how to survive the first 3 months of motherhood

In about two weeks, I’m back in the trenches of newborn-land. That unpredictable, crazy place where no sleep happens. Instead, there’s the postpartum emotional rollercoaster, the never-sleeping baby, lots of physical healing, and now, also a 16-month-old who’s trying to make sense of her changing world.

My first visit to the newborn-land was not easy. I spent the first almost 8 weeks of Heli Mai’s life single parenting her at my parents’ house while my husband finished off his semester 2000 miles away. My mom was a huge help during that very difficult time, but I still missed my husband so badly. I have so much respect for single moms after that (not that I didn’t before) and I can’t even imagine doing it all by myself for years.

Looking back, though, I realise that this time could have been so much easier and more enjoyable, if I had seen things a little differently. I wish I could go back and tell new mom Hanna what I know now.

  1. Listen to your instincts and intuition. While I was super confident before having the baby in my ability to care for her, I quickly lost that confidence when I was holding a crying baby who wouldn’t latch and everyone kept telling me what I should or shouldn’t do. I wish I had had the guts to tell them what I felt in my heart so strongly. In hindsight, I knew what was best for me and my daughter, but I didn’t trust myself enough. I’m not saying to ignore medical professionals or the well-meant advice of other moms, but voice your own thoughts first and make sure you are heard and seen. Because, after all, mother does know best.
  2. A crying baby is not the end of the world… although it can sure seem that way sometimes. Most of the time, though, they’re just trying to get what they need. So, be patient and calmly offer what she might need. Food, a clean diaper, sleep, connection, and love. Nine times out of ten, that will do the trick. And if not, keep calm and seek help. Sometimes, there can be other issues that are causing the crying. Heli Mai had reflux, so there was a lot of crying, very little sleep, and as a result, an overtired baby, who was very hard to settle. This is all a hindsight 20:20 thing, though, because back then, I took me weeks to figure it out, and I put some of the pieces together months later. For a very good overview of why baby’s cry and what we can do about it, read this.
  3. The sun will rise again. I felt the most lonely during night time, when I was walking round and round in my room with a crying baby who wouldn’t fall asleep despite my best efforts. She was overtired, and so was I. I think those were the times I cried the most in the beginning. What I’d love to whisper in my past self’s ear is that this too shall pass. After this night, there will be daylight again. The baby will sleep eventually and in a few weeks, she’ll have figured out this night and day thing.
  4. It’s just a phase. Every mom has probably heard this tip and given it to another mom, but while we’re in the trenches, it can be hard to remember. Everything is a phase with little ones. So, sometimes, the best you can do, is just ride out the waves.
  5. Know what to expect. I often wish I’d done more research on what to expect in the newborn phase (or even past that). Obviously, you can’t know everything and every baby is different, but what I learned is that doing a little reading upfront can ease a lot of fears and help figure out what’s not working before it drives you insane.
  6. Do things that make you feel normal. I struggled for the longest time to consolidate my past identity with my new identity as a mom. To be honest, I still do sometimes, but what has helped immensely is writing down when I feel most like myself and doing those things as often as possible. My life will never be the same, and neither will I, but motherhood should be an addition to who I am, not a substitute. Learned that the hard way.
  7. Ask for help. Can’t stress this enough! It does take a village to raise a kid, so don’t think you have to do it all by yourself. Ask your spouse, your family, or your friends to help out. It could be as simple as having someone to talk to when you’re covered in baby spit-up and in desperate need of a grown-up conversation. Or it could be a couple of hours of sleep or time to yourself. Have a friend do grocery shopping for you, or ask your spouse to take care of laundry. (Thanks, mom, for all those times you ran a load of dirty diapers at 10pm!)
  8. Relax into it. This is definitely the hardest to do, but makes all the difference. I still haven’t mastered it almost 16 months into motherhood, but those times when I’ve managed to slow down, breather and relax into it have been the best. Even when it happens as you’re trying to put your baby down and it’s been 50 minutes already. Especially then.
  9. Loosen up and let go. You’re bound to have spit-up on your shirt 24/7, your home will be messy, the laundry pile will be high, your hair will be messy and you may forget to brush your teeth. You could either stress about it, or just let it go. Don’t worry, one day you’ll discover you’ve worn the same shirt for the whole day. You will get back on track with your laundry. You most definitely will find time to brush both your teeth and your hair again. One day. I promise.

I felt I needed to write this post for myself. So I would remember to breathe and take it for what it is – a phase that passes all too quickly. The sleepless nights turn into nights with little sleep, and then to nights with enough sleep. Before I know it, I’ll have a smiling, crawling, drooling, grabbing baby. While the days go oh-so slowly, the weeks start flying by, and before I know it, I’ll be a mom of 2 toddlers.

And so will you.

If you’re down in the trenches right now, or about to become a new mom for the first (or third) time, I hope this post offered some support, understanding, and most importantly, a gentle reminder that the hard bits will pass, and the joy will only grow. You’ve got this, mama!

If you’ve got your own magic mantra or tip to share, I’d loved to hear it in the comments!

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