The first two weeks – what we’ve learned

It’s been a whirlwind of a fortnight, and it simultaneously feels like no time at all has passed since 24 September and like that day was literally a lifetime ago. There have been ups, downs, and all sorts of weird in-betweens; here’s what we didn’t know this time two weeks ago.

Blues for Mama

Day 3 was a tough one; having slept for a total of about three hours since the Thursday morning and with hormones vacating my body at lightning speed, I woke up from a short nap with painfully swollen boobs from my milk coming in. At the same time, the euphoria that had carried us through the first two days exited in favour of a completely overwhelmed feeling, and my first shower since giving birth did nothing to soothe either body or soul. All I could do was stand under the painful water jets and cry, before attempting to feed a post-placental and now actually hungry baby with boobs that were too swollen to do the job they were made for. None of these things feel good, and it’s not for nothing that Day 3 is known for its association with the Baby Blues.

The good news is that simple Baby Blues (which is largely hormonal and not the same as PND) passes in time – after a better night’s sleep, a good cry or three and an hour or two expressing into a bowl of warm water for me – so if anyone reading this is on their own personal Day 3 or 4: hang in there. And try the warm water thing, it works.

The Fear

Since the evening we brought Scarlett home from the hospital, sleeping peacefully in her car seat (totally a thing, I read elsewhere) I’ve had a constant, low-level, knot-in-the-stomach type feeling about more or less everything we do. I suppose the reason is obvious: the stakes are so much higher with this than with anything we’ve done before. If I mess up at work, the consequences could be anything from irritating somebody who was depending on you to meet a deadline to actual financial loss, but basically (in my line of work) nobody is going to die; here, somebody could actually die. The risk is small but real, and I really don’t want to accidentally kill our daughter. This means every action (putting her down for a nap! Picking her up for a feed! Putting her in a specially-designed baby sling or bouncer!) is accompanied by five minutes of extreme self-doubt, wondering aloud several times if it’s the right thing to do, and then messing it up anyway. So far no death, however, so I guess pats on backs all round.

When people say parenting is hard work, they mean physically exhausting…

Given that I’ve been carrying baby+placenta+mad quantities of fluid = 10 extra kilos for the last couple of months, you’d think my body would be well equipped to deal with just 3-and-a-bit kilos of mere baby. You’d be quite wrong. Toting a peaceful newborn around for hours a day is hard on the arms and back; soothing an unhappy baby (with what the midwives keep telling us is a good, strong kick) in those same arms is even more exhausting.

…and emotionally draining.

It is said, in the many dozens of baby books I’m reading, that communications become clearer after the first month and it is thus easier to soothe your baby once you know what’s wrong with her in the first place. It is said that as her tummy grows feeds become longer and more satisfying, allowing for more actual sleep at night. It is said that she will spend more time alert and interacting with us, and that will be enjoyable for all three of us. It also says we can use dummies and add a bottle or two to the feeding regimen after four weeks. I really hope all these things are true, because when I say “crying babies are no fun” I don’t mean like they’re boring; I mean like they produce intense feelings of bewilderment and inadequacy and woe.

That makes it sound like it’s all bad. It isn’t. 

Every day Scarlett does some new thing that fascinates us. She’s not smile-smiling yet, but she’s been practising since Day 2 and I like to think she looks contented in her sleep or after a feed. She does have a few minutes of alert time in every hour, and it’s fun to watch her looking around at her environment, taking things in, and getting to know our faces and voices. Already I feel she’s got the message that if one of us picks her up, comfort isn’t far behind and she calms down quicker from an upset episode. And she does do things that are quite adorable, which we’re trying not to spam Twitter too hard with.

You can totally go out and do things, even in the first weeks! If you want to.

With the aid of that cosy carseat and a Baby Bjorn (if you’re a new parent and wondering, our advice is definitely get a Baby Bjorn) we’ve had trips to the Post Office, the local Children’s Centre, the chip shop, Boots and Waitrose and all went pretty smoothly. In fact, the rocking motion as we walked coupled with the light “swaddle” of the Baby Bjorn put her right to sleep each time we left the house and we’ve since used an evening constitutional in the carrier as a means to calm down before bedtime.

We’ve also had a few visitors, and here I would counsel a little caution: she tends to be more receptive to new people in the mornings, and a little unsettled in the evenings, so it’s probably best to restrict friends and family to short, daytime visits in the first couple of weeks. As she becomes more alert and self-sufficient (in baby terms) in the coming months she may be able to deal with more, but for now it’s up to us to batten down the hatches and keep visits peaceful.

Me-time is possible too, in short bursts

This requires working out a schedule in advance. We divide our day’s tasks into “essential” and “desirable”, and we include things like “Eat”, “Shower” and “Nap” on the essential list so these don’t get forgotten, along with any healthcare appointments, legal bobbins or documents that absolutely must be posted to the DWP today. Then we work out who’s going to do which task while Scarlett naps and the other one watches. This way, we’ve managed to get quite a lot of the stuff we want to do done, while maintaining personal hygiene and nutrition, and it gives us a sense of achievement to tick down the list each day. (Putting some tasks on a Wunderlist means you get  nice dinging sound when you complete them, which is doubly satisfying).

Careful with the grandfolks

My mother, Scarlett’s grandmother, had not held a newborn baby in 35 years when she came to visit last week. Remind your folks how to do it, even if it sounds like teaching your mother how to suck eggs – we learned that these skills can be forgotten, and watching your mother nearly drop your precious bundle of joy headfirst is quite heartstopping. The NCT advice has all changed since 1977 too, so don’t be afraid to give your peeps a primer on the current situation.

No two baby books seem to agree on anything

…but so far we quite like Dr Harvey Kemp’s. Our baby currently looks like a peacefully napping burrito.

Neither of us know how anyone is expected to go back to work after two weeks

We know this is the common practice, but neither of us get it, seriously. How anyone is supposed to cope single-handed with the demands of a newborn is beyond me, and how anyone is supposed to work on such seriously curtailed sleep is beyond Darien, and frankly we’re both very relieved right now that that’s not our situation and we can continue supporting each other while she grows and things become easier. We know we’re lucky; we increasingly feel we shouldn’t be the exception but the norm.

18 thoughts on “The first two weeks – what we’ve learned

  1. Bloody hell, it’s all coming back to me now! Congratulations on welcoming Scarlett into a family who will drive themselves mad caring about her so hard it hurts – it’s maybe the best and most utterly bizarre feeling in the world. Enjoy your snatched moments of sleep, delicious cups and tea and joyful wonder. There’s nothing quite like it. And if by any chance there is any hope in hell I can offer useful advice, just shout! x

    • Thank you my lovely! She’s peacefully napping on a Poddle Pod next to me right now so I’m only on amber alert. I feel like videoing this so I can show the in-laws (“Look! She doesn’t actually scream non-stop! See this peaceful baby here in this video!”)

      Actually considering doing that for reals now.

  2. Definitely remembering the swallen boobs and the warm water helping. It is true, no worries, after the first month you will start understanding her different cries.. Hang in there and CONGRATULATIONS! Looking forward to meeting her.

    • I think I made a beginner’s error last week and kept trying to feed her literally every time she cried (result: healthy weight gain but exhausted mum and probably exhausted daughter too). I’m reading Tracey Hogg’s book The Baby Whisperer now and trying to get used to the sounds that mean “need a nap now” and “please stop shaking that rattle in my face, I don’t want to be rattled”. Darien is a dab hand at swaddling her, which gets her into a nice calm state, and we find she likes to be in her sling (Moby wrap type thing) too.

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  6. From Netta on Facebook: Great post :) If you’re doing the book thing… I’d recommend “Three in a Bed” by Deborah Jackson… I found it a great antidote to all the Gina Ford tosh. I did like Baby Whisperer too. Mostly very sensible advice.

  7. From Rick on Facebook: I wish we’d started baby carrying sooner – there was no call for it in the US, where it was too hot to walk anywhere, and she now howls when we try to carry her in the BB. We’ll keep trying, best to avoid Detachment Parenting I guess.

    I’d also say don’t fear the dummy, once it is time to introduce one – it can be a life saver, albeit apparently best phased out at 6 months. I’d recommend getting at least one attached to a small soft toy (we have a giraffe) which means it doesn’t roll away every time she yawns … This tip alone is currently securing me an extra hour in bed.

  8. From Rachel on Facebook: Sounds like you are doing well, napping is key skill for mamas! Book I like is dr Howard chilton ‘baby on board’

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