Now What?!

A Grumpy Guide to Pregnancy

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The fourth trimester

I feel like I'm remiss in providing some kind of take-home here for the post-pregnancy (that is, Welcome Home Baby!) period of time. There's a lot to say, but I think I can boil it down to a few top points.
  1. The first two weeks with the new baby are one of the hardest things/times I've ever been through. You're simultaneously recovering from the physical trauma of labor (and, really, from the last few weeks of pregnancy), while being totally paranoid about this fragile tiny thing you've been entrusted with, and all of that on totally inadequate sleep. It's mind-blowing and perspective-killing. I didn't have any overt post-partum depression, but had plenty of stretches of thinking "People get through this?" in addition to the obvious "they do it more than once??" Days seemed to gape long and difficult, especially once I was on my own during the day. Some tips:

    • Keep visitors at a slow pace. No more than one (or one couple) at a time, no more than an hour per visit, no matter how beloved. That's just how little mental resources you have available. Really, this rule holds for about the first month. (Partner should help run interference, although he's likely to be as brain-fried as you are.)
    • Have the house stocked with as many easy-to-prepare meals as possible, and take-out menus handy. You'll be plenty hungry, but have neither brain nor energy to shop or cook.
    • Take as many naps as you can. Baby won't always sleep as much as in the first week or so, and you need to make up the deficit whenever you can. Nap on the couch near the basket, on the floor near the crib, or stay in bed with the bassinet nearby. Really, mid-afternoon or whenever. What else do you really have to accomplish?
    • Be easy on yourself. I wasn't good for much other than TV (hello, TNT!) and baby advice books for a long time. Just go with it. The idea of reading a book or surfing the Internet will become imaginable again in time. That first trip down the block is a huge victory, but some day you'll go to a nearby restaurant with the kid in the stroller on a whim.

  2. Progress is slow. Yours (see above, heh) and the baby's too -- it's really a sack of potatoes for a long time, just eating and sleeping. Then for a while it's awake in stretches, but just stares blankly, and you feel like you should be entertaining or otherwise stimulating your potatoes, but you don't get much feedback for the waving of toys and jiggling of limbs. Hang in there. The six weeks to that first smile can seem like a long long time. Meantime, you're re-mastering the art of functioning like an adult -- cooking, reading, having conversations of more than a few minutes, leaving the house with the baby. But slowly, like your aches and pains subside.

  3. By the end of three months you'll be in a totally different place. The baby giggles and plays games with you; you're confident about its favorite toys and that it knows who you are; you're probably getting decent stretches of sleep; you are an old hand at diapers, feeding, soothing or singing, etc.; and you have a sense of your baby's temperment and how much of a schedule/rhythm its daily needs have, and you've learned to work within those constraints to do some of the things you used to do. It's important to realize that all these things really will happen, and you'll feel competent again and glad that you undertook this whole project. Of course, just as things start to reach a manageable state, you may be headed back to work, which means finding a whole new balance of life and parenting, but at least you aren't a paranoid zombie, and you've fallen in love with this little spark and its giggle.

That's it in a nutshell -- I really think a "fourth trimester" is a good way to view things, since, while there are many changes and developmental milestones still in the future at that point, there is a unit of "mental arrival" of the kid and recovery of the parent that's quite tangible in this window. I hope that this little summary helps somebody else know what to expect.

Additionally, I recommend finding a mother's group for moral support once you can get out of the house -- lactation support is a good one, or maybe a yoga class for moms and babies -- just for reality checks and social interactions when both seem most lacking. You might get some bonus friends out of it, and it's great to see some older kids so you can look ahead to what's to come at various points. All very helpful as well as fun. Good luck!