Welcome to Club Mom. You are now a card-carrying member of the world's biggest, longest-enduring, least exclusive, yet most sought-after group in the world (and if you're a second- or third-time mom, you can add a gold star to your card). Your cronies include incredibly organized, creative, talented, athletic, and socially gifted women. They also include incredibly confused, stressed-out, tired, cranky, and nervous-about-keeping-the-baby-breathing women. Truly, every mom has characteristics from both categories.
That said, when you meet another member of the club who seems to have it all together -- or even just seems to be freshly showered -- you might start to wonder if you are fit to wear the burp cloth. Let us be the first to tell you that not only is that spit-encrusted shield of honor yours to keep, but your moment or day or week of feeling inadequate is temporary. In about six to eight weeks, you will emerge from Baby Boot Camp and realize that you are quite capable of keeping your squirming, whining, tiny infant alive. In fact, you might even be good at it.
Hospital Exit Strategy
First things first: Before you and your baby can begin your new life together, you must actually leave the hospital, a rather scary scenario for any new mom. After all, for the last 48 hours or so, you have been in the protective custody of nurses and doctors who know exactly what they're doing. Now, for some bizarre reason, they seem to have the impression that you do, too.
While you may not feel confident in your maternal skills yet, you can still be prepared to make the trip home. You need only four essentials to go from point A to point B: an infant rear-facing car seat, a change of clothes for the baby, some diapers, and another pair of hands -- whether they're attached to the baby's father, your mom, or a good friend. Going mano a mano with your newborn is possible, but not advisable, particularly for the first week or so when you're losing sleep and gaining work. So repeat after us: Two pairs of hands to one baby. (Frankly, a third pair wouldn't hurt.)
Here is a very loose description of what will happen when you get home: Your baby will need to eat approximately every two hours, and will sleep off and on around the clock in roughly the same time increments. Therefore, so will you. You will feel not just exhausted, but also physically uncomfortable as you heal, depending on the type of birth you experienced, for approximately one to three weeks. You will no doubt also experience difficulty and discomfort for roughly two weeks as you learn to breastfeed, if that's the feeding method you've chosen.
Why You're So Damn Tired
It's a sacred truth that parenthood requires love and sacrifice. It's a secret truth that what parents sacrifice is almost all of their sleep. For a long, long time. Sure, you probably heard that you'd be sleep-deprived. But the degree to which you will suffer has certainly been whitewashed. While some moms enjoy a chunk of four or five hours by the second month, others can scrape together only two or three at a time far into their new-parent gig. No matter which category you fall into, though -- and you will fall, because you're so friggin' tired you can't stand -- sleep will be as elusive as your sex drive.
Unlike sex, however, you will actually miss your sleep. In fact, after months and months of interrupted REM cycles, you may find yourself tendering Faustian bargains in your head, just in case a higher power might be listening. (I swear I'll never eat another bite of chocolate, if I could just...have...a...full...night's...sleep!)
Unfortunately, this type of desperation often begets resentment. And no one is immune from it. Not your husband, not your mother, and not even your baby.
Yeah, you heard us. Your baby. Don't worry: Your infant is still your reason for living. It's just that while she's getting all the rest she needs -- what with napping all day -- you've long ago used up your energy reserves and are running on empty. After any given night, there- fore, you shouldn't be surprised if you find yourself regarding your angel's contented face like a parched Bedouin squinting at his smug camel (#&*$ lucky hump!).
It's not that you don't love your baby. It's just that you need your rest and, like every mom from the beginning of time, you sometimes feel a tad out of sorts that this helpless creature holds your sanity in her tiny, viselike fist.
In this exhausted, uncertain, yet extremely vigilant state, you will be trying to make sense of those cues everyone told you your baby would send your way. You know, the ones that signal that she's tired or wet or curious or hungry. The funny thing is that no matter how hard you look or listen, you definitely will not be able to decode every gurgle, wince, whimper, or cry. Not to worry: Your baby barely knows what she wants and needs during these first weeks, let alone how to communicate it to you. So instead of driving yourself crazy trying to read her mind, relax and concentrate on the basics: feeding, burping, changing, and snuggling.
Somewhere toward the end of this postpartum phase, you'll probably be both surprised and delighted to discover that your baby will be sleeping for slightly longer stretches (like three whole hours instead of a measly two), and thank heaven for small blessings. Feedings will be less stressful and may space out a bit as well, timing-wise. Your ob-gyn will probably pronounce you healed somewhere around six weeks, maybe eight weeks if you had a c-section or otherwise complicated delivery. Your partner will make the mistake of thinking that you actually want to have sex again just because your body is capable (not!). In between, you will call and run to the pediatrician often for checkups and emotional support. And someday you will look back on all this and remember the emotional peaks, forget the frustration, and actually feel like doing it all again!
Yes, having a baby truly is the end of life as you know it, and if we may invoke another cliché, your new life may feel like a crazy roller-coaster ride, complete with exhilarating highs and nauseating lows. But let us assure you that taken as a whole, the entire experience will be as wonderful as it is wild. Seriously.
From The Babytalk Insider's Guide to Your Baby's First Year: Expert Advice That Tells It Like It Is -- Plus the Secrets That Nobody Else Reveals. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" />