Surviving through the tears...
I remember reading somewhere once that the first few weeks of motherhood are just about being covered in bodily fluids - your own, and someone else’s. Tears, sweat, milk, tears, spit-up, diaper remnants...did I mention tears? You get the picture. Those first weeks are intense - for the adults, AND the baby. The tears are going to flow from both of you, sometimes without any rhyme or reason. Honestly, there’s very little logic to the early weeks of the postpartum period. But there are ways to survive, and even thrive as best you can, even in the midst of the tears - yours and baby’s.
Here’s the truth - babies cry. Sometimes they can cry a lot. It’s their only way of communicating with us - whether they’re hungry, dirty, tired, cold, lonely, bored, or having an existential crisis about the meaning of life itself. One of the most important things you can do during this time is to be gentle with both yourself and your baby, because sometimes we can solve the problem at the root of the cry, and sometimes we can’t. And sometimes, we have no idea what the root of the cry is.
Ever heard the word “colic?” As one doctor admitted, colic is “the 5-letter word for ‘I don’t know’.” It seems to be connected to the tummy in some way or another - baby is having painful gas, or indigestion, or any number of other gastro-issues. But because they are so small and so helpless, they can’t really accurately communicate to us, “Ooo, mom, those ten cups of coffee you drank earlier are really giving me heartburn, could you cut back a bit tomorrow?” So what do they do? If you guessed, “Make me want to run away and join the circus,” well, you’re half right.
Instead of joining the circus, though, I’ve got some other ideas to help you get through this time. Whether or not you’ve got a textbook “colicky” baby, all babies cry sometimes, and all parents have a hard time with it at least some of the time. So here’s some suggestions to help cope during those days that seem to never end…
Meet the baby’s needs...even if you already did five minutes ago
A baby’s wants are a baby’s needs. So, for example, even if it seems like you just nursed them five minutes ago, if nursing calms them, great! You’ve solved the puzzle this time! If they’re happy as long as they’re in your arms, relish in the snuggles and take advantage of anyone who offers to help by cooking dinner, doing the dishes, or picking up groceries. If you’re wondering how to go to the bathroom or feed yourself with your arms tied up in baby-holding all day, move on to the next tip…
Try out babywearing
Babywearing is something that can help you move about your day in some semblance of normalcy, while also meeting your baby’s needs - how lucky is that?! Baby carriers come in all different varieties, and everybody has a preference, but the beauty of it is they all help you keep your baby safely close while keeping your hands free. Most babies love to be worn in carriers, and it tends to help with even the crabbiest of cuties. Baby falls asleep safely snuggled to your chest, and you are free to eat a sandwich and watch some Netflix - if that’s not win/win, I don’t know what is!
This trick is two-fold - sometimes the fresh air and movement can snap a baby (or honestly, child of any age) out of their bad mood, but even if it doesn’t, a walk around the block will probably make you feel a thousand times better (it’s amazing what exercise and sunlight can do for us). Even if you can’t go far, stepping onto your back deck or balcony and taking a few long deep breaths can make all the difference for the rest of your day.
Ask for help
No matter how old your baby is, how long you’ve been doing this parenting thing, or how self-sufficient you love to appear - it’s never too late to ask for help. And help can come in a variety of forms - someone to bring dinner over when it’s been an especially tough day, someone to pick up your older kid from school when the baby is finally napping right at pick-up time, someone to just come over and let you be the crybaby for a few minutes, pat you on the back, and tell you it’s all going to be okay. You know best what you need, and it will change from day to day, even minute to minute. But don’t trick yourself into trying to muscle your way through it solo - we truly weren’t meant to do this - any of this - alone! And if you’re not feeling like yourself or you’re worried about your ability to cope through the next hour, let alone the next week, it’s important to talk to a healthcare provider or someone who understands maternal and parental mental health. There are lots of options that can help you feel better.
Be kind to yourself
Babies need healthy parents and caregivers. As much as the early weeks, months, and years often feel like a marathon of self-sacrifice, it does our children no good for us to throw our own physical and mental health out the window in order to care for them. And caring for a screaming infant is hard. So be gentle with yourself. It won’t always be this way. Try to do something for yourself. You might not be able to get in a full hour-long yoga class by yourself yet, but finding little ways to squeeze in whatever your version of self-care is can be so helpful. Download an e-book to your phone to read whenever you have a few spare moments; do some quick stretches while baby is momentarily happy in tummy time; have another adult take the baby for a walk in a carrier or stroller while you take a long, hot shower. Keep your expectations realistic, but remember that you still have needs too, and it’s okay to try and meet those needs as best you can. Again - this won’t last forever. I promise you will eventually be able to go and do your own thing long enough that you actually miss your child!
Remember that what your baby needs most of all is you - imperfectly perfect, just the way you are. These days are tough, but with a little support and kindness, you can all get through it without any lasting scars. And anyway, I don’t think Cirque du Soleil is hiring lately ;)
Another guest post from the fabulous Cecilia Prokop, postpartum doula and wise woman extraordinaire!