We’re now over 3 weeks post-birth, and it’s been a simultaneously intense and relaxing time. All I’ve really done since Christmas is eat, sleep, nurse, and cuddle my baby. Here are six things that have been on my mind as I have stared at that cute new little face in my family…
Thing #1: I have five kids.
I have five kids. I have five kids! You know what the weirdest thing is though… when I look at all of them together it really doesn’t seem like very many people. In fact, I keep looking around for the other one. Uh oh. When I told my husband that, he sort of glared at me and said emphatically, “They’re ALL HERE.” He knows that I usually only say that when I feel like there’s a child’s spirit hanging out with our family (and hoping to join us). One of the first things my 4-year-old said when she walked into the room to meet her baby sister? “Now that Hope is out, is Elijah in Mommy’s tummy now?” Not exactly what I want to hear when I just got stitches in my nether regions. Sigh.
Thing #2: Ouch
My (formerly) youngest daughter is almost five years old. It has been almost five years since I have had a new baby. You forget a lot of stuff in five years, I guess. Like… oh yeah… after the baby comes out, I’m not done yet.
When Hope came out, I was so insanely relieved that it was “over,” and I couldn’t wait to get to the bed and relax. Just as soon as I got there, however, another wave of intense pain rolled through my uterus, and I remembered, with great dismay… oh crap. Placenta. And I made this face…
That placenta just about drove me crazy. I’ve never had such a stubborn one before. Every time my uterus contracted, all I could think was GET OUT OF ME! Finally Mary had me try the birthing stool, and it did the trick. Hallelujah.
But that’s the thing about giving birth. Just when you think you’re “done,” oh you’re only just getting started. ‘Cause then you have the after-pains that can feel as bad as labor. And then you have the toe-curling nipple pain every time baby latches on for the first few days. And your bottom is anywhere from mildly sore to excruciatingly sore, and it hurts to sit and walk and poop and laugh. And then your milk comes in, and you have giant canteloupe-sized boulders throbbing on your chest. Then, after the aching engorgement subsides, and your nipples get used to working over-time, and you can finally sneeze without wincing, the postpartum hemorrhoids rear their nasty heads. Guys, I kid you not… after my first baby was born I totally passed out and fell off the toilet from the pain. And I nearly passed out yesterday for the same reason.
Motherhood is exhausting and hard and sometimes physically painful. But I’m not complaining. I’ve done all of this willingly five times now. It was excruciatingly hard for me the first time, but I have done it again and again and again and again because the exhaustion and pain are small prices to pay for the immeasurable joy and beauty and privilege of carrying and caring for these precious souls. Everything is temporary. So I savor these fleeting newborn moments, no matter how much pain I’m in.
Thing #3: Fussiness
Even fifth-time moms Google things like “fussy newborn” at midnight. Little Miss Hope has had several periods of fussiness in the evening and wee hours of the morning nearly every day of her short life so far. At these times, she usually protests if I try to nurse her. She won’t take a pacifier. And she absolutely freaks out if she’s not in someone’s arms. So I rotate between a variety of comfort measures.
- Bouncing (standing or on the yoga ball)
- Burping/patting her back
- Offering my pinkie finger to suck
- Talking to her
- Turning on white noise (fan, vacuum sound)
- Changing her diaper
- Taking her outside
- Listening to music. The mantra/song I chanted often at the end of my pregnancy works like magic. Pretty sure Baby Hope recognizes it.
- Wearing her in a wrap/sling
- Diffusing calming essential oils
- Massaging her with magnesium cream
- Offering the breast again (and again and again)
One friend told me that she had three colicky babies and then she gave her fourth baby probiotics when she started being fussy, and she became her easiest baby. I ordered the probiotic powder to try, so I’m hoping it will help Baby Hope. Another friend recommended the book Tears and Tantrums, by Aletha J. Solter, PhD. She said it gave her a whole new perspective on crying and the importance of acknowledging and allowing our children to express their emotions. Even in infancy, we can say things like, “I am here… It is okay to cry.” This really jives with my personal views about empathy and attachment, so I’m looking forward to reading it. Maybe I’ll post a book review when I finish it.
Thing #4: Mental Health
One of my primary fears, especially at the end of my pregnancy, was that my mental health would take a dive after the baby was born. I was afraid that the hormonal shifts, sleep-deprivation, and the stress of caring for a new baby would send me spiraling into darkness. Fortunately, none of my worst fears have materialized. Yay! Sure, I found myself feeling weepy and depressed a couple of days ago when the sleep-debt and baby-fussiness were taking their toll, but overall I’ve been doing remarkably well. Most of the time I feel great, but the emotional ups and downs have been totally manageable. I attribute this to a variety of things…
- My husband takes such good care of me. I love that man.
- My friends have been bringing in meals every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday since baby arrived.
- I let myself sleep-in (often until 11:00 or Noon) and take naps whenever I can.
- I’m keeping-up with my medication and supplement regimen (New Chapter Perfect Prenatals, Omega-3 Mood, and some magical postpartum capsules my friend Brittney prepared for me).
- We get some sunshine every morning. I try to make sure that baby and I get out in the morning sunshine (or early afternoon if we sleep-in super late) partly for vitamin D and partly to regulate our hormones and sleep cycles.
- As I did during my pregnancy, I have continued applying topical magnesium every day.
- I hold, wear, feed, sleep-with, and smell my baby as much as possible. Oxytocin and skin-contact with baby reduce maternal stress levels. And newborn-baby smell causes the release of dopamine and feel-good endorphins in new mothers.
- My mom, stepmom, and friends have come for a short time to help around the house and offer extra support.
- Friends and family have prayed for me and called and texted often to check on me.
Sometimes I get a little bit teary-eyed feeling grateful that I’m doing so well and grateful for all the friends and family who make up my support network.
Thing #5: Back to School
A few people in my life have had doubts that homeschooling in my fifth pregnancy/postpartum would be a good idea for my mental health. But I am now more grateful than ever that we decided to pull the kids out of school in September. There’s no doubt in my mind that if I had spent the end of my pregnancy getting my kids up for school every day, dealing with the excessive homework, driving to and from the bus/school, and stewing in my anger and frustrations about that school’s ridiculous policies every day, I would have gone insane. Spending so much time together as a family for the past few months has been so wonderful, and it was the perfect way to nurture our relationships and prepare ourselves to add a fifth baby to the mix.
Also, I can’t even imagine how stressed out I would be right now if I had to do all of that waking up early, driving, and school stress with a newborn baby. My fourth baby screamed the entire commute to and from the school every morning as a newborn. So stressful! Because we’re homeschooling, we are able to avoid screaming car babies and adapt our schedule to allow for extra sleep. Because we’re homeschooling, my kids got to spend their first weeks back in “school” after the holiday break building a “drawbot” and going orienteering with their dad (who was almost the Washington state champion orienteer in high school), playing Spanish games with my mom (who speaks Spanish like a native), and going to fun museums with their Nana (who used to teach elementary school). I’ve also been able to bring my baby to the “classroom” to help the kids make magnetic slime and handmade paper, something many public school teachers wouldn’t allow parent volunteers to do. My kids have never been happier, and no doubt that benefits my own mental health as well.
Thing #6: The Birds of Hope are Everywhere
Several months ago I created an up-cycled piece of art (I heart Goodwill!) to hang in my bedroom. On it I wrote a quote I love about hope.
Until I decided… er… realized that my baby’s name would be Hope, I wasn’t aware of just how omnipresent hope is. It seems that everywhere I turn now, hope is staring back at me. And when my friends and family find hope somewhere, they can’t resist but send it to me. A sampling of the hope I’ve been gifted with in the past few months…
Just yesterday we were walking through Costco on our way to the Kerrygold butter and my husband and I both did a double-take and then smiled at each other when we walked past this hummus. —->
2014 was the absolute worst year of my life. It took every ounce of my strength to stay alive that year. The people who loved me told me over and over again, “You’ll get through this,” and “It will get better,” and “Better days are coming,” and “It won’t always be like this.” I didn’t know if I could really believe them. I wondered if their words were just lies that would drag my misery on longer and longer. But somewhere buried in a tiny crevice of my heart there was a speck of hope. So I hung on to it.
And then 2015 came. And now that it has receded to make way for 2016, I can look back on the past year with greater clarity. 2015 was probably one of the best years of my life. Yes, I do think I can declare it with confidence… best. year. ever. 2015 brought me to profound gratitude for my amazing friends, to a deeper love from/for my husband and other family members, to a hard-won appreciation for the Great I Am, to therapeutic imagery training and a new podcast, to yoga teacher training, to the start of a new book, to a beautiful Zion-like oasis of a home, to my first real public-speaking engagement, to organizing and teaching my first yoga workshops, to the unexpected joy of homeschooling, and to the beautiful arrival of the baby girl we call Hope.
Guys, I went from the absolute worst year of my life into the best year of my life.
Never give up! No matter how bad it gets! Because your life could soon transform into something more wonderful and beautiful than you could even imagine. I never would have witnessed the joys and miracles of 2015 if I had given up in the despair of 2014. Just keep swimming. Hold onto hope.
What you focus on is magnified and multiplied, so I love that this sweet little soul called Hope has made us all so much more aware of the hope all around us.
The birds of hope really are everywhere. Listen to them sing!