Don’t sleep when the baby sleeps (and other heretical advice for new moms)

Look, I know she meant well, but the wrath I felt towards the first person who cheerfully told me to “sleep when the baby sleeps!” while I was battling a terrible case of postpartum depression and had a baby with reflux, was truly a thing of awe. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely been that angry before, but usually over something that was actually meant to incite anger–not over some innocuous, if entirely unhelpful and ridiculous, platitude.

One of the potential symptoms of postpartum depression is an inability to sleep, and talk about adding insult to injury. It took many prayers, a very specific pillow setup, just the right amount of light, Dave reading to me from a particular kind of book, lavender essential oil and the blood of a virgin to get me to sleep at night. Jay-kay on the virgin blood part, but dang, I got desperate enough a few times that if it would have helped… ANYway, sleeping during the day was simply out of the question, because I physically could not do it. So being blithely told to “sleep when the baby sleeps” was a slap in the face, not only because it was dangling a carrot of something I absolutely could not have, but it made me feel like I wasn’t “doing it right” as a new mom.

So, here are my pieces of borderline heretical advice for new moms, because I really could have used some of that in the beginning!

Don’t sleep when the baby sleeps unless falling asleep is what you want to do and actually can do. If you can’t sleep, have a nice warm cup of something soothing, put your feet up, and enjoy a few moments of relaxation–don’t make yourself miserable trying to sleep if that’s not a reasonable expectation for you. Just take care of yourself however you need to be cared for at that moment.

(That’s not a trick of the light, I really had circles under my eyes so dark they looked like bruises. And awwww, newborn Asher!)

Keep your kitchen clean if that will make you feel more sane. Newborns truly are precious and miraculous and stay that small for a blink of an eye; however, it is NOT a crime to take 5 or 10 minutes to tidy things up if you want to. My baby came almost 3 weeks early when my OB had told me he’d be at least a week late, so absolutely NOTHING in our home was ready for his arrival. We’d installed the car seat, but that was only because I wanted the big box out of our cramped apartment! I was in a haze of shock and bewilderment for quite some time after Asher was born, and felt like I’d completely lost control of my life–except when I did the dishes. Washing dishes gave me a well-defined task, required only skills I was already adept at, and had a definitive end point. Nothing about mothering a newborn who couldn’t nurse and who arrived a month earlier than he was expected gave me any of those things, so the idea of ignoring the small stuff like dishes actually made me feel worse, not better.

If your child is an unlikable wretch in the evenings, it is not your fault. Asher did the very classic “witching hour” from about 5 weeks til 10 weeks–I called it “staging a coup”. He would cry relentlessly from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. every. single. night. We could have set our watches by it. We tried ev-er-y-thing to calm him, and actually only discovered the thing that worked best by accident–we made a pillow fort around him on the bed and then just sat by him while he kicked his legs and flailed his arms to his heart’s content. I still suspect that we may have been winding him up more with all of our efforts at soothing. Insert eye roll here. But anyway, when I went looking for advice about this, I kept finding articles that told me it was MY fault that he was so miserable, I clearly wasn’t giving him a good day since he was so unhappy at night, I was feeding him wrong, I was blah blah blah. It was total B.S., but I was exhausted and desperate enough to believe it. IT WASN’T TRUE. If your baby is throwing a fit every night, check with your pediatrician to see if she has anything to say about it, and then hunker down and do whatever it takes to get through it–drive around the neighborhood, put baby in a wrap and walk the halls, give her a warm bath, cry along with her, but do NOT believe that you are causing this problem. It is, unfortunately, just a thing that some babies do. And then someday, when they’re good and ready, they stop doing it. Sigh. Which leads me to my next point…

For the love, don’t Google everything! Or at least only click on the pages that look like respectable sources of information. If you want to know if something is normal, ask an actual person you trust, like your pediatrician, a friend with young children, or even email the author of a mommy blog (and I’m not just being cute there, I actually wised up and started reaching out to a couple mommy bloggers who seemed like women I’d be friends with in real life, and got some super encouraging responses for my trouble!).

And, perhaps most importantly, you don’t have to love every minute of new motherhood to love your child unconditionally and be a really good mother. I am so thankful that I was lucky enough to carry my own baby, so I love having been pregnant, but I honestly didn’t love being pregnant. In the same way, Asher’s newborn days were some of the most precious of my life, and I coo over my photos of him at that age all the time; but, they were also some of the hardest and scariest days of my life. I often got down on myself for not “loving every minute”, and I so wish I hadn’t. I love that I got to have a newborn, but I didn’t always love having a newborn–and that’s okay. Not every season can be your favorite, and there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t adore this particular one. Just take lots of photos to drool over when he or she is older, because that really is fun!

I’m not far down the road of motherhood at all, and I still have more to learn than I could dream of right now, but I have learned these things so far. If you are a new mom and need someone to just listen and say, “yeah, me too”, please send me a message or write a comment. You don’t have to go it alone, your motherhood is precious, and you are the mother your child needs.

Now go take a nap…or don’t!

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