Four Promises I’ve Made To Myself And My Second Baby

Rebecca standing in front of a fence, looking out on a beautiful landscapeRebecca H. McCormick, Fairfax City, Virginia 

On the eve of my second child’s birth, I have been considering what I will do. What decisions did I make during the newborn period with my first child that I’d like to repeat? What do I want to do differently this time? As a result, I’ve made four promises to myself.

I will trust myself and trust my baby. 

On paper, I seemed prepared for my first child. I had read plenty of books. I had decided to breastfeed and had taken a class on breastfeeding basics. I had watched the video about how to “easily” shush your baby to sleep.

But as anyone who has had a baby will tell you, the reality of having a newborn was totally different. All I had read and watched ended up being more of a burden than a help. I had competing voices inside my head. Not only did many of the books disagree with one another, but they also competed with the little voice in my head that was trying to speak the loudest: my own parenting instincts.

It took time for me to shut out the other voices and let my own parenting instincts shine through. This time, I’ll be looking to my baby for answers, not the clock or some book. I will trust my baby when they tell me that they are hungry. I won’t question myself when baby nurses for the 4,000th time that day. Or, if I do, I will recognize that questioning is also a normal part of having a newborn.

I will not fall into the forever trap. 

If I let him fall asleep while breastfeeding, will he ever fall asleep on his own? 

Will I ever have time to myself again? 

What if I can never shower without hearing a crying baby again? 

So many of these thoughts and more swirled in my head during the newborn and infant period. In my darkest hours, I was convinced that I would never sleep again, that I would never again have a calm moment where I could read a book or enjoy a hot cup of tea. My mindset resisted so many of the aspects of parenting a newborn.

This time, I will surrender myself to this short period of newborn helplessness. Anyone still in this period will laugh at the idea of it as a “short period,” but it really is. Now, looking back as the mother of a kindergartner, I recognize that I had fallen into the “forever trap,” thinking that my life would never be the same (which is true) and that it would be this intense forever (which is not true). This time, I will resist falling into the forever trap and remind myself that this time of extreme needs is short and will pass.

I will let people help. 

I have a clear memory of the first evening that my husband, Stephen, returned to work post-baby. I remember having a pretty tough day, I was about two weeks postpartum. My nipples were no longer sore, but I spent the majority of the day trying to figure out how to detach my sleeping baby so that I could eat and pee at semi-regular intervals.

I remember looking at the clock and seeing that Stephen would be home within the hour. I suddenly had a feeling of panic. I looked like a mess. Stephen would come home and be worried about me, I thought. I rushed upstairs and swapped out my pajamas for a bra and wrap dress that I could manage to nurse in. I brushed my hair. As Stephen came through the door at 5:45, I was a perfect domestic tableau singing “Frère Jacques” softly to my baby as he sat contentedly in a bouncer.

I remember my husband complimenting me and glowing for a moment while simultaneously feeling like a sham. I was more focused on seeming like I had my stuff together than anything else. I didn’t want him to worry about me. I wanted to appear like I had it all under control.

I don’t want to pretend that I’m okay this time. I want help. I will need help. And as a result, I’ve begun to put those structures in place. I have said, “No, it’s not okay to take a work trip right after baby is born.” I have made up the list of chores that visitors can accomplish when they come to visit with baby and me. I have cut down on my holiday obligations in case this baby makes an unexpected early arrival.

I will advocate for my baby and myself.

I took on too much, too early with my first child. Three days postpartum from a hard birth, I was convinced to go to a big box store to look at baby items. I had no interest in more baby items at that point in time; the idea of even walking very far made me a little queasy. But the family member wanted to gift us one, so we went.

What I wanted more than anything was to curl up in bed with my baby and examine his little body. There was a primal need I had to make sure that he was all there and real and mine. But instead, I put on postpartum underwear and hoped that I wouldn’t embarrass myself by bleeding all over my clothes in public. As I climbed gingerly into the car, I thought enviously of the cultures that employ a confinement period after birth and wondered why I was being convinced to do things I didn’t want to do.

I promise that this time I will advocate for my own needs and the needs of my baby. That means finding my voice even when it involves disagreeing with someone close to me. It means listening to my body and recognizing the messy reality of the postpartum period. It means not being afraid to make other people uncomfortable when my baby is hungry and needs to eat.

Most of all, I promise myself that I will be okay.

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