I’m going to be completely honest with you- I was a basket-case with John when he was a newborn. I thought I had it together for about two weeks before I realized that I was only kidding myself. I was barely sleeping, partially because John wasn’t sleeping, and partially because I was extremely anxious about John’s eating and sleeping habits. I was haunted by phantom cries at all hours of the night, and inevitably as soon as I began to drift off to sleep, those phantom cries would become real ones and I would be wide awake all over again.
I don’t remember much from John’s newborn days. All I remember is the exhaustion and anxiety. I remember barely eating, not sleeping, and walking around my apartment as if on eggshells because I was terrified that I would wake up the finally-sleeping baby. It seemed as if anything would wake him- eating a chip too loudly, changing positions on the couch, tapping at my keyboard as I attempted to work. Looking back, I’m sure he didn’t actually wake up all those times, but that’s how I remember it.
When John was born, I was a brand-new mom who had barely any experience with children, never mind newborns. I had never changed a diaper, and I had rocked my oldest niece to sleep as a baby exactly once. I did not feel in the least prepared to be taking this tiny little creature home with me. He couldn’t even hold his head up, and his limbs looked like they could break at any moment.
During those first few days with John, only held him when I had to nurse him. I was bedridden for the majority of my three-day hospital stay, and I used that as an excuse for why I couldn’t hold my son. The truth was that I could barely look at him, never mind hold him. I absolutely hated nursing, and so I wanted as much distance between myself and the cause of my distress as possible. Once you add a dose of guilt since this cause was my son, you can see why I ended up a mess.
Looking back, if I had been honest with my doctor about what I was feeling, I probably would have been diagnosed with post-partum depression or anxiety. Instead, I kept my feelings largely to myself, hoping that things would improve. As the weeks passed, the feelings of anxiety, despair, and guilt didn’t subside, and by then, I was willing to admit their cause. I gave up nursing, and almost immediately, my relationship with my darling little boy began to improve. I could stare lovingly into his eyes now, which I found myself doing at all hours of the day and night. At first, I reveled in the feeling, but as the days became weeks and months, my stares became less loving and more vacant as I struggled to stay awake while rocking our son to sleep. My eyes were generally blood-shot and red-rimmed as I struggled against the need for sleep. My husband and I eventually realized that we had created a little monster, one that would not sleep.
John was a movement junkie and a pacifier addict. He would not go to sleep without a paci in his mouth as Andrew or I rocked him to sleep. This could take anywhere from ten to thirty minutes. Then we began the painstaking process of transferring him from our arms to his swing (He also had horrible acid reflux, and in the first few weeks, we would often wake to find him lying in a pool of semi-digested breast milk or formula. It improved somewhat with the introduction of the swing, but didn’t disappear completely until he was seven months old.). Fifty percent of the time this resulted in us starting the whole process over again when he woke up immediately following the attempted transfer. Life only improved at four months, when we went through the agonizing, but entirely worthwhile, process of sleep training.
Between John’s acid reflux and the lack of sleep, John was often not a happy child. It was so apparent at times that strangers even commented on this fact. After sleep training, John became the happiest baby I had ever met. To this day, John almost always has a smile on his face, and his joy makes me fall more and more in love with him every day.
At the height of John’s resistance to sleep, the only way I could get him to sleep more than 35 minutes (and that was the best we could expect, since naps could be as short as ten minutes) was to push him in a stroller. Then he would sleep 60-75 minutes, but he woke up the instant I stopped moving. As much as I enjoyed walking, it was an exhausting way to get him to sleep. But it was entirely worth it, both because it allowed John to sleep and because it got me out of the house. During the first few months, those walks were the only times that I went out in public. Otherwise, I was terrified to take him anywhere, not because of any disease he might contract, but because I was terrified of nursing in public (until I switched to formula), experiencing a diaper explosion, or having him start with the sleep-deprived hysterics. It was easier to just hide inside. This also improved around four months, after sleep training.
The newborn phase has been very different this time around, and I think this is because I am a different mother and Felicity is a different baby. We had decided pretty much immediately after switching to formula with John that I would not put myself through that agony again with future children. With John, I had dreaded nursing more than I had dreaded the actual process of labor and delivery. This time around, I eagerly anticipated those first hours and days alone with our daughter (I still dreaded labor, since I’m a total wimp when it comes to pain). This time, I knew that I would be able to gave into Felicity’s eyes as I gave her her first bottle.
I was very relieved to find that no one at the hospital passed judgment when I informed them that I had chosen to bottle-feed. Many of them incorrectly assumed that I was going to nurse, but they all accepted my gentle correction without question when it came. In fact, after our release was delayed because of a last-minute test for Felicity, our nurse presented us with a bag filled with formula and nipples to appease us. Considering the price of formula, it was really the best gift that they could have given us.
Formula-feeding eased my anxiety, helping me to bond with Felicity faster than I did with John, but it also helped ease the stress of life with a newborn. With John, we never seemed to know what he needed. For hours every night, Andrew and I would cycle between rocking, nursing (me, at least), and changing diapers, hoping something would soothe him and get him to sleep. With Felicity, we knew she could only eat every 3-4 hours (i.e. no cluster feeding), and after two years of experience, we knew wet diapers generally wouldn’t keep a newborn from sleeping. Without so many options, we generally knew what we needed to do to soothe her.
From day one, Felicity slept in her cradle. She was not allowed to sleep in people’s arms, and as soon as we saw her begin to nod off, we asked our family and friends to put her down to sleep. Almost immediately, we noticed a difference in her sleeping patterns. Most notably, from pretty much day one, Felicity only woke up twice a night for a bottle, compared to John’s two feedings and four additional nightly wake-ups. I never thought I would sleep so well with a newborn in my room (though I have gotten into the habit of sleeping with ear plugs this time around).
During the day, Felicity sleeps in a rocking cradle, occasionally with a pacifier, and at night, she sleeps in our room in an occasionally rocking cradle, sans pacifier. It’s still early in the game, but we’re just grateful for the extra hours of sleep we’ve gotten so far. Things might change when she hits six weeks or the dreaded four month sleep regression, but at least we have a better idea of how to handle it, and how long it will last, and that it will eventually end. Eventually.
Felicity also sleeps in her car seat and stroller during the day too, generally in the afternoon while John plays at the park. She’s also napped during weekday Mass and story time at the library, and at Starbucks once. Whereas I was once terrified to bring my newborn baby out in public, it’s now a daily part of our routine. This is partially because we need to get out- or at least John does. But it’s also because I want to get out. During these early weeks, I know that Felicity can sleep just about anywhere, so I’m going to take advantage of that fact while it remains true.
I am still new to the whole navigating life with two under three thing. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to travel with a toddler who wants to be carried and a newborn who needs to be carried. I’m still settling into a loose routine that allows John to run around for a while without pushing myself too far. I’m still trying to figure out the best way to feed Felicity when John is awake and demanding my attention (preferably without plopping him in front of the TV with a snack). I’m still trying to get my suddenly very clingy two-year-old to play independently again (we’ve actually made great strides with this one, especially considering the fact that John has never excelled at independent play). There is still a lot to learn, but at least now I know how to care for a newborn.
I know how to hold a newborn, how to support their head, and how to do it with only one hand so that I can use the other to play with a toddler (or serve food, dump a diaper in the trash, or whatever other task I’m trying to complete). I know that newborns are tougher than they look, that they’re not as breakable as they appear, and that they can handle the “affectionate” pats of a heavy-handed brother. I know that at some point in the next few months, my newborn will start sleeping through the night, which will be a God-send since my toddler will inevitably drop his nap at the same time. I know that this tiny princess will only be a newborn for a few months, as long as those months might seem, and that these first years will pass in the blink of an eye. I know that I need to cherish this time, because before I know it, my pretty little lady won’t be so little anymore.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!