The Guiltless Fourth Trimester
Soothe Yourself, Too
Cocooning with your baby has its sweet place, but so does getting out and doing something for yourself. As a friend of mine likes to say, “Happy mommy, happy baby.” And another mother’s soothers may not be yours. After sitting for an hour with my feet in someone else’s hands, my back aching and my legs longing for a good walk, I realized that a pedicure just didn’t do it for me. What did make my soul tingle was taking a bath, napping, reading, catching up on email with friends, cooking a meal that wasn’t spaghetti, or going out to dinner with my husband. Rediscover what makes you happy and seek it out.
“Care of the mother is so important,” says Deborah Holmes, Assistant Director of Child Abuse Listening and Mediation in Santa Barbara, California. It’s crucial “for a mother to really take care of herself and get as much help as she can while she really just focuses on herself and the baby,” she adds.
A positive attitude and doing something “normal” for yourself will go a long way in helping you be a better mother and realizing that those fuzzy-brained first weeks of your baby’s life really will not last forever—you can regain your sense of self while still being a loving, nurturing parent.
It Takes Time
Remember how neat the nursery was before the baby arrived? The unused bibs were tucked away in drawers, the toys lined up by height on the shelf. Once the baby comes, call it a victory if you can move the spit-up cloth from floor to hamper. It’s easy to expect that your transition from motherhood will be as beautiful as the light in that pristine room. But, in reality, it takes a while.
“I think there’s a real cultural message that we’re supposed to be rapturously happy with our new baby at home,” says Hannah Ross, mother of 11-month-old Callie in Princeton, New Jersey. “What I wish someone had told me was that even after she settles into a routine, it’s still going to be a couple more weeks or months until life mellows and you become more accustomed to being a parent.”
It also takes time to learn how to enjoy your baby. I loved Noah from the delivery room on, but I didn’t sense I really knew him until week four, and it wasn’t until week eight that I felt the occasional moment of bubbly joy. Holmes says that we need to “explode” some myths of new motherhood, such as “the idea that a new mom is just going to … know exactly what to do to soothe the baby and to care for the baby.”
Doing Your Best Is Good Enough
Finally, be as gentle toward yourself as you would be toward a friend. As my husband said in month three of our son’s life, “You can’t be the perfect parent every day.” Or any day. If your hormones are surging so much that you don’t want to stop crying, then don’t. If you are so tired that all you can do is lie on the floor while your baby wiggles next to you, so be it. If your goal is to talk to your baby every day but you can’t even say hello to Oprah, figure that your baby will enjoy the silence—and remind yourself that missing a day of chatting with your newborn is not going to harm her speech or social development.
“Whatever you struggle with,” says Jaffe, “it’s important that you enjoy your baby.” Seize the moments of quiet contentment as they come, and don’t be too hard on yourself if they’re not as frequent as you’d like. They’ll pop up in droves soon enough. In the meantime, trust that your desire to do right by your child will help him thrive in the fourth trimester and beyond.
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