Tuesday, June 21, 2016

 Tomorrow marks one month back from parental leave. Michael is a thriving, healthy, active, delightful four month old (how did that happen already?) He's most certainly not a newborn anymore and will smile at anyone, talk at anything that grabs his attention, and reach for whatever Mom or Dad happen to have in their hands.

Life seems to be settling in to a new normal -- whatever that might look like. I get a glimpse of it more days than not. We're not "by the routine" parents -- I nurse on demand, we put him down for a nap when he looks to be sleepy, our bedtime rituals vary a bit -- though a discernable pattern is starting to emerge over time. Ben and I split our parenting into blocks since both of us work part time mostly from home -- I work, Ben watches Michael, Ben works, I watch Michael. Negotiate as necessary. It fits us pretty well, except when it doesn't, and we adjust and work through it. My capacity for sleep deprivation is slowly increasing, though sometimes it takes a bit for my body to catch up. There are more good days than challenging ones.

Looking back, I wonder how we survived the fourth trimester, even though we had a gentler transition into parenthood than I imagine most people have thanks to an island community meal train and a relatively even-tempered child! Unfortunately, in reading over journal entries from that period, I make more note of Michael's firsts and accomplishments than I do about my own state-of-being. 

However, a few things stick out from my time of survival that I think it's helpful to pass along to other parents-to-be expecting their first child:

1) Sleep when the baby sleeps is crap. Honestly, when the baby sleeps, do whatever you want to do (or whatever your baby will let you do). That may be sleep (it wasn't for me)! It may be that pile of dishes in the sink that won't give you any mental peace until it's done. It may be a shower - even if it's the second shower you've had that day. It could be mindlessly staring at the television -- even though that might be what you have been doing as you nursed/fed your child to sleep. It may even be holding your kid as they slumber. You are in full-on survival mode. Eat that carton of ice cream while they nap, if that's what it takes.

2) You will not enjoy every moment. Yes, this time is fleeting. Yes, you will probably miss the baby snuggles and that little face trying to make sense of what in the world is going on out there. But it is not all fun, and there will be times you are sitting on the couch, crying your eyes out because you can't get out of your pillow fort lest the kid wakes up and you really need something to eat and no one is home. Or times when you wake up in the middle of the night, dreading the torture that your child is about to inflict upon your sore nipples. Not fun.  It does get better -- but even now, I don't enjoy every moment.

3) Self-preservation is key. This goes along with #1. You really do need to do whatever it takes to keep your sanity. For me, it was making sure I had plenty of snacks within arms reach and taking a shower and a bath every day. My husband coped differently. Don't think about losing the baby weight (unless you really want to) or wearing clothes (unless you really want to) or getting anything done (unless, again, you really want to). Only you and your partner know what the both of you need.

4) Be willing to throw your plan out the window. We had all kinds of hopes and dreams for how we were going to parent Michael. Most we've been able to see through - cloth diapering, for one. Some have taken a bit of time to grow into (babywearing, for example - mostly because woven wraps are too expensive and we didn't put any on our registry). Others we haven't done at all (elimination communnication). Know that everything depends on your baby, your time and energy, and your partner's time and energy. You won't ruin your child if they wear disposables or if you put them down in a swing for 15 minutes. There are practices you can always pick up later once there is space in your life to take them on.

I'm sure as the weeks and months go on, I will be able to add to this list. Right now, I like how Ben and I are being intentional with our parenting, but not rigid. We're able to hold everything lightly, trust ourselves and our instincts, and go on from there.  Here's to the next few months!