Farewell, Fourth Trimester

This is a bittersweet post for me. As ever with raising children, some days feel incredibly tough, none more so than those that make up the ‘Fourth Trimester’ (the first three months of your baby’s life). However, I look back on the past three (and a bit) months and wonder where they went. Already, Wilf is laughing, interacting and desperately trying to sit, roll and ‘stand’ (supported, obviously!). He seemed so ‘scrunched up’ for so long but suddenly looks really long! It’s been a haze of postpartum recovery, bonding and adjustment. It’s meant dealing with guilt, frustration, hormones and yet another shift in our family dynamic. It’s been simultaneously the hardest and best thing I’ve ever done. It’s getting easier each day but some days are HARD. We’re still finding our way and probably always will be.

Here’s what I’ve learned about…

MYSELF. Being reflective is tough as an adult. Nobody likes to admit their shortcomings. However, it’s something I was forced to do as a trainee teacher and, I think, it’s helped me as a parent. I spent an inordinate amount of time being incredibly hard on myself after Primrose was born but the CBT I had then has really helped this time around. I’ve had rough days, sure, but I’ve been better at compartmentalising them and not letting them obscure my thinking, whereas a ‘bad’ day the first time round used to mean days of beating myself up and telling myself I was a rubbish mother. It’s not easy to be rational when you’re knackered but each time I’ve felt doubts creeping in, I’ve chatted to my hubby or one of my friends and managed to look at things with a bit more logic, thinking about the day I’ve just had and wonder how I can be better the next day, rather than focusing on what hasn’t gone to plan. Most of the tricky times in the past four months have centred around my expectations of Primrose but I’ll save this for another day.

MY BABY. Nothing teaches you that no two children are the same like having your second child! Whilst some of their personality traits as babies are similar, there are some huge differences. Whereas Prim was born at an average weight (7lb 9ozs) and gained weight s-l-o-w-l-y, Wilf was born at 9lb 14oz and gained 1lb a week in the early days. He’s now in 6-9 months clothes whereas Prim was in 0-3 for five months. He feeds quickly but more frequently, and wakes a bit more at night than she did. He cluster fed in the early evening for a long time – something she never did. As a tiny baby, there were no evenings spent screaming like Primrose did (with hindsight, probably because she was trying to cluster feed and I didn’t understand that that was even a ‘thing’). I’ve realised a lot can be gained by…

‘GIVING IN’. I once read that the moment you surrender to the needs of your baby, rather than trying to make them fit in with you, is the moment things get easier. This isn’t easily done in this busy, fast paced world of ours, so full of pressure to ‘get back to normal’ but it’s definitely true! I assumed I’d get no sleep and that Wilf would want to feed 24/7. Anything else would be a bonus. It really helped. Of course there were nights in the first 6 weeks or so where I ‘woke up’ in the morning having had a total of around an hour’s sleep, but those nights don’t last forever. Lowering my expectations with a new baby has been crucial to my self-preservation. Unrealistic expectations, often thanks to ‘expert’ advice, make for frustration and disappointment which, when coupled with sleep deprivation, can be just awful. It’s no wonder that research has uncovered a clear link between some of the rigid baby books and postnatal depression. I look back and realise I wasted so much time when Primrose was tiny, second-guessing and pre-empting things that never happened. ‘Giving in’ has been much better for my sanity.

OTHER PEOPLE. It really does take a village to raise a child. I am incredibly grateful for the support of the friends in the past four months – people brought us food, helped entertain Primrose and kept me company. Lauren was here on Day 1, taking care of Primrose whilst we went to have Wilf’s tongue tie cut. We aren’t meant to raise children in isolation and I have been humbled by my ‘village’, both in person and online, in breastfeeding and gentle parenting groups. We are also lucky to have parents and wider family who respected our request to have no visitors in the first week or two after the birth. This gave us precious bonding time and also allowed me to get breastfeeding established – this took a little while after the tongue tie division and was painful initially. The added stress of visitors would have made that time much harder.

Once again, though, having a baby has brought out some typical comments and questions. Alongside the thoughtful, the kind and the empathetic, there have been some less helpful:
– (At a week old) “Is he sleeping through the night yet?”
– (At three days) “Is he in a routine yet?”
– (Approximately 20,000 times) “Is he a good baby?”
– (From a middle aged bloke) “You just need to give him a feed at midnight and he’ll sleep until the morning.”
“Are you expressing so you can have a break?”
“Is your toddler in nursery so you can have a break?”

Each time, the desire to facepalm was strong ESPECIALLY with the ‘good’ baby question. And the assumption that I need a break annoyed me – having a toddler and a newborn is hard, of course it is, but I signed up for it. I know the questions came from a caring place but the assumption that I needed and wanted to have a break from either baby at a time when they needed me most seemed really strange. That said, I make sure I practise self-care and try to ‘recharge’ each day so I’m not burnt out and it was/is helpful to have company and play dates for Primrose and someone to hold Wilf whilst I get bits and bobs done but itt’s such a short time in the grand scheme of things. Questions and comments like these have made me further realise how out of tune our society is with the needs of babies and the basics of human biology and breastfeeding. Mothers don’t need help to get away from their babies. They need mothering so they can mother their babies happily.  Writing this blog and setting up a local breastfeeding support group are my ways of making a teeny, tiny dent in these skewed expectations people have of new mothers (and fathers), and babies.

MY BODY. In short, I’ve made peace with it. I look at photos from three years ago when I was fairly slim and toned; when I thought I was fat. Now I’m the ‘biggest’ I’ve ever been (apart from when pregnant) but I don’t look at myself and think ‘fat!’. I’m proud of its achievements and would give it a high five if I could. It’s (partly) conceived, grown, incubated and nourished two babies in the past three years. I’ve been either pregnant and/or breastfeeding since December 2014 and it hasn’t let me down yet. During my labour and Wilf’s birth, I was, once again, in awe at the power of it. And the science behind breastfeeding continues to amaze me as I learn new things about it every day. So the squishy tummy, thighs and hips can stay until I have the energy and time to get more exercise in. For now, as long as I’m eating sensibly in order to nourish myself and Wilf, and get fresh air and enough moderate exercise to stop me piling on unhealthy weight, that’s enough for now. This pressure on new mums to ‘bounce back’ is unfair; detrimental to mental health and can detract from all important bonding time.

MY MARRIAGE. Nothing like a new baby to test a relationship to its max. Apart from adding another baby into the mix when you have a toddler.

Whilst it sometimes feels like days go by without a meaningful conversation, we do try to spend time together wherever possible. At the moment, a lot of chats are snatched over supper, or carried out via text between bedrooms, as Phil puts Primrose to bed and I feed Wilf to sleep. Examples of these exciting exchanges include ‘Can you bring the nappy bin out with you?’, ‘Can you add vitamins to the shopping list?’, ‘I’ve been puked on again.’ and  ‘Do you know where her cup is?’ Glamorous, nope. Realistic, absolutely! We realise that this time is short and, as long as we remain an effective partnership, that’s the crucial thing in these early days. I’m inordinately grateful to have a husband who seems to know exactly what I need, when I need it, be that a cuppa, a G&T, time with just one of the babies, or a reality check! When I’m giving myself a hard time, he puts things into perspective, for which I’m thankful!

Oh, and if you’re expecting your second and wonder if you’ll have enough love for them both, don’t – your love will double. Maybe not right away, but in due course.  It’s not easy to put into words, but trust me.

So, after ten days of snatched moments of writing, I’ve finally finished this post! One day I’ll get back to writing regularly again(!)

Tell me… what did you learn during the fourth trimester? Or what advice would you give someone about to have their baby?

Jo, The Mother Side xx

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