The Newborn Days - It Really Does Take a Village
One of my very best friends had a baby this week. Among my group of close friends, I was one of the last to have a baby (Lorelai was born on my 33rd birthday), so I have never had the privilege of walking through those first few exhausting days and weeks with a first time mom friend. When LL was born, I had a plethora of friends and family who were moms and who could answer all of my questions. And I was extremely lucky. My birth was easy and magical, and the only thing in my plan that I didn't get was a waterbirth, and then only because things happened so fast. Breastfeeding came easily to both LL and me, and I never had supply issues, or painful latch, or any of the other things that plague so many women. Giving birth actually changed the way I look at my body FOR THE BETTER, in that I no longer look at the flabby belly and hate it, but I love and thank my body daily for all of the hard work that it has done and continues to do in growing, birthing, and nourishing my baby (two and a half years of breastfeeding and she doesn't seem to be slowing down any time soon!). All of the body image insecurities I have battled my whole life seemed to disappear after giving birth, and they haven't returned (yet). I never tried to "get my body back" after giving birth because I really didn't want it back, so that wasn't a stressor for me either.
And yet, the newborn phase was still REALLY DAMN HARD for me. Walking through the last few days with my darling friend, has brought those days back into sharp focus for me. If I'm being honest, I don't usually remember much of the first month of LL's life, probably because I was so exhausted and just hanging on by a thread (or maybe I've blocked it out in an effort at self-preservation). But spending this time with my friend is making me remember things I had forgotten up until now. Like how I cried every day (most days, I cried multiple times per day). I cried because I didn't think I could do it anymore. I cried because I was exhausted. I cried because my daughter was so beautiful and I loved her so much. I cried because it hurt to pee. I cried because I was hungry. I cried because I was happy. I cried because I was afraid for the future. I cried.... and cried.... and cried.... You get the picture. My nipples hurt unlike anything I'd ever experienced, and I didn't get more than 2 hours of sleep at any given time. And I was always anxious.
The anxiety is something that I don't think we can prepare for. In talking to my friend this week, listening to her worry about every little detail and whether or not she's getting it right, I remember those days too. My friend likes to be in control (as do I!) and one of the lessons new parenthood teaches you very early (like during pregnancy, and if not then, definitely during labor) is that control is an illusion. There is no controlling anything in life, and that is a very difficult lesson for most people to learn. I remember worrying about whether or not LL was dressed appropriately for the weather. Was she hot? Was she cold? I worried that she wasn't getting enough milk. I worried that she wasn't gaining enough weight. I worried that she wasn't getting enough sleep. I worried that she would stop breathing in the middle of the night and I wouldn't know it. I worried that I was screwing her up from the very beginning and that when I lost my cool and shouted and cried when she wouldn't stop screaming, that that was the moment she would talk about in therapy for years to come.
It's important to note two things here - First, I don't believe there is any other time in a woman's life when her hormones are as wacky as they are right after giving birth, so lots of the crying and worrying can be attributed to my crazy hormones. And second, society puts so much pressure on us as moms to "get it right" that it creates a perfect environment for anxiety to grow. I think we often feel alone as new moms, thinking we have to do it all, and any show of vulnerability or asking for help is akin to failure as a mother. But it's not possible for us to do it all. It just isn't. We need a village.
And that's where I am this week with my friend. I have the ultimate privilege to be a part of her village. Her journey has not been easy, and I am so very grateful that she looks to me for help and encouragement. I hope I am able to provide some comfort to her. I am happy to be the one she cries with, and I'm happy to be the voice of reason that says "Please don't go to Target today. You had a baby 3 days ago. Get back in bed." I feel privileged to get to share my experiences with her, and to tell her it's completely normal to be terrified 100% of the time right now. I'm happy to be able to tell her that it does get better, but I know that it really, really sucks right now.
Becoming a family takes so much support from so many areas of life. There are so many women who fight this battle alone, or at least feel alone in those early days. Even when they have a partner, even when they have family and friends who are available. And so today, I encourage you to reach out to your friends who are new parents. Ask what they need. Don't just say "call if you need anything." I guarantee she won't call you. Call her, and say "I'm bringing you food, what do you want?" Show up at her house and say "I'm here to clean. Take your baby and go rest. I've got this." Offer a shoulder to cry on, because I promise you she needs to cry. And continue offering this support past the first week. It takes so much longer to get a handle on the whole parenting thing than we think. Call when the baby is 3 months, and 6 months, and a year old. (For what it's worth, I really didn't feel like we came out of the woods until LL was 2. I really needed more support in that second year.) Being present for your friends (or family) will make them better parents. And it will deepen your relationship with them as well, because they will know that you are one of the people they can count on. It's a huge responsibility. But it is also an extremely rewarding privilege.