I remember going into my maternity leave thinking it would be a three-month long vacation. I planned on reading books, working on my “snap back” and hanging out with friends. I would be the cute little mom who was a part of the ladies who lunch society, and we would all dote over my new little bundle of joy. I couldn’t wait! A new baby and unlimited free time sounded like a dream come true!
Now that I have my sanity back, I can’t help but chuckle at my fourth-trimester naiveness. I wasn’t even aware a fourth trimester existed! I thought the most challenging part of this journey ended with the physical pains of the third trimester. So what exactly is the fourth trimester you ask? Well, it’s basically the point when mommyhood gets real! LOL Your pregnancy is over, you’re home with baby, and you’re adjusting to the beginning stages of parenting.
During my hospital stay, Livvy hardly ever cried. She slept by herself, breastfed like a pro, and just went with the flow of our routine. As a matter of fact, my husband and I actually pitied the parents in the room next to us whose baby cried all night. Poor them. We were the lucky ones. Then we got home, and it was our turn. Livvy went from staying put when placed down, to a roaring little person when placed in her bassinet. What was going on? This wasn’t the plan? It was like trying to hop onto a moving train, and I couldn’t quite keep up.
How does this thing work? I don’t care how many baby books you’ve read, or how many times you’ve babysat, nothing truly prepares you for the reality of your own baby. Every odd noise Livvy made and every strange move that came from her drove me into a state of panic. My husband eventually said, “You need to chill, and we’re not going to the emergency room…..again.” I thought he was cold and heartless, but he was actually right. Livvy was just fine, and there was absolutely no need to worry. However, as a new mom, I just didn’t know. It’s also important to know that your little one is unique and requires different needs. This is the time for you to learn him and begin to develop your own bond. Remember, this can take time. Also, don’t beat yourself up because yesterday’s routine isn’t working for today. There was one point when I just knew I had everything figured out. Round the clock feedings were tough, but I thought I’d adjusted (as well as one can with limited sleep).Then one night Livvy began to cluster feed! Cluster feedings are when the baby eats more frequently than the normal feeding times. This means that instead of feeding every 2-3 hours, she wanted to eat every hour! It caught me completely off guard and added to the intenseness of my sleep deprivation.
Round the clock. Before Livvy was born, I can’t really say I ever thought about the amount of feedings babies needed. It just never crossed my mind. It was a major shock to learn that I (and only I) would be feeding Livvy every 2 hours. While at the hospital, it wasn’t so bad. I was still on cloud nine, and there were times when the nurses had to take her for testing. This allowed me to get a little extra rest between feedings. However, when we arrived home it was all on me. Once you’ve gone a few days of having your sleep broken every two hours, it can become very taxing on the body (and mind). I now understand why sleep deprivation is sometimes used as a torturing technique. In order to help with this, I started pumping and allowing family members to help out with feedings. Some people frown upon bottle feedings at such a young age, but I had to do what was best for me and my family. Plus, it allowed others to bond with Livvy. With a few extra minutes of sleep, I felt a little more refreshed, I could think a little clearer, and I felt a little stronger to take on the day.
Help Wanted. This one was easier said than done for me. Like any new mom, I was extremely attached to my baby and wanted to do everything for her by myself. I grew up fantasizing about my daughter, and she was finally here. There was no way I was just going to hand her over to anyone because she was mine. All mine! Well, this approach almost drove me crazy. I’m now convinced that this part of mommyhood isn’t meant to be traveled alone. Both my mother and my mother in love were heaven sent angels. They did things like made sure I ate, took over 3 a.m feedings, and tidied up the house when needed. Every superwoman has powers to combat challenges. Mine just came in the form of eager grannies! Remember, it takes a village, and you’re not proving anything by doing it all on your own.
Isolation. Now, about those lunch dates and exercise plans, I intended to partake in with friends. LOL None of that happened. For one, I was highly attached to my baby and didn’t want to leave her with anyone. She was much too young for me to just drop her off. Also, the majority of her feedings came from me breastfeeding, so she needed to be with me at all times. Then I realized that everyone else was at work! LOL What was I thinking? In the beginning, it was ok. However, as time went on, it became extremely lonely. It was just me and a little person all day and all night. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was head over heels excited about being a new mommy, but the feeling of isolation from my former life was tough. I’d just spent nine months watching everyone around me travel, have fun, and engage in activities I couldn’t participate in due to pregnancy. I was under the impression life would be back to “normal,” immediately after giving birth. This was far from the truth and a challenging adjustment. Especially since I was tackling the emotional and physical challenges of being a new mom. I’ve had friends who handled mommy isolation by joining postpartum breastfeeding classes or other mommy and me groups. They were able to make new mom friends and discuss the common challenges they were all experiencing. It’s never ok to allow yourself to feel alone. Pick up the phone, call over some friends and get some girl time in for yourself. It helps a lot!
Talk it out. Let your spouse know what you need from him both physically and emotionally. Livvy was our first child, and the newness of parenting was a learning process for both of us. My needs as his wife changed drastically, and I couldn’t expect him to automatically understand how to help me (but I did). I didn’t truly understand how to help myself, but I did know that I needed him in a different way. Sometimes it was to vent, sometimes it was to cry on his shoulder, and other times I just wanted to be reminded that I was awesome. I was a little more emotionally needy around this time, and I needed that to be ok too. My husband (who is amazing by the way) was all ears once I explained these struggles to him. We’re all different, and your needs during your fourth trimester may be different from mine. Just be sure to express this with your spouse, and it may even be a good idea to discuss the fourth trimester prior to having your little one.
During my fourth trimester, I was terrified that the challenges I was facing would last forever. I thought I would experience an eternal tiredness and that I would never have a social life again. Livvy’s now 9 months, and I’m proud to say life is better! It’s true that I’m never truly fully rested, but it’s nothing like the beginning stages. My Livvy’s fun now! She’s sleeping through the night (for the most part), and I’m even able to join my friends for happy hour every now and then. My new normal isn’t anything like my life prior to mommyhood, but it has given me access to a part of life I didn’t know I would enjoy so much!