eating or whether or not to wake a sleeping baby. It just takes a bit of effort and time!
Laurie’s song ends with
“But as for now I’m five days old, five days old and no days more.”
Many people say things like “Enjoy every moment” or “They are only so little for a short while, soak it in while it lasts”. I know they mean well, but honestly it can be so annoying. I know what they are saying is true AND ALSO it robs me and so many other new moms of just being able to feel exactly how we feel in that moment. As Laurie sings, “five days old and no days more”. Five days of on the job training—no more. Five days of learning about this complete stranger-no more. This is why every new mom needs to be given a break, a pass, a get out of jail free card. Don’t pretend to understand what we are going through because you don’t. Even if you have had a kid, you have forgotten how tough these first weeks are. I promise you this. It is Mother Nature’s way of making sure that people go on to have more kids!! This is why so many moms can benefit from being in a support group with other new moms who understand exactly what they are going through AT THAT GIVEN MOMENT.
So as I sit here with this amazing little person, five days old and no days more, she is a great reminder of why I love what I do, and the importance of helping other moms navigate this new job.