Thursday, August 4, 2016

Chronicles of a Rookie Mom: First 30 Days with a Newborn

Hospital, Doctor, Lab and Medical Services Bills - >$10,000

Getting wheeled to the car with baby in arms to take home  - Priceless

30 Days of Motherhood - and Counting

There's a popular anecdote that while motherhood is not a death sentence, it is most certainly a Life Sentence. Not exactly a comforting juxtaposition, but it's a good barometer on what to anticipate as an expecting nervous parent - which I was. My friends used to tell me that seeing me as a mother would be very entertaining because of the emotional deficiency I tend to exhibit, especially towards children. So despite my foregoing doubt, I am happy to report that I am genuinely excited about launching this life sentence and so far have been enjoying (almost every) moment of it. Even within the 30-day postpartum window, I have gone from platonic but compassionate mother to your run-of-the-mill obsessed with her baby mommy. Ok, maybe not 'obsessed' - but very taken by her baby. 

Realizing how in touch I have become with my new-found maternal affection is such a relief because I have never been a baby person. I had no natural inclination or interest in babies and used to walk into a room with babies and totally ignore them. So I am pretty intrigued with myself as I tap into this maternal reservoir. Where as before I hardly found babies cute, now I regularly stare at my baby mesmerized by his cuteness. I can't believe how cute he is. Sure, all moms find their babies cute. But gosh, my baby really is so cute! How did I make something that cute? Granted he looks nothing like me (so far) but still. I was sure I was going to be susceptible to the 'baby blues' or postpartum depression. Why did I think I was susceptible? Because A) I wasn't planning this pregnancy to begin with B) I never felt a maternal instinct nor did I ever instinctively desire motherhood C) I would be giving up a lifestyle I loved that included a lot of travel and freedom D) I've spoken to several people who had similar personalities and lifestyles as me who had battled postpartum depression. 

So far, there is absolutely no trace of a depression footprint. Quite the contrary, actually. I've never laughed or smiled so much with my husband until our baby came to our lives. Who would have known that something like burping and farting would bring so much laughter. We would stare at our baby in awe when he would sigh after a sneeze or stretch his arms as he sleeps. Or we would giggle when he would make the 'old man face' when he gets cranky or interrupts his cries to cough. Babies, at least newborns, really do bring a lot of joy to spouses. There is definitely an enhancement to our relationship as a couple. 

I don't understand how mothers (and fathers) claim to already truly experience unprecedented love towards their babies right at birth and before actually interacting with them. Maybe in theory they love their babies because, it's their baby. I do think perhaps that "love" is more excitement than actual love. (I'm not going to get into the whole 'what is love' discussion) But to me, love, engorged with the sort of affection and tenderness one associates with maternal emotions, comes after the fact. For us, the act of caring for our infant were the early foundations of that unconditional love that fermented gradually day by day. Each act of holding him to sleep, of feeding him, of changing him, of worrying why he won't stop crying, of laughing at his burps and farts (which we call bubbles), of trying to get him to smile drew us closer to him. By the third week and especially fourth week, the attachment process was in full gear.

I was able to return to a relatively back-to-normal routine by the end of the month. I lost almost all my pre-pregnancy weight and fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans (however snug-fit) and was able to put my wedding ring back on. I cook dinner almost everyday and caught up with the world around me. I also started to drive again, though I preferred to stay at home. While it is not in my nature to stay put, I wanted to savor these early weeks with my baby uninterrupted. I re-introduced myself to other hobbies I did sparingly in the past like reading fiction, organizing photos, cleaning everyday and re-decorating the house. Basically, activities I could do because I am home all the time. I am conscience about not 'losing myself' just because of my new role as a mother. But becoming a mother is a huge change. Am I myself? Right now, the answer is Not-at-all.

The pre-mom Lena would never find staying home for days at a time tolerable let alone enjoyable. The pre-mom Lena would be horrified at the typical day of a post-mom life of waking up mid-morning following a stressful night of choppy sleep and rush doing simple me-time things like shower, eat breakfast, or watch the news because once the baby wakes up, it'll be a start of a repetitive hectic routine that consists of 1) feeding 2) burping and comforting 3) diaper changing 4) comforting 5) trying to put him to sleep (try one of several remedies when he doesn't sleep) 6) decoding his crying by repeating (1), (2), (3) and (4). This cycle will be renewed at least seven to nine times during the day and three to four times at night. The in-between 'break' can vary anywhere from 20 minutes (on the bad days) to 3-4 hours (on the best days). And I will never know what kind of day it will be. This spontaneity was a lot more exciting in the beginning. But no matter how repetitive or mundane, and it does become mundane, a happy baby brings you happiness so its worth it. (Although I have to admit, watching my friends via social media traveling freely while I'm bound to my apartment does sting a little) 

I want to point out something I have been thinking about, though. There's this mythical idea of women feeling true fulfillment only after embracing motherhood. I can see, now that I'm a mother, how one could come to that conclusion. It's easy to feel that your primary purpose in life after delivering a child is to taking care of him/her. That everything else is secondary. I can now understand that line of thinking even though I am extremely wary of it. Of course, if I choose to bring a baby into this world, the most important job for me as his mother is to raise him. But it is because of that, I am even more certain that a woman would only benefit by establishing herself in other fulfilling roles before motherhood so that she does not end up 'giving up' any other enterprise since becoming a parent can feel so integral to her identity and purpose. I strongly believe that a mother who wears several hats would only enhance her own sense of fulfillment, which would in turn benefit her spouse and children. 

The 30-Day New Mom Calendar 

New mom brains are fickle and subject to memory loss so I decided to take daily notes everyday since delivery on what I experienced for the next 30 days, which I categorized: 
1) After Delivery 2) Hospital Stay 3) First Two Weeks 4) Third and Fourth Weeks

After Delivery

I was in a state of enigma and utter exhaustion when the doctor handed me the baby. A lot was going in the room as my doctor attended to my wounds, the nurses cleaned me up and my husband went to get my family - but the cacophony gently muted out as I stared at my baby in bewilderment. I cannot decrypt what my thoughts were at that exact moment, since my mental agility was compromised - but I remember nodding to myself, "Oh my God, My Baby. I did it. My Baby."

I didn't cry or get emotional. I was just too damn tired. I have always heard stories of mothers (and fathers) balling their eyes out. Not us. We were tired, happy and most of all excited.  I was just very practical about my new transition as the primary caretaker of this helpless baby. I shifted my focus on learning how to take care of him and that in of itself was very exciting for me. More than a sense of completion, more than a vague "I never knew love until I gave birth"- a state of heightened adrenalin sunk in. I was stoked to navigate parenthood and ready to be a mom!

Hospital (Days 1-3)

I can't tell whether I just swiftly adapt to change or it just hadn't hit me yet - all I knew was that following the 14-hour labor, which I discuss here, I was feeling pretty good on an emotional and mental level. I attribute much of that confidence to the fantastic hospital staff who were happy to answer the 'round the clock questions we had. The nurses, even the stringent lactation consultant, equipped us with a wealth of information and knowledge that helped us feel like we were ready to tackle this parenting business. You have to have a good attitude and be in a healthy mental state because the physical debilitation could demoralize you.

Nothing could have prepared me for the state of frailty and incapacity that followed my strenuous labor. My friends were right, I felt like I was "hit by a train" immediately following the delivery (and I had an uncomplicated childbirth). Every muscle in my body was exhausted and simple things like laying down, sitting down, walking and going to the restroom (which required assistance) were uncomfortably painful. The first two days of 'recovery' were the worst, which is probably why they like to keep you at the hospital. It was nice to get a nurse to come to you at a touch of a button, though. Of course the baby distracts you, but being at varying levels of discomfort in almost every position severely limits you in tending to your baby.

Home (Days 4-15)

For the first week and a half, I struggled to get in and out of bed and needed assistance going to the restroom. I had to take pain medications at least every four hours to knock out the staggering pain in my body. I was sore e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e. No part on my body was spared. I don't know what I would have done without my husband, who had taken two weeks to take care of me so attentively. I know there are many women who managed on their own (like my mom) but even as independent and self-sufficient as I am, I don't know how I would have done it alone. Like the nurse said, dad's job was to take care of mom and mom's job was to take care of the baby. And the most important way mom takes care of baby is by feeding him.

At the hospital, you're pressured into the whole breastfeeding regimen. Of course, breast IS best. But for many FTM (first-time-moms), adjusting to nursing takes a lot of time and patience. Many moms feel insecure and guilty when nursing doesn't work out within the first few days (like they tell you) and give in by supplementing with formula (an act highly vilified by lactation nurses). I was determined to keep at it no matter how frustrating (sometimes you don't lactate or baby does not latch on). Since you can't track the amount of feeding with nursing, diaper changes (at least 4-6) would be the best indicator that the baby is getting sufficient milk. What really helped me was an app called Baby Tracker where you can meticulously log baby's feedings and diaper changes.

The nurses had told me that I should feed the baby every two-three hours so I would put an alarm on my phone to wake up every three hours to feed the baby. I thought such an unnatural sleep routine would ruin me, but quite the opposite, I usually woke up refreshed in the morning. Part of it is the excitement of a new baby in the house but mostly because while my sleeping schedule was routinely dissected, each of those sleep fragments were quality deep-sleep. I slept much better the first two weeks postpartum than much of my third-trimester pregnancy.

One thing I needed to decide these first two weeks was whether I wanted to invest in newborn photography since the recommended time was within the first twelve days. On a whim, I decided that you'll never regret pictures and booked with the local JCPenny Studio. Our baby was exactly twelve days old when we took him - and what a traumatic experience. The baby cried the entire session and we could hardly get any usable photos of him. The photographer really didn't seem like she knew what she was doing and we just weren't happy with our session. Next time, I would hire a photographer. Of course, I was religiously taking daily pictures on my phone and sharing them on Social Media (namely Snapchat) anyway.

Home (Days 15-30)

By the third week, I was almost feeling like myself again and my body was less dependent on the pain medication - though at a slower pace than I would have liked. This is partly because in conjunction with medication, I was supposed to be resting. However, I am (by nature) too restless. I get bored easily and need constant stimulation, which means staying in bed or sitting for long periods of time were doctor's orders' I ignored. Of course, just because I refused to lay around for a fixed duration didn't mean I did anything productive. I didn't cook or do any domestic housework. (Thanks to my husband and for eight days, my mother in law, I didn't have to.) I had 'round the clock food service both home-cooked (family and friends coming over to cook for me or bring homemade goodies) or my husband and dad would pick up food. I felt very special. People were serving me and giving me anything I wanted. So yes, I took advantage. They wanted me to relax, so I relaxed. I booked massages and pedicures. I got a Nespresso machine and enjoyed a latte every morning at the comfort of my home. Who was going to argue with me? I just gave birth!

I did have one major job to do, of course. I am, after all, the sole food source for the baby and by the second week was finally getting the hang of nursing. Nursing seems easy and it probably is for seasoned mothers. But at this stage, it is a time-consuming hassle. It often took a good 10-15 minutes to get from point A (a crying hungry baby) to point B (actual successful feeding) and anywhere between 10-45 minutes for the actual feeding session. Multiply this three-step activity eight to ten times a day and that takes up a lot of your time and recovering-grade energy. This also meant the diaper changes were about six to eight times a day too. There's another big chunk of your day. This isn't so bad during the day, but it's excruciating at 1am and then again 3am and yet again at 5am. Feeding can also be a messy business, requiring lots of changing your clothes and babies clothes, towels, burp cloths, wash cloths, sheets, blankets, mittens, socks - yes a newborn will keep your washing machine humming.

Speaking of noises, my husband and I actually thought we 'lucked out' with a good quiet baby the first two weeks. But by the time the third week kicked off, our luck fizzled and the baby was doing a lot more crying (especially at night). It didn't take long before I had run out of ideas with how to placate him. So now our mission was to get to know our newborn by decoding his cries.

Why are you crying now? 

Are you Hungry? 

Are you hot or cold? 

Do you need to be burped? 

Are you tired?

And our favorite: You just want to be held and not let us sleep? 

This last one seemed to be the #1 reason for the crying, especially at night. The sleep deprivation everyone warned us about was finally coming to fruition. And the illusion that somehow we lucked out was completely shattered. Of all the baby-related attending I did, trying to placate my baby took up the most time and energy. It was also the most stressful. The challenge is that there is no one remedy that works 100% of the time. For example, swaddling + swing + white noise combo will work 75% of the time. Holding him + sitting  + patting him gently on the glider will work 80% of the time. Feeding him + Changing him + Pacifier will work 85% of the time. So it could take hours to finally get the baby to sleep after exhausting all these combinations of remedies only for him to sleep two or three hours. As mentioned earlier, I was able to enjoy quality sleep the first two weeks. The third week was on and off, receding to the very terrible deprivation that peeked during the fourth week, I was getting isolated naps throughout the night. The longest stretch was three hours. The biggest challenge isn't so much getting the baby to fall asleep, it's keeping him asleep. He'll easily fall asleep in my arms (or his father's arms), but within minutes after putting him down on his mattress - those big brown eyes are wide open.

One remedy I had known about but put-off is formula feeding. Several seasoned mothers told me that the key to ensuring a longer sleeping infant is to offer a bottle of formula just for the night and that would get them to sleep through up to six hours. This is because babies take longer to digest formula. While the recommended wait-time for bottle feeding is at least one month, I kind of cheated and jumpstarted a few days earlier. There are many benefits to introducing bottles to the feeding regimen including dad's participation in the feeding experience and going out more since I don't have to worry about nursing in public. While this trick worked, it is the last resort. We only did it twice the first month when the baby's volatile cries could not be tamed at night no matter what we tried.

To Sum it Up...I am a Rookie Mom and admittedly have been on the job for only a month, so everything I say or feel is subject to change. Motherhood has been pretty kind to me so far. Aside from the physical pain of childbirth and recovery, it's been a pretty fun ride. I guess it's important for me to point this out because of my initial reservations. Again, it's only been 30 days. I imagine the tough days of parenting are waiting to rain on this parade. 

Top Registry Items I used: 

I am 100% satisfied with every registry purchase we received. This is where my husband and I patted ourselves on the back. Of course, 30 days might be a bit premature in drawing that conclusion. But so far, we did very good. Here are the top five items we found most useful in the baby's first month.

(1) Fisher-Price Delux Newborn Auto Rock 'n Play Sleeper in Safari Dreams: This was where the baby lived the first two weeks of his life. For $80, I think this product is a great value because it's also portable and very convenient to move between the bedroom and living room (or wherever). When you go out especially to someone's home, this rocker is golden because you're not stuck with keeping him in the infant car seat (not that comfortable) or having him passed around (also, not comfortable). When an infant is out, he gets tired and needs rest and this portable Sleeper will help a lot.

By the fourth week, we switched to (2) Fisher Price My Little Lamp Cradle 'n Swing. It's still too early to make a fair assessment of the Cradle 'n Swing since we only just started using it, but it's much more stimulating than the Rock 'n Play sleeper. It has several swinging and music options so the baby will stay distracted longer. The swing is also larger, which means it will last us a few more months (up to 30lbs). Right now, the swing gives us an hour or two of relief. That is usually in synchronicity with the baby's mood and a pacifier fastened to his mouth.
(3) Graco Pack 'n Play with Reversible Napper and Changer: Instead of a bassinet, we placed the Pack 'n Play with a reversible napper and changer in our bedroom initially because of its multi-purpose functionality and compact convenience. Unfortunately, the napper part didn't work for us but it was worth keeping for the diaper changer alone. Since the baby poops as much as it eats, the added convenience of a diaper changer in the same room the baby was sleeping (in our room) made sense.  Since the napper deemed useless, we re-appropriated the toddler mattress to an infant-friendly version by adding a firm foam and layers of soft blankets. Once the baby transitions to a toddler, we will still be able to use it for its designated function as a Pack 'n Play. This is truly the most efficient and economical product!

(4) Windsor Glider with Ottoman: I was totally on the fence about the glider mostly because of the price and space it will take up. After doing a LOT of research on gliders from different retailers (namely: Buy Buy Baby, Babies ' R Us, Target and Amazon) and I realized my main criteria for a glider is that it actually glides (which knocks out many of the upholstered versions which focus more on appearance than functionality), that it is light weight (so I can move it around the house if I wanted), and not going to cost me too much in case we don't use it beyond the first few months (which is probable). I found the PERFECT glider that met all my criteria, the Windsor Glider, on Amazon. Despite its very low price, probably the lowest in the market, this glider is very smooth, very comfortable and quiet attractive. It is also light weight (40 lbs) so if I decided to take it to my bedroom or temporarily in the living room as I watch T.V, I could do it without needing any assistance. The best part? I paid less than $150 for it! What a steal! What's so special about a glider? It's a comforting remedy for both baby and mom when the baby is crying or fussing. If nothing else works, usually, sitting on the glider and rocking back and forth for a few minutes almost always guarantees a sleeping baby.

(5) Chicco KeyFit 30 Zip Infant Car Seat with the Chicco KeyFit Caddy Lightweight Aluminum Infant Car Seat Carrier Stroller: I know that's a lot of words for a car seat and stroller. Weighing around nine lbs (the lightest stroller is close to 13), this was as least burdensome as it it was going to get. It also looks very cute and taking it out of the trunk is ridiculously easy. The KeyFit family in general is the most user-friendly car seat in the market. If you want easy, economical, attractive and light - this is it. *Pat on Back*

1 comment:

  1. This is such a heart touching post. I can tell from the letter that you are an amazing father. Thanks for sharing the letter with us. It was amazing to read it.