Diary of A New Mom
What’s it really like those first few weeks at home with a brand-new baby? Here’s one mother’s story.
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Nicole was the perfectly behaved baby in the hospital. She slept, ate, and performed all the bodily functions a healthy baby should. I tried to immerse myself gradually in motherhood by taking advantage of whatever support was available. I happily gave the baby all her feedings but left the dirty diapers for the nurses. Because every experience surrounding my newborn was completely novel to me, my first few weeks as a new mother presented some of the most difficult and exciting challenges I’d ever attempted to conquer. Here’s a taste of what new motherhood is all about.
We arrive home from the hospital with our new baby girl, and I feel instantly like she belongs here. Her room’s been waiting for months, all prepped and ready. The only problem is my husband, Rich, and I don’t have the slightest idea how to take care of its new occupant. I was so naïve in the hospital that I actually told a friend that Nicole is a low-maintenance baby. Who was I kidding?
I try to continue easing myself into the mommy role by hiring a baby nurse to teach me the basics. Lynda turns out to be the professor of everything from spit-ups to sponge baths – and a referee when Rich and I argue over things like in which direction to wipe Nicole’s behind when changing her diaper.
Breastfeeding has been going well, except that Nicole falls asleep after just a few minutes on my breast. Lynda’s been showing me ways to wake her – tickle her ear, sprinkle water on her face, open up her diaper – and I try each method so Nicole will stay awake and eat. The books I’ve read say I should be nursing for 20 minutes on each side, but I’m lucky if I can get her to stay awake for ten.
It’s a serious challenge, trying to figure out what’s going through Nicole’s mind. I want to know if she sees me, hears me, and especially if she knows me. Rich and I sit for hours and focus on her, in awe of her every gesture. There are moments when I treat her like a new toy, examining all her parts and movements. But most often I am overwhelmed by the fact that I created this human being. She seems so helpless. I can’t even begin to imagine her as a whole person.
Although her awake time is short and infrequent and her eyes aren’t fully open yet, Rich and I try to arouse her with our voices and touch. But before long it’s back to her crib for another snooze, and after a couple of hours – out of sight, out of mind – I’ve forgotten I even have a baby. Rich and I cuddle up on the couch to watch Hitchcock’s Rope, but before the murderers have confessed, we’re brought back to reality by Nicole’s cry.
I can’t believe she’s mine. It feels strange but natural to be a mother, and loving her is the warmest sensation I’ve ever had. I’m her connection to life, and she needs me. It’s scary and miraculous at the same time. Although I loved her the minute I saw her, I’m not sure about this instant bond thing. We need time to get to know each other.
I almost forgot one of the most important moments of the day: the weigh-in. My Lamaze instructor warned us not to freak out when we discover that we haven’t shed all our pregnancy weight the minute after delivery. Yet I’ve been seriously hoping… My heart is pounding as I approach the scale. Fourteen?! I’ve lost only 14 of the 32 pounds I put on. This is going to be a long road.
I’m picking out Nicole’s clothes – my favorite thing to do – and am excited to dress her. She pees while lying on the changing table. I have to change the waterproof pad underneath her and start from scratch. All changed and fresh. But then the inevitable happens: no more than five minutes go by before she makes a poop, and it gets all over her outfit. Back to the changing table. I pick out something else and dress her again. It’s not as much fun with the second outfit.
The routine has begun: change her, feed her, burp her, feed her, change her again – Nicole goes to the bathroom after every feeding, and then some, about 15 times a day. I have to admit that I didn’t envision all this tedious activity.
My mother keeps calling and telling me to rest (“You may feel good on the outside, but it’s the inside that needs recovering”), so I’m trying not to run around too much. I wonder if I’ll harass Nicole like this.
I can’t help falling more in love with her. She’s already more alert than a few days ago, and her eyes open wider, but she’s still pretty drowsy, probably wishing she were back in the womb where it’s warm and cozy. I’m starting to believe she actually knows me.
Keeping Nicole’s little body clean is a whole new challenge. Rich and I give her a sponge bath and shampoo everything. We’ve learned that she doesn’t appreciate being stripped naked and rubbed down with a washcloth, nor does she enjoy rubbing alcohol being dripped around her drying umbilical cord. Everyone tells me babies grow to love bath time, but at this point it seems more like torture. I also cut her fingernails for the first time today. I’d heard this chore would be a real nightmare, because babies squirm, but I learned the trick: do it while she’s asleep.
Nicole’s been sleeping most of the day, waking about every two to three hours for food. When she’s hungry, she cries hysterically, but after a few minutes of feeding, she looks like a drunk who’s had her fill of booze.
Her feedings are our closest interaction, and I feel the bond intensify when our eyes meet. But it seems as if the activity is so exerting for her that rather than continue staring into my eyes, she closes hers and slowly dozes off.
Breastfeeding has been nice, but I’m faced with one of its greatest drawbacks – I’ve been cursed with a cracked nipple. I can’t remember ever feeling such pain. I watch a breastfeeding video I got from my obstetrician’s office, praying that it will address this trauma. Luckily it does, and, as instructed, I rub some of my breast milk on the nipple to lubricate it.
Rich and I take Nicole outside for the first time, and what a scene that is. She freaks out when I start piling that layers of clothing on – dressing a winter baby is a challenge I hadn’t anticipated – and the crying continues at an even higher decibel level when I place her in the stroller. But as soon as we’re in motion, she closes her eyes and falls into a deep sleep.
I used to think of myself as a relaxed person, but motherhood has forced me to face some major anxiety. My biggest fear as a new mother is that Nicole is not breathing. It’s easy enough to walk into her room to make sure she is, but now she’s in a stroller, and I have to maneuver a breathing check. When Rich turns his back, I reach into the stroller and put my finger on her lips. She purses them as if ready to pout; she moves, and I’m relieved. A few minutes later as we stroll around the streets of our neighborhood, enjoying the fresh air, I catch Rich sneaking his hands into the stroller to do the same thing. We laugh at ourselves. We’re such novice parents.
Later, Rich and I go out to dinner, leaving Nicole for the first time with the baby nurse. Though we trust Lynda – after all, she knows more about taking care of our baby than we do – we rush through dinner, because we miss Nicole. While Rich hastily jogs home, I limp behind him, yelling that he should slow down. I did, after all, just have a baby, I tell him. As I struggle to keep up, Nicole enters my mind, and I have a jittery sensation in my belly as I anticipate the thrill of seeing her again. It’s the same exciting feeling I had when I was falling in love with my husband.
“It feels strange but natural to be a mother, and loving Nicole is the warmest sensation I’ve ever had.”
I’m still amazed at the frequency of Nicole’s bowel movements. Seven times a day seems extreme to me, but apparently it’s normal. The color, however, is a science unto itself, changing from black in the early stages to several shades of yellow and green thereafter. I call the pediatrician in a panic, thinking the color of the day indicates diarrhea. I’m wrong. I often wonder what Rich and I talked about Nicole was born.
As a freelance writer working from home, I was in the habit of being dressed and ready to work by 10 am. Now, as a mother working from home, I’m a mess. It’s noon, and I haven’t accomplished one thing. I have fed, burped, and changed Nicole several times, though. I guess I really have done something; I’ve taken care of my newborn. But this isn’t the type of “doing” I’m used to. Can it get any more frustrating? Showering seems like a fantasy. I’d better get used to this, I tell myself.
Lynda is leaving us, and I’m a wreck. I sob as we say good-bye. I’m nervous about taking care of Nicole on our own. And rather than make it easy on her overly anxious mother, Nicole cries her head off most of the evening. I can’t figure out what’s wrong, so I conclude she has gas. Three hours and a bad headache later, we rock and rock until she succumbs to sleep.
This coming Saturday I’ll have to leave Nicole to go to my friend’s bridal shower. I’m not too anxious, because she’ll be with Rich, but it will be strange to be apart from her. It’ll also be weird to be alone with friends; it feels like a lifetime since I gossiped with a couple of girls. I don’t miss it now, but I gather I will. I hope I’m not becoming too attached.
Rich’s big day alone with his daughter didn’t go too well. She fussed whenever he put her down. Maybe she knew I wasn’t around. By the time I get home, she’s napping, so I don’t see her in that “kvetchy” state.
Today Nicole has her two-week checkup. I think I intimidate the doctor when I whip out my computer-typed sheet of 145 questions. All is well. She’s gaining weight, which means the breastfeeding is working, and she’s grown an inch and a half. She hasn’t dirtied a diaper in 36 hours, which had me worried, but the doctor says it’s normal for the patterns to change. He says we shouldn’t rock her to sleep. Lynda told us you can’t spoil a newborn. Somehow we dismiss the doctor’s opinion and continue to rock her. I’m sure we’ll pay the price later.
Back home, Nicole has the hiccups. I try to give her some water from the bottle, but it doesn’t help. Her little body shakes like an earthquake tremor when each hiccup comes up. I wish there were something I could do, because she seems to get them a few times a day. I look up “hiccups” in What to Expect the First Year, and it says that they don’t bother the baby, but if they bother you, try giving the baby water. I think I’ll blow this one off and not worry.
Nicole and I are really getting to know each other. I’m starting to learn her patterns and read her facial expressions. She’s becoming more alert and active, waving her arms and kicking her legs when she’s happy. And then there’s her basic desire to be cuddled. During the day I can’t eat lunch, make phone calls, or work, because my beautiful little girl wants to be held. I love fulfilling her needs, but what about mine? I barely have a chance to go to the bathroom, let alone plan time to exercise, blow dry my hair, or have a peaceful meal with Rich. I feel like I’ve given up everything that pertains to me. I guess I have, temporarily at least.
The various emotions I’m feeling – elation, fear, attachment, anxiety, responsibility – are all coming together in a way I’ve never known. Nicole brings me the greatest pleasure I’ve ever had, but I get incredibly nervous when anything happens for the first time. Whether it’s a small case of spit-up or a quivering chin when she cries, I get knots in my stomach and have to convince myself she doesn’t have a horrible intestinal disease or a strange nerve disorder. I’m responsible for her comfort and happiness – it’s overwhelming and nerve racking at times but mostly feels instinctual. I find it hard to remember what life was like before she was here.
I give Nicole her vitamin, which tastes sweet, for the first time. The doctor recommends it for breastfed babies, and it’s given through a dropper. My hands are shaking, but I manage to insert the dropper into Nicole’s mouth – in the cheek pocket – as told. She first looks surprised, then seriously agitated. She puckers her lips and seems to consider the new sensation. She clearly doesn’t like it, and neither do I, but I squeeze the second half into her other cheek.
My parents’ friends come over for a visit, and Nicole spits up all over my sweater and our recently steam-cleaned couch. One friend, Dorothy, assures me it’s normal, and I pretend to believe her. After they leave, I turn to What to Expect the First Year, yearning for advice on spit-up. It says that the amount of milk that comes up may look like a lot, but it really isn’t, and not to worry unless it flies across the room. I guess I feel better.
Nicole decides she wants to be most alert between the hours of two and five in the morning. This leaves Rich and me tired, irritable, and feeling bewildered about how to fix the situation. Trying to get her to sleep is a difficult task that takes a lot of patience and good rocking skills. We finally claim victory, and she sleeps peacefully in her crib. We stare at her lovingly and laugh as the corners of her mouth occasionally rise into a huge smile. My friends with kids assure me this is a result of her passing gas. I’d rather think she’s dreaming sweet things.
It’s fascinating to watch Nicole develop. She’s getting more active each day, opening her eyes wider and kicking her blankets off. Her awake time is longer and more frequent, giving us more opportunity to interact. I finally feel in control and comfortable taking care of her – changing diapers and bathing her now seem like old hat.
I am sometimes frustrated, because I have no time for myself, but when I look at or hold Nicole, the frustration fades. I’m adjusting to my new role, encountering sentiments and sensations that are both intense and wonderful. Motherhood has given me a whole new perspective on life, and I’m feeling good about my new priority. It’s not always easy and is surely not simple, but it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.
I look at a pile of newspapers I’ve been saving for the past three weeks and realize I’ll never get to them. But who cares? The news and events seem to repeat themselves, but Nicole’s changes are once in a lifetime.