Loving the Baby You Gave Birth To
I just can't get over how much babies cry. I really had no idea what I was
getting into. To tell you the truth, I thought it would be more like
getting a cat.
--Anne Lamott in
Oh My God, We Have a Baby!
No event in an adult's life equals both the joy and the terror of becoming
a parent for the first time. Fortunately, it's the joy that carries on.
But in the beginning, insecurity and fear often take over. Alan, for
example, a thirty-three-year-old graphic designer, vividly remembers the
day he picked up his wife, Susan, from the hospital. Coincidentally, it
was their fourth anniversary. Susan, a writer, age twenty-seven, had had a
fairly easy labor and birth, and their beautiful blue-eyed baby, Aaron,
nursed easily and rarely cried. By day two, Mum and Dad were eager to
leave the hubbub of the hospital to start life as a family.
"I whistled as I walked down the hall toward her room," Alan recalls.
"Everything seemed perfect. Aaron had nursed right before I got there, and
now he was sleeping in Susan's arms. It was just as I imagined it would
be. We went down in the elevator, and the nurse let me wheel Susan out
into the sunlight. When I ran for the car door, I realized I'd forgotten
to set up the infant seat. I swear it took me half an hour to get it in
right. Finally, I gently slid Aaron in. He was such an angel. I helped
Susan into the car, thanked the nurse for her patience, and then climbed
into the driver's seat.
"Suddenly, Aaron started making little noises from the backseat--not really
crying, but sounds I didn't recall hearing in the hospital or maybe hadn't
noticed. Susan looked at me, and I looked at her. 'Oh, Jesus!' I
exclaimed. 'What do we do now?' "
Every parent I know has a what-now moment like Alan's. For some it comes
in the hospital; for others it arrives on the trip home, or even on the
second or third day. There's so much going on--the physical recovery, the
emotional impact, the reality of caring for a helpless infant. Few are
prepared for the shock. Some new mothers admit, "I read all the books, but
nothing prepared me." Others recall, "There was so much to think about. I
cried a lot."
The first three to five days are often the most difficult because
everything is new and daunting. Typically, I'm bombarded by queries from
anxious parents: "How long should a feeding take?" "Why does she pull her
legs up like that?" "Is this the right way to change him?" "Why is her
poop that color?" And, of course, the most persistent question of all
time: "Why is he crying?" Parents, particularly mums, often feel guilty
because they think they're supposed to know everything. The mother of a
one-month-old said to me, "I was so afraid I'd do something wrong, but at
the same time, I didn't want anyone to help me or tell me what to do."
The first thing I tell parents--and keep telling them--is to slooooooow
down. It takes time to get to know your baby. It takes patience and a calm
environment. It takes strength and stamina. It takes respect and kindness.
It takes responsibility and discipline. It takes attention and keen
observation. It takes time and practice--a lot of doing it wrong before you
get it right. And it takes listening to your own intuition.
Notice how often I repeat "it takes." In the beginning, there's a lot of
"take" and very little "give" on your baby's part. The rewards and joys of
parenting will be endless, I promise. But they won't happen in a day,
darlings; rather, you'll see them over months and years. What's more,
everyone's experience is different. As a mother in one of my groups,
looking back on her first few days home, observed, "I didn't know if I was
doing things right--and, besides, everyone defines 'right' differently."
Also, every baby is different, which is why I tell my mums that their
first job is to understand the baby they have, not the one they dreamed
about during the past nine months. In this chapter, I'll help you figure
out what you can expect from your baby. But first, a quick primer on your
first few days at home.
Because I see myself as an advocate for the whole family, not just the new
baby, part of my job is to help parents gain perspective. I tell mums and
dads right from the start: This won't last forever. You will calm down.
You will become more confident. You will be the best parent you can be.
And at some point, believe it or not, your baby will sleep through the
night. For now, though, you must lower your expectations. You'll have good
days and not-so-good days; be prepared for both. Don't strive for
One of the reasons my babies do well is that everything is ready for them
a month before the due date. The more prepared you are and the quieter it
is in the beginning, the more time you'll have to observe your baby and to
get to know him as the individual he is.
*Put sheets on the crib or bassinet.
*Set up the changing table. Have everything you need--wipes, diapers,
cotton swabs, alcohol--in easy reach.
*Have baby's first wardrobe ready. Take everything out of the packages,
remove any tags, and wash in a mild detergent that has no bleach.
*Stock your refrigerator and freezer. A week or two before you're due,
make a lasagna, a shepherd's pie, soups, and other dishes that freeze
well. Make sure you have all the staples on hand--milk, butter, eggs,
cereal, pet food. You'll eat better and cheaper and avoid frantic trips to
*Don't take too much to the hospital. Remember, you'll have several extra
bags--and the baby--to bring home.
TIP: The more organized you are before you come home, the happier everyone
will be afterward. And if you loosen the tops of bottles and tubes, open
boxes, and take all new items out of their packages, you won't have to
fiddle with such things with your new baby in hand! (See "Homecoming
Checklist" at left.)
I usually need to remind mothers, "It's your first day home--the first
you're away from the security of the hospital, where you get help,
answers, and relief at the push of a button. Now you're on your own."
Of course, a mother is often happy to leave the hospital. The nurses may
have been brusque or given her conflicting advice. And the frequent
interruptions from hospital personnel and visitors probably made it
impossible for her to rest. In any case, by the time most mums come
home, they are usually either scared, confused, exhausted, or in
pain--or maybe all of the above.
Therefore I advise a slow reentry. When you walk through the door, take a
deep, centering breath. Keep it simple. (You'll be hearing that a lot from
me.) Think of this as the beginning of a new adventure, and you and your
partner as explorers. And by all means, be realistic: The postpartum
period is difficult--a rocky terrain. All but a rare few stumble along the
way. (More about Mum recuperating during the postpartum period in Chapter
Believe me, I know that the moment you get home, you'll probably feel
overwhelmed. But if you follow my simple homecoming ritual, you're less
likely to feel frantic. (Remember, though, this is just a quick
orientation. Later on, as indicated, I go into greater detail.)
Start the dialogue by giving your baby a tour of the house. That's right,
luv, a tour, as if you're the curator of a museum and she's a
distinguished visitor. Remember what I told you about respect: You need to
treat your little darling like a human being, as someone who can
understand and feel. Granted, she speaks a language you may not yet
understand, but it's nevertheless important to call her by name and to
make every interaction a dialogue, not a lecture.
So walk around with her in your arms and show her where she's going to
live. Talk with her. In a soft, gentle voice, explain each room: "Here's
the kitchen. It's where Dad and I cook. This is the bathroom, where we
take showers." And so on. You might feel silly. Many new parents are shy
when they first start to have a dialogue with their baby. That's okay.
Practice, and you'll be amazed at how easy it becomes. Just try to
remember that this is a little human being in your arms, a person whose
senses are alive, a tiny being who already knows your voice and even what
you smell like.
While you're walking around, have Dad or Grandma make chamomile tea or
another calming beverage. Tea, naturally, is my favorite. Where I come
from, the moment a mum gets home, Nelly from next door nips over and puts
on a kettle. It's a very English, very civilized tradition, which I've
introduced to all my families here. After a nice cuppa, as we call it,
you'll want to really explore this glorious creature you've given birth to.
Convince all but a few very close relatives and friends to stay away for
the first few days. If parents are in from out of town, the greatest thing
they can do for you is cook, clean, and run errands. Let them know in a
kind way that you'll ask for their help with the baby if you need it, but
that you'd like to use this time to get to know your little one on your
Give your baby a sponge bath and a feed. (Information and advice about
feeding is in Chapter 4, sponge bathing on pages 156-157.) Keep in mind
that you're not the only one in shock. Your baby has had quite a journey
himself. Imagine, if you will, a tiny human being coming into the bright
light of a delivery room. Suddenly, with great speed and force, that
little body is rubbed, poked, and pricked by strangers whose voices are
unfamiliar. After a few days in a nursery, surrounded by other tiny
beings, he then has to travel from the hospital to home. If you adopted
him, the trip was probably even longer.
TIP: Hospital nurseries are kept quite warm, almost womblike, so make sure
the temperature in the baby's new "woom" is around 72 degrees.
This is a perfect opportunity for you to pore over your miracle of nature.
It may be the first time you see your baby naked. Get acquainted with his
bits and pieces. Explore each tiny finger and toe. Keep talking with him.
Bond with him. Nurse him or give him a bottle. Watch him as he gets
sleepy. Start him off right, and allow him to fall asleep in his own crib
or bassinet. (I have lots of sleeping tips in Chapter 6.)
"But her eyes are open," protested Gail, a hairdresser whose two-day-old
daughter seemed to be staring contentedly at a photo of a baby propped up
on the crib bumpers. I had suggested that Gail leave the room and get some
rest herself, but Gail said, "She's not asleep yet." I've heard the same
protest from many new mums. But I'm going to tell you straightaway that
your baby doesn't have to be asleep for you to put her down and walk away
from the crib. "Look," I said to her, "Lily's hanging out with her
boyfriend. Now you go lie down."
Take Small Bites
You've got a lot on your plate; don't heap on any additional pressures.
Rather than being angry at yourself because you haven't gotten the
announcements addressed or sent thank-you notes, give yourself a
manageable daily goal--say, five instead of forty a day. Prioritize your
tasks by creating piles marked "urgent," "do later," and "can wait till I
feel better." If you're calm and honest when you assess each chore, you'll
be surprised at how much goes in that last pile.
Take a nap. Don't unpack the bags, don't make phone calls, and don't look
around the house and think of all the things you've got to get done.
You're exhausted. When the baby sleeps, luv, take advantage of it. In
fact, you've got one of the great miracles of nature on your side. Babies
take a few days to recuperate from the shock of birth. It's not unusual
for a one- or two-day-old newborn to sleep for six hours at a stretch,
which gives you a little time to recuperate from your own trauma. Beware,
though: If your baby seems good as gold, this may be the calm before the
storm! He may have absorbed drugs from your system or at the very least is
probably tired from squeezing his way through the birth canal, even if you
had natural childbirth. He's not quite himself yet, but, as you will read
in the pages that follow, his real temperament will soon emerge.