After nine months of your body undergoing the most rapid and significant changes of your life, and then after intense physical exertion to bring your baby into the world in the most dramatic of ways, you should be able to sit back and relax, right? Well, maybe – that is, if your baby was born accompanied by a 24-hour nanny.
I found it exceedingly difficult to recover from birth and to bond with my first two babies. Struggling with a lack of sleep that led to hallucinations in the wee hours of the night, I quickly found myself in the midst of the baby blues both times.
The phrase “third time’s a charm” exists for a reason. By my third baby, I knew what was coming, and I created a plan that I hoped would either chase those ugly baby blues away, or at least minimize them. Happily, my plan worked, and I didn’t find myself crying in the shower or screaming at my confused husband just minutes after telling him how wonderful he is. These are the four things I recommend:
1. TALK – and talk and talk Analyze yourself like crazy.
Months before delivery, I started talking to my husband about how the baby blues felt after my other deliveries. Together, we analyzed my triggers: lack of sleep, not being validated, too much pressure to get back to routine. We talked about the warning signs that indicate I’m about to spiral: crying a lot, getting angry, not feeling like I’m bonding with the baby. Talk to your partner. Figure out what you need when you’re not feeling like yourself, and then make a plan to do what you need if and when you start to feel unhappy. For me, I need alone time, so I came up with ideas to get me out of the house by myself – and then I used those ideas once the baby was born. And keep talking after the baby is born. It’s ok to remind your husband every other day, “I really need you to ask me how I feel.” My husband actually put a reminder in his phone, which sounds ridiculous, but you know what? It worked. We talked. I didn’t spiral.
2. ACCEPT HELP
Say yes to help! I accepted any help that was offered. My friend just texted to invite my kids over? Yes! The church offered to bring in meals? Yes! My sister wants to babysit and hold the baby while my husband and I get a bite to eat? Yes! I didn’t accept any help after my first baby, and I can tell you there was a huge difference this time when I did accept help. And don’t worry – once you feel back to normal, you can pay forward all the help that was given to you. And if you did step 1, then part of all that talking will help you understand ahead of time what kind of help you’re going to need. I realized I get overwhelmed when my house is cluttered, so I asked my husband to de-clutter every night. I realized I feel frustrated with my children quickly when my life is stressful, so I asked friends and family to be prepared to babysit. I realized I need lots of sleep, so when my husband was home, I let him take all the kids out of the house so I could take a nap.
3. HIRE HELP
I’m as cheap as they come, but I set aside money to hire a babysitter for the week after my husband went back to work. I knew that taking care of two kids was going to make it difficult to get to know my new baby. The babysitter’s mom dropped her off at lunch time, and I took her home once my husband came home from work. BEST DECISION EVER. I spent the mornings with my older kids, and then shut myself in my room with the baby in one hand and snacks in the other once the babysitter arrived. Since the older kids were taken care of, and I didn’t feel guilty because I was PAYING someone to take care of them, I felt completely free to stare at my baby and nap. It was wonderful. I paid the babysitter an extra dollar an hour to vacuum, sweep, do the dishes, and help the older kids clean their room. I literally had to do nothing that week except for cuddle and feed a newborn – and it was glorious.
4. GET RID OF GUILT
This is probably the most important thing! Remember: You just sacrificed your body for nine months, then pushed a baby out of said sacrificed body. If you’re nursing, you’re still sacrificing your body. Whether or not you’re nursing, you’re sacrificing sleep, time, and emotions for that little baby. It is perfectly fine for your husband to get up when the baby cries. So he has to work tomorrow? You just pushed a baby from your body! A girl’s gotta heal. It’s perfectly fine for you to take a nap, to accept a dinner from a friend, to let someone clean up, or hire house cleaners.
There is no rule book that says we have to do it all, and in fact, life is a lot better when we don’t.
Rebecca is journalist and piano teacher turned stay-at-home mom who also copy edits for SheKnows.com, and blogs here at Thrilled By the Thought.