Congratulations, you successfully had a baby (or babies)! You’ve managed to complete The World’s Scariest Drive Home with your new addition, and now you’re staring down the barrel of The Rest Of Your Life. A baby isn’t raised in a vacuum, however, and you’ll need help.
First, and most importantly: beg, borrow, or bully your way to a sympathetic and experienced family member or friend (or post-partum doula) who can stay with you for the first week at home. Your new baby is going to want to eat at all hours and will have no sense of day or night. Having someone around to spell your partner (while you’re nursing) or you (while you’re sleeping or eating) will make life seem more manageable. Make sure they take care of you, as well. Like your baby, you’ve just undergone a pretty intense ordeal, and your body is going to be recovering from it for at least a month.
Once you’re able to move around (usually about two weeks post-partum), find a local moms’ group. In the Seattle area, there’s an organization called PEPS (Program for Early Parenthood Support), that will put you into a group with other moms in your area whose babies are similarly aged, and offer you a “leader” for the first twelve weeks. Even though our leader’s time is gone, my PEPS group has been self-sustaining, organizing walks, guest speakers, nights out, and holiday parties. You may be able to find one of these groups through your place of worship, community bulletin boards, your ob/gyn (my midwives told me about PEPS), or word-of-mouth. One of my friends used Meetup.com when she was desperate for company that wasn’t her son or husband. The value of having a social circle who are all experiencing the same things you are cannot be overstated. There have been weeks where PEPS was my only social outlet, and I needed it. New parenthood is incredibly isolating, especially when you’re the at-home caretaker.
If at all possible, have an emergency babysitter/therapist. Ideally, this is a good friend that you can call at almost any time and ask for a couple of hours’ respite. They’ll not only watch your baby, they’ll offer you a glass of wine (or send you back home with a bottle in the diaper bag). This is the person you’ll call when it’s been four months and you and your partner haven’t had sex that didn’t involve the couch and whispering so you don’t wake the baby. Ours will take any of the three of us for a few hours and ply us with the beverage of our choice until we’re calmer and happier.
The people who have been most helpful to my husband and I (that I didn’t expect to need) are parents with slightly older babies. Whether you find them online or in person, having a resource that’s just gone through this and can sympathize with the terrible parts is priceless. Your parents haven’t had kids in years (possibly decades), and maybe your friends haven’t had kids. The recent-veteran parents are the ones who’ll show you the light at the end of the colicky tunnel, and then tell you about their two-year-old’s public tantrum. When you despair that your kid hasn’t pooped in a week, these parents will tell you about their kid who won’t stop pooping in corners. They’ll let you know it gets better, but that it’ll also continue to suck in different ways.
Finally, have good doctors, both for yourself and your kid. Make sure their philosophy lines up with yours, and make sure you feel comfortable asking questions as well as standing up for your child’s best interests. I’ve been comfortable asking about doing things my way (namely breastfeeding during vaccinations to minimize crying), and I’ve felt supported in my decisions. We are lucky enough to see a family practitioner who asks after Gabe when I see her, and checks in on me when I bring Gabe in. I don’t feel bad for asking about my health (or his), and I’ve never been made to feel like I’m overreacting (which is important when you call in a tizzy because you kid hasn’t pooped in nine days).