The Longest Shortest Weeks
Begun June 16, 2020 – 1 month mark. Completed June 26 at 6 week mark. Please excuse the scattered, nonlinear thoughts.
“I lost time I didn’t even know I had.” — Daniel
“What are you worried about?” — Our Midwives; “I’m not worried about birth. I think that’ll be painful, but it’ll happen. I’m terrified of everything after.” — My Reply.
It’s been 6 weeks since our baby arrived. 6 weeks concludes what most health professionals call the official “postpartum recovery weeks” or the “4th trimester”. So how have we fared during the time our midwives advised, “Just try to survive those first (2) weeks”? Have we successfully served our new fickle master, our 7lb Supreme Leader who is slowly growing at a monstrous rate to match his monstrous appetite? Without adult supervision, under quarantine, and with grandparents oceans away, have we slid into complete anarchy (or dictatorship)? Are we still sane after multi-hour hostage situations where negotiation is impossible because your counterpart understands neither cause and effect nor language?
Here’s what I like to imagine is going on in his newborn head: “Do I want food? Let me push it away with my small hands when I actually mean to grab on. It’s hard not to have full muscle control. I have a thought, let me cry. Wait, I forgot what my thought was. I’ll cry anyway. Skylights! Food! No, I don’t want the food, but I do. I really really do. I need to be burped. I also just soiled myself. I want all three things at once: burp, food, and new diaper. I miss my old home where I was constantly moving in water. Dance, monkey, dance!”
To be fair, newborn life is hard. One of the health visitors from our midwife service aptly described (in summary), “No other mammal gives birth to such a premature baby. Because of that, they’ll have very specific needs, and they’ll find a way to let you know. Spend the next few weeks understanding their signals. But be patient and keep in mind just how vulnerable they are. They don’t regulate their own body temperature when they’re first born, they feel safe with skin-to-skin contact, they’re exhausted the first few days from birth, their stomachs are the size of a marble day 1, and they’re nearsighted. They’re new to life, just as you’re new to parenthood.”
I’ve also been told by friends and family these initial postpartum weeks are the longest shortest weeks. Had I not recorded notes on nursing, sleep, and other highlights each day, I would have believed that our baby was born last week. These daily highlights also helped me zoom out to see that progress was being made, slowly and not day-by-day but week-by-week, sometimes in leaps.
So here’s a breakdown using a random sampling of these daily notes, a list of new parent surprises, and finally, a holistic review that best describes the chaos — both wonderful and overwhelming — of the newborn phase.
Random sample of the daily notes:
Day 1-4: Sleep 1-3 hours, feed every 45 min. Milk arrived day 3. Cluster feeding evenings from 11-3am. Mom cried on Day 3 at 3am (just like the midwives said! From those milk hormones). Longest feed is still 1 hour of colostrum that put him down all afternoon.
Day 8: Sleep 4 hours, feed every ~1.5 hours. Cluster feeding all afternoon. 45 min of tea with just Daniel after baby slept (joy!).
Day 17: Fussy all evening (gas or growth spurt?), projectile 2am poo that went 3 feet and onto wall – very impressive, family walk, slept in moses basket for 1 hour, refuses swaddling
Day 36 (Father’s Day): Longest sleep in Robot Mommy (aka Snoo) at 3:55 [hours]! Dad got 9.5 hours through night (with wake ups), 4.2 mi forest adventure walk, Father’s Day cheesecake for brunch and card, grabbed onto and throw up into mom’s shirt, sushi delivery dinner, very solid Father’s Day and weekend. Probably best weekend yet.
By the numbers*:
- Average # of Feeds/Day (14 with cluster feeding counting as 1 feed), Min # Feeds/Day (12), Max # Feeds/Day (18), Average Length/Feed (~25 min)
- Average Length of Cluster Feeds, aka staring into “The Void” (~4 hours)
- # Growth Spurts (~3?). Not sure.
- Range of sleep at one time for mom (0.5-2.5 hours/session); for dad (0.5-4 hours/session)
- Average # Diapers/Day (10)
- Total # Adult Meltdowns by Week 6 (4 mom, 3 dad)
- Average # Family Walks/Week (6)
- Average Length/Walk (3 mi)
- Day dad started working part-time (14th day), part-time defined as 4-6 hours/day
- Dad’s Coffee Subscription (3kg/month)
- Average # of Times We Say “I Love You” to Baby/Day (in the dozens)
- Smiling and Giggling (~Week 4 but not clear if intentional or gas)
- # of Jingles Created (8): “When the Kitten Be A-Huntin’ (She Be Killin’)”, “Busy Feet”, “Milk Drunk”, “The Baby Sleeps Tonight”, “Go To Sleep (Or the Night Monsters Will Eat You)”, “Robot Mommy (Be Bop Boo Bop)”, “Every Poo I Do, I Do For You (Daddy)”, “Skylight”
*Recording and tracking these things every day helped me realize that slowly, things were becoming more manageable even if it felt like we were making 2 steps forward with 1 step backward. It was also the only way I could remember all the things that happened each day, as they started to blur together, and I really want to remember all the special moments that happen each day.
List of things that surprised me in these first 4-6 weeks:
- Newborn babies eat a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Our baby eats 14+ times a day for 5 min – 1+ hours each feed and shows no signs of slowing down. This has become my new full time job while on maternity leave.
- Postpartum recovery feels similar to coming back from an injury. It’s easy to overdo it early and progress is nonlinear. But the female body is amazing and strong. Give it the right combination of rest and patience, and it does wonders. I’m already a completely different person four weeks in compared to the first week. I’ll dedicate an entire post to this at some point.
- Diaper changes can be very exciting, filled with heroic stories and proud parent moments. Yes, you can be proud of poo. I haven’t laughed so hard for weeks as when our baby blew a gasket while Daniel ran around the room screaming, “What do we do?! What do we do?!”
- Countless hours can be spent watching our child sleep, open his eyes, and change day-to-day (Was that a real smile? What’s this new squeak? Who is doing that psychotic laughter? Did you burp or was that the baby?). It never gets boring.
- Number of tasks that can be done one-handed: eating (cake, scones, muffins, cookies, and sushi), coffee making, texting, reading (sort of), feeding, laundry.
- It is possible to see your heart move outside of your body.
- Time dilation is real and is strongest during those first 2 weeks postpartum, where one day bleeds into the next.
- Telepathy exists, between the baby’s needs and mom’s body. I’m ready to nurse on his demand 2 floors away, and I have no idea how. I also wake up unprompted minutes before the baby does to anticipate when feeding needs to happen. Baby mind control is crazy.
A Holistic Review of Newborn Life
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times” – Charles Dickens
I smile when I think back on my own worries about the postpartum weeks: Before our baby arrived, I had worried about the fog of sleeplessness and interruptions, but I couldn’t grasp what filled those hours in the long night (aka “the void”). No, you don’t sleep much. But the reality is there’s other challenges, especially for moms— recovery from birth, the huge hormone shifts, postpartum pain, around-the-clock nursing, all accompanied by the nagging fears of being a new mother. Suddenly the darkest corners of the Internet come alive at the worst times and always during the 3am feed!
Yet through this fog of new motherhood, I’ve also been guided. Suddenly, the world of other mothers and parents opens up. I feel excited for that pregnant woman in the park and can’t help but smile at her; I have a connection to the father trying to calm his screaming toddler; I can’t help but feel the deepest sadness for parents who have experienced loss. I cry at the news, laugh at cute photos of other children, and understand why so many other parents congratulate us when they see us taking our little bundled baby on evening walks. It’s as if the moment our child was born, we entered into a new exclusive club with sleepless nights, spit-up, and emergency diaper changes (“Poonamis”, “Poo-trastrophes”, “Mop-poo”, “Laser-poo”, etc) as its initiation for entry.
* * * * *
A few years ago, I lamented to a good friend about my fears of having a child. I cited the stories from others of how relentless parenthood is, “Just survive the early weeks”, “Your schedule becomes someone else’s,” “It’ll never get easier!”.
My friend replied wisely, “Yes, it’s hard. But here’s the thing: you and your husband will spend so much time marveling at your baby. You’ll watch and laugh at them for hours. You’ll fall in love with your new family. It’s work, but it’s worth it.”
So far, she’s been right.
Newborn parenthood is filled with extremes and contradicting feelings. Crowded against hours of cluster feeding (aka the “hostage situation”), pooped-on clothes and walls, and milk-stained spit up is always that single, new beautiful moment that lodges itself into your memory. As an example, for me, night feedings are the loneliest times but also my most intimate moments with our baby. In the British summer, we watch the sunrise into a new day together in a perfectly quiet home other than the early morning birds. I return to bed tired but never wanting anything different.
* * * * *
My experience is this: these first few weeks have shattered our past lives. My husband and I are left with some pieces of our old lives to pick up. I call them the Pieces That Matter. I think back on our pre-baby memories with fondness, and during difficult times, with extreme nostalgia. But those moments pass once our exhausted frustration is erased by one single cute coo or cuddle. Emerging from our old lives is a new dimension, a parallel parenthood universe that has now filled with so much new love and life that the old one is almost hard to imagine. It’s not better; it’s not worse. It’s just different, almost like we’re new people but with the memories of our old selves.
In these past 6 weeks, if I’ve learned anything it’s that parenthood is a state of constant movement. Everything – the bad and the most precious – moves quickly in a new, warped time. The weeks pass like a freight train but the hours stretch like an elastic band. I now know why so many parents take hundreds of photos of their children: it’s to hold these beautiful moments close to them, proudly display them to the world, and most importantly, use them to slow time. Because like all things in these longest shortest weeks, it passes faster than you can imagine.
So I hold onto the good, breathe through the bad, and mutter over and over again, “This too shall pass.” It always does. When it’s gone, I’m left with those small moments that cling onto me, fast asleep and curled in my arms, wondering how the time has gone by so fast.
Dear Supreme Leader,
Thank you for your patience. I’m serious. We’re all new at this. You’re new at ex-utero life, and we’re new at being parents. I know I wasn’t used to being held hostage for hours at a time during your hungry feeding sessions, and Daddy isn’t used to changing 10 diapers a day. One silver lining about not having visitors in our COVID world is that your daddy and I have spent a lot of alone time interpreting your signals, bonding with you, making up new songs and ways to entertain you. I know these first few weeks are hard. You aren’t fully used to your new body in this gravity filled world (your head is enormous!). You’re no longer suspended in water and getting your automatic food supply with no effort (nursing is hard work!). There’s so much stimulation in this new, outside world (the sun is bright! and what the hell is wind?).
We’re trying our best to interpret you. You’re still young enough to have a short list, in this order: hunger, gas, diaper, boredom, mystery. You love baths, hate swaddles, grunt and sound like a French pitbull — or small gremlin with Pacman like chomping gestures — when you’re showing your hunger signs. You’re freakishly strong (Daddy recently shaved his chest because you love pulling out the hairs). You have the busiest feet of any kid I’ve ever met, and you’re a Houdini-incarnate at getting out of any swaddle.
We’re not always right in understanding your signals. Once we thought you had gas, but you were actually just extremely hungry. We learned our lesson then, and we’re still learning. It’s paying off. I know that because just yesterday, you looked me in the eyes and smiled back at me for the first time. It made me feel so special, like the entire world was smiling at me.
Being able to provide for you fills us with a sense of purpose and accomplishment I can’t put into words. I can’t help but hold you in my arms after you fall asleep and watch you be at peace. Every single day, we’ve watched the sunrises together at 4:30am during a beautiful British summer. You’ve fallen asleep warm with the loud chorus of birds outside our window. You then spend every morning with Daddy. He loves playing tummy time with you. While you wait for your bottle to warm, he sings and dances with you in his arms. It’s mostly to placate you because you’re screaming at him to hurry up. But, as a result, he’s made an entire list of jingles just to keep you distracted. I think deep down, in some subconscious, you must know you have two doting parents who jokingly (lovingly) call you their Supreme Leader.
Some days the demands are hard, even for 2 grown adults. But they pass. Deep in my heart I know that I’ll one day miss the simplicity of being able to keep you happy by feeding you. Some days you tire us because you love being held. The first week, you would only sleep if on me. But, I know there will be a day when you won’t want us to hold you so much (or at all) anymore. You’ll grow up. You’ll no longer hide your head against our chest and under our arms. You’ll ask us to give you independence, space, and to let you explore this big, big world. One day, I’ll be so proud of you when you do seek out that independence.
For now, I’ll hold you a little longer. I’ll soothe you a little more in the quiet of the night. And I’ll count the moments the best I can as time escapes through our fingers day-by-day, week-by-week.
Congratulations on reaching infancy. To us, you’ll always be our Darling.