I am experiencing the postpartum/newborn experience for the second time. Things feel different this time around. I feel far more relaxed about everything, so much so that I wonder if I had a mild case of postpartum anxiety for the first six months of my firstborn’s life. Perhaps it is just due to being more experienced this time. I find that remembering the lessons I learnt from my first baby when things get challenging is very comforting. So I thought I would share a few of them here.
Most generalised advice and assumptions about “all babies” and how they will behave is useless.
I deal with uncertainty by researching and reading. So when I was pregnant with my first baby, I read many baby books and blogs on the subject. One book, “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer”, suggested a simple Eat, Activity, Sleep, You (EASY) routine. In which you feed the baby, play with the baby, put the baby down for a sleep, and enjoy your precious “me” time. As someone who loves organisation and routines, this sounded fantastic. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way. I have MASSIVE babies, who do a lot of breastfeeding to maintain their spot at the top of the growth curve. My attempts to follow the prescribed EASY routine led to a lot of crying from the baby (because they were hungry), short naps (because they were hungry) and stress for me. When I gave up on the advice around routines and eating and sleeping and just went with what my baby wanted, it was more of an Eat, Eat, Activity, Eat, Eat, Eat, Sleep routine, but everyone was much happier. I learned that generalised advice about what babies “should” do did not apply to my baby at all. They are an individual and not a robot, which brings me to my next lesson.
Babies are human beings, not objects.
This might seem like a weird lesson to learn, but mainstream culture objectifies babies and small children. Any parent who has had the ridiculous request to “control your children” hissed at them in a public place has faced this. Most mainstream baby advice, especially on sleep, is about controlling, programming, or training the baby to do what you want them to do. I find it amusing that I had read and heard the quote “you can’t control other people’s behaviour, only your reaction to that behaviour” and had internalised it with regards to my interactions with adults. But I had still bought into the idea that I could control my baby. Imagine my shock when it turned out my new baby, was, in fact, a person—a person with their own personality and wishes and willpower. I quickly learned that you can’t make a baby sleep, and you can’t make a baby eat. This provides apparent challenges but also the greatest gift. In place of an object to control or an accessory to show off, you have a relationship with a unique human being, in which you co-create your present and future together. They are a person who pushes you to grow in ways you didn’t realise you needed.
Breastfeeding is productive.
Our capitalist, patriarchal Western culture devalues the work of caretaking. As a classic high achiever who had a lot of self-worth tied up in how much I could produce for work or my personal life, the sudden transition to motherhood threw me into a minor identity crisis. I went from writing creative code and solving intricate problems at work to breastfeeding and burping a baby for what felt like 24 hours a day and barely managing to get the laundry done. My old mental model left me feeling like I had done “nothing” all day as a new mother. Thankfully, I changed the media I was exposed to and started listening to podcasts by other mothers and redefined my definition of productivity and effectiveness. A productive day is one in which you have given attention to what is most important to you. Is there anything more important than keeping my new baby alive and well-loved? For me, no. So breastfeeding, nappy changes, cleaning spit-up, rocking and bouncing is productive even if I have nothing to “show for” it at the end of the day.