As F is nearing five months old, it’s time to sit back and take stock of all that’s happened in that time. The expectations, the advice, the highs, the lows; has it been all I thought it would be or not? Here’s my experience of the fourth trimester – the bits no one warns you about.
Being pregnant was an amazing experience for me. Don’t hate me – I was one of the lucky ones – I never suffered morning sickness, got no stretch marks and wished my pregnancy would just keep on going. All the time I knew I’d ‘have a baby’ but I had no idea (I now realise) what that actually would mean to me and how much of an impact it would have on my life.
The birth… (link to birthing post)
Whilst pregnant, especially towards the end, all my focus was on the impending birth, with little thought for life after the birth; and definitely not for those first few moments and hours with my son.
I’d read the hypno-birthing books, attended hospital appointments, washed all the baby clothes – and I thought I was sorted. Wrong. As F was born, suddenly we weren’t a couple any more, we were a family. However, as the medical staff rushed off with our baby, doing whatever it was they needed to do to make sure he was breathing okay, we were left feeling helpless and panicky in those first few moments. It’s there and then that it hits you that you love this little person and you are the ones responsible for his well-being, his present, his future, for the man he will turn out to be. It’s a confusing and overwhelming time, as well as a privileged position to be in – that’s something no one tells you. They tell you you’ll fall in love – but not how scary all that responsible can be.
Being left holding the baby on that first night in hospital was a surreal feeling. There was a baby laying there – that I just gave birth to (did that really just happen?) – and now I must look after him; but where’s the manual? The how-to guide? Nope, just me then. I’m supposed to try and trust myself to care for him, to make all the ‘right’ decisions. Should I change him? Should I feed him? Is he breathing? How am I ever going to fall asleep ever again? He needs me – but can I deliver? Will I be a ‘good’ mummy? It was then I realised that it’s not just a baby that’s been born; but a new mummy, a new daddy, a brand new family.
The cons of that first week…
Everyone, and I mean everyone, MUST see the new baby, they MUST come for a visit. People who have never graced your door step, yes, they’ll turn up to. I felt like closing the door, putting a sign up that read ‘F*#k Off. We’re a new family getting to know one another – and I’ve had NO sleep!’ – but I didn’t have the forethought to plan that, or the balls to do it after either. So I somehow managed to get up, dressed and look vaguely human, letting everyone in with a smile on my face. I didn’t find it a relaxing experience, instead I found myself wanting to hover near the baby at all times saying things like, ‘Make sure you’re supporting his head’ or ‘I need to take him, he’s hungry’.
Along with the visitors comes the advice. The type of advice that says ‘you’ll make him spoilt’, ‘you’ll make a rod for your own back’, ‘he should be put down by himself – he has to get used to it’. The answer to those by the way is no you won’t, no you won’t and no he doesn’t. That’s what’s misunderstood and under promoted about the ‘fourth trimester’ – remembering that your baby is getting used to a brand new world outside the womb, the only familiar things are the smells and sounds of mummy and daddy, of course he wants to be held, to feel safe while he gets used to this scary new place. What I realise now, five months on, is that what seems like a big deal at the time really isn’t, and that those things you think you want him to grow out of – like wanting to be held all the time – you’ll miss when they’re gone. Embrace it – as it really won’t last forever.
This might all seem like I’m being a little harsh on the visitors, but remember that these feelings come amidst trying to deal with the huge responsibility of being a new mummy for the first time mixed with the aftermath of childbirth – the bleeding, the stitches, the fear of needing to go for a poo, the low self-confidence that comes with the newly acquired jelly-belly and raging hormonal emotions mixed with complete exhaustion. It’s overwhelming.
There were highs of course…
The whole pregnancy, birth and new family experience reinforced to me just how much I love my husband; he was there for me every step of the way including my complicated and rather gory recovery. And I fall in love with him all over again when I see him as a father, showering his love on our son.
Then there’s the firsts: first cuddles, first night at home, first pictures, first smiles, first walk, first days out…the list is endless and magical.
What happens after that first couple of weeks?
Suddenly your husband goes back to work, the visitors dwindle and your at home alone with the baby. Want to ‘nip’ to the shops? Out of the question – never again will you ‘nip’ anywhere. It now takes an age to get out the front door and that’s only if you can manage to work out how to have a wash/shower, let alone put on make-up or iron your clothes whilst looking after baby. Everything is harder. Everything takes longer. But you do learn how to do everything all over again just in a new way (mainly in a one handed type of way).
It took me six weeks before I crashed and burned (see is breast always best? post). Breastfeeding IS a magical bonding experience and I relish the one-to-one time I get to spend with my son, but it IS hard going – every 1.5hr/2hr on a 24hour rotation is hard going and you DO need support. Once baby is full, he’s fallen into a deep sleep (the type of deep sleep where by he’ll wake up if you move a muscle) in my arms, I then realise the remote and chocolate are out of reach…shit.
Get out there. It’s hard advice to follow because it is, well, literally hard to get out, especially when the sofa and your PJ’s are soon appealing – but it helps. I found going to Breast Feeding Support Groups and play groups a life and sanity saver. They aren’t really for babies – they’re for mummies. You turn up and no one judges you. Have a royal melt down, a cry, a rant – or importantly ask for help and advice – and no one bats an eyelid – we’ve all done it. He’s not feeding right! He’s not sleeping! Does your baby do xyz? Are abc is doing my head in! There’s something special about supporting each other through such a new life changing experience and realising that everything is okay – it’s NORMAL to have all these feelings/reactions to stuff.
What do I regret?
Not keeping a diary. It’s the last thing you have time for, but would have been a record of the most precious memories (that’s why I’ve got a 2017 diary). There’s so many things I believe I’ve forgotten due to my baby brain being in full ‘power on’ mode, mixed with complete exhaustion, along with each day feeling like it blends into another.
Heading up to five months old (I miss saying how many ‘days’ old he is, then how many ‘weeks’ old he is, now it’s just months – sob!) I find myself torn – I’m missing my tiny, perfect newborn but then I’m excited to see him turning into his own person, showing us who he is and what he likes. And I’m happy to be almost back to be able to function again as a ‘normal’ person – I still need to plan my showers like a military operation, can’t clean the house from top to bottom in just one day – but I can leave the house before 10am – Mummy is winning!