As usual, I was up at 4:30 a.m. feeding Gabe, when I saw that a friend had gone to the hospital with contractions. I am so excited for her and her husband, a friend of mine since eighth grade. I’ve been open with her about the ups and downs of new parenthood, but I don’t know how much I discussed what that first week home is like.
Your baby? He’s not really a baby yet. For the first month, he’ll embody the idea of “outdoor fetus.” As you’ve learned in the hospital, all your baby will do now is sleep, or cry, or stare at you accusingly. Remember how your friend’s baby is smiling at her and laughing? Not your little red addition. At this point, he’s basically a lump who poops. He’s beautiful and unique and filled with possibilities, but sometimes that’s hard to remember when he’s screaming 45 minutes after he finished eating and LOVE OF GOD BABY WHAT IS WRONG?
Despite all you’ve read and all you’ve learned, this baby will cry for reasons you don’t understand, and his wail will send you up a wall with frustration and anxiety. Don’t feel bad about how frantically you react to his cries; you are meant to do that. If anyone says anything to you about “spoiling” your baby or letting him cry it out, punch them. Alternately, immediately but firmly remove them from your home and presence, and don’t listen to their advice. It is impossible to spoil an infant. Do respond to his cries as soon as possible, even if it’s just to hold him and talk to him while you try to figure out what’s making him lose his shit in such a spectacular and frightening fashion. Your most likely culprits are: hunger, fatigue, or gas.
Baby gas is not a guaranteed player in the first weeks, but if it is, you have my deepest sympathy and understanding. Gas pain will make your baby hurt, and in response, he’ll cry. And cry. And arch his back and be generally inconsolable to the point where you feel like absolutely the worst person ever because you cannot make this baby feel better and oh God, please let me do whatever it is that will ease my baby’s obvious distress I have slept for three hours in the past 24 hours, it hurts to walk and my nipples are in pain and BABY I AM SO SORRY WHAT CAN I DO?
Don’t feel bad about feeling resentful. You’re tired, you’re confused, you’re having a million new challenges thrown your way every day, and you never get a break. The simple knowledge that my husband could leave the house without it having a negative effect on the baby was enraging, as was his ability to sleep through the night (not that he did, but he could, and it pissed me off). Find an outlet where you can vent, whether it’s online or to a therapist.
Overlaying all of this will be the most overwhelming fatigue you’ve ever experienced. Your body just went through a pretty traumatic time, and instead of the month of relaxation and sleep it needs to heal, you’ve been thrown headfirst into the waters of parenting a baby who requires you to be at the ready 24/7, even if you can barely walk. While you will have thought longingly of your bed when you were confined to the hospital bed, you may not get a good look at it for a week. You will get to know your couch as you sit on it for hours nursing, the lay of the floorboards as you pace in attempts to soothe your baby, the sunrise as you see it for the sixth day in a row. You’ll talk to your parents and your friends who are parents and say, “Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like this?” in a way that you hope sounds more joking than resentful.
But you’ll know joy, you’ll learn this overwhelming love that will overflow your heart and make you cry (even as you cry from sleep deprivation). You’ll learn to let things go and move on baby time, a slow cycle of eating, staring, and sleeping. You’ll watch your partner become a parent, this new facet you’ve never seen in all your time together. And then one day you’ll realize you no longer have an outdoor fetus, you have a baby.
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