Surviving the Fourth Trimester
First of all I had no idea what the Fourth Trimester even was until I was in the thick of it all a few weeks after bringing Olivia home. Then it was this casual term that was thrown around all over the internet. Did they hide this from me while I was pregnant? Probably. Pregnancy is so funny. It's like you're not in the motherhood club yet so they won't tell you the secrets until you're there. In the thick of it. Freaking out. And then other mothers are like "oh yeah fourth trimester!" "oh yeah postpartum recovery!" "oh yeah meconium!" ha
what is the fourth trimester?
Basically science has proven that human babies are born three months too early due to their size and the size of their mother's pelvis. Think about it. A baby horse or deer can walk within a few days from birth, but human babies can take over a year. For the first three months after the birth of a full term baby (premature babies will have a much longer fourth trimester as they are having to finish up their third) they are basically just needy (but so cute!) little potatoes that can only express themselves through crying and are still trying to figure out why they aren't nice and warm floating around their mother's womb anymore. So it is our job as parents to care and nurture them and try to closely recreate their previous environment (enter the 5 S's) so that they feel comfortable and can easily transition into this bright new world.
I didn't know about any of this until I was living it.
so how do you survive?
Looking back I can barely remember it, but I do remember being in sheer panic / anxiety / sadness / joy / fear / loneliness / full of love / inexperienced to the point where I remember thinking I will never have one of those normal happy calm babies. Now that I am on the other side of this hump I am here to tell you that it does get easier. You will get the hang of things. I had never even held a baby until Olivia was born, and I figured it out.
I wanted to share my tips on surviving the fourth trimester (because no one warned me) and if I can help just one person journeying this unknown territory, then that's one less frantic google session at 3am.
lean on each other
Single moms. Holla. I have no idea how you do it. I was lucky enough to have Derek home with me for the first three weeks. While I was recovering in the hospital he stepped in and learned how to swaddle, mastered diaper changing, and reminded me when I needed to feed her again. He was (is) super dad. That being said, when we got home I still never figured out swaddling (to this day) and he was the only one who could get her to stop crying with his tight swaddle skills and soothing. He was the only one who could put her down at night. It didn't help that I could barely walk, my milk was taking it's sweet time to come in, and I was coming off of a roller coaster of hormones which made me feel like I was too emotional to calm her down. Derek was always there to see if I needed anything, to make sure I was eating enough, to pick up around the house. It was incredible. Then he went back to work. Womp.
don't compare yourself to others
I know. This is impossible as a human let alone a mother. You will scroll the insta feed and think "wow her baby sleeps through the night at 2 weeks old" and "cool her baby is nice and chubby while mine is suffering from low milk supply" or "neat look at how perfectly put together that mother and baby are. wait is she wearing makeup??" Just don't. It is a slippery slope. You have to remember that a lot of people don't share the negative moments and you are only seeing the highlight reel. Sure there may be some mothers out there who actually do have perfectly calm happy babies right out the gate, but I don't know any of those people. Anyone I have talked to has had the same struggles, insecurities, and late night google sessions as I have. Know this and take comfort.
ask for help
This was the hardest part for me. I wanted to be an independent woman and do everything myself because I knew what was best for my baby. Ugh. I'm not saying have someone come over and teach you how to rear your child. I'm just suggesting to have someone come over and hold the baby while you take a shower or take a nap or take a walk outside. People offer to help you in the beginning because they genuinely want to and people also love holding teeny tiny babies. Take them up on this. We wouldn't let anyone hold Olivia until she was probably 6 weeks old. We were so protective and terrified something would happen to her.
get out of the house
If you don't feel comfortable leaving your baby with someone yet (that was me) just put them in the stroller and go for a nice long walk around the neighborhood. Or strap them into your wrap and stroll through a park. If they cry, who cares? You aren't in a library. No one will stare at you. You'll probably have the park to yourself because it's the middle of the day on a Tuesday. You both need fresh air and sunshine so you don't go stir crazy. On the weekend have dad or your mom or someone you trust watch the baby while you go get your nails done, go walk around Target, go have brunch with your friends, go read a magazine by the pool, go put a sheet mask on and light some candles and take a long bath. No one will judge you. You need to take care of yourself too.
brace yourself for unsolicited advice
This is inevitable. People have been mothers for generations and centuries before you and they all know what is best for YOUR baby. Some people will have solid advice. Most will not. Yes all babies are inherently the same by nature, BUT the rules and safety standards have changed over the years so when your 70 year old relatives tell you to put her on her tummy to help her sleep just nod and smile and know that you are doing the right thing. Don't waste your breath arguing or pushing your 4 week old parenting skills because they will laugh at you and you won't feel any better.
don't put pressure on yourself
Parenting isn't a race. Ignore the apps and percentiles and all of the "things baby should be doing at this point". All babies develop at a different pace and you are there to help guide and facilitate your baby's queues. But if you see your friend's 2 month old already rolling over, that baby is a freak of nature and needs to calm down. Your baby will roll over when they are ready. If you see other mom's taking their infants to Europe while you can't even take yours for a walk around the block. That's okay! You will get there. If you feel like everyone is breastfeeding and you just can't do it. Then don't do it. A happy mom is way more important than a breastfed baby. You need to take care of yourself before you can take care of someone else. If you are feeling defeated then your baby will sense that and never latch or sleep or calm or whatever the present issue is.
embrace your emotions
Mama. You just gave birth to a human baby. You were a swirl of emotions during pregnancy and those hormones have to go somewhere after giving birth. Prepare to cry over nothing. Prepare to feel so much love that your heart might literally explode but this still upsets you because you just love them so much. Prepare to miss your former life. Prepare to miss your baby that is 5 feet away in it's bassinet. Prepare to bawl your eyes out on the crockpot episode of This is Us (what was I thinking??). Prepare to get mad or frustrated with your baby who. just. won't. stop. crying. Prepare to possibly not feel a bond at all. These are all normal emotional responses to motherhood. They will level out and you will get through this. I found comfort knowing that this was normal and that I wasn't a bad mother for feeling these things. However, if your emotions are taking over to the extent where you feel hopeless, you can't get out of bed, you want to hurt yourself or your baby, etc. please seek help. These could be the signs of postpartum depression and your doctor can help you find the right solution.
reach out to other moms
This. Is. Everything. But the key is to reach out to moms with children close in age to yours (within 5 years). They will be the most versed in current safety practices, current products, etc. Yes your mom is a mom too but she was a mom when carseats were suggested, babies slept on their tummy, cribs were full of blankets and bumpers and stuffies, and formula was everything. While they are a great source of advice and wisdom they also don't really remember the thick of it all as vividly as your new mom friends will because it was 20-30 years ago. If you don't have a lot of mom friends locally (guilty) then reach out via social media. I have bonded with so many past friends from elementary school, high school, college, etc. that all have little ones now and while we don't actually hang out in the same room, we are there for each other during 4am feedings or when google is just too too scary to face.
try not to google everything
Okay this was really hard for me. Looking back now it's almost comical thinking about my google search history. "is it normal for baby to spit up during every feeding?" "if baby's umbilical stump falls of early will they have an outie?" "when to take baby to ER with high temperature?" "infant CPR" "baby bobbing on and off while nursing". Everything you google will have a 5% chance of giving you a clear answer and a 95% chance of scaring the living daylights out of you. Call your pediatrician. Most pedis have a 24/7 hotline you can call. We for sure called them way too many times because they would start saying "first time parents?" ha. Lean on your mama friends they have lived it.
it's normal to be scared
I have been terrified from the start. Even when they handed her to me for the first time my mind started racing thinking "okay this is is no turning back we are parents now holy cow this baby belongs to us are we ready i have no clue how to even hold a baby". haha We took a few baby classes at our hospital and the number one thing they rammed down everyone's throats was the high risk of SIDS. So needless to say that was (still is) in the front of our minds 24/7. We were terrified to let her sleep alone, we were scared every time she spit up or had a temperature or choked while nursing, we freaked out whenever someone held her without supporting her head or someone was smoking nearby. We googled everything and watched her like a hawk. This is normal and you will calm down after a while. Now I only check the baby monitor every 30min or so ;)
you will get through this
Now that I am on the other side of those first three months, I am so proud of myself. Proud of my husband. Proud of Olivia. We have treaded some unfamiliar territory without a map but we got through it together and I feel like we are such a strong little unit because of it. None of us had any idea what we were doing, we didn't have any babies in the family or experience with babies, but instinct kicks in, support systems are there, and you just know what to do for your baby and I think that is such an incredible thing. I feel like a completely different person now, and I see Derek as a completely different person now and our family has a completely different meaning now and I just love that.