I was feeling so overwhelmed while driving home from work one day while pregnant with my first child. My then-husband and I had decided that I’d stay home with him, and I began to wonder what it would be like to clean my house with a newborn. I had no idea how people took showers. I didn’t know if I’d be able to pay the bills or make dinner.
This was over eighteen years ago — before the age of social media, when all I had to rely on for advice was my mother and her generation, since I was the first one in my friend group to have a baby.
I remember my mother telling me the baby would sleep all day so I’d have plenty of time to get stuff done. I began to calm down a bit as I realized I wouldn’t be working fifty-hour weeks anymore, nor would I have a commute, so I should be able to get it all done without a problem. After all, my mother said it wasn’t an issue for her, and she’d had three kids.
Then, our first night home with him we didn’t sleep a wink. Not even for five minutes. He was up crying all night. I was trying to feed him with bloody nipples.
My plans to get up in the morning and clean the house and unpack my bag before everyone came to see him went in the shitter. Also, I’d told myself I’d totally be able to make cookies or a carrot cake for our company since I was told my child would be sleeping all day long. After all, he’d slept a lot in the hospital, so surely he’d do the same at home.
Only when the morning came and as the sun was rising in the sky and my baby decided it was finally time to sleep, I hated everyone and didn’t want anyone stepping foot inside my house. I wanted to be left alone. I didn’t want to say hello to a soul unless they were going to be my maid for the day and offer me a million dollars, much less clean for them.
But my child was sleeping and I pushed myself to get stuff done because that’s what I thought I should do.
I had no idea when else I’d get the chance to do some dishes, laundry, and clean up from the tornado that whipped through our home (also known as coming home with a newborn) so, I did what I’d planned.
I can honestly tell you it’s been almost two decades and I still haven’t recovered from that nonsense. I was so irritated when visitors came to see our newborn that I went up to my room and lay down. I was tapped out the next day, too, when more people came to visit and I felt like I had to be ready.
It took me some time — almost a year to be exact — to learn that if I wanted to be healthy and take care of myself so I could take care of my baby (who didn’t sleep at night), I had to stop thinking that his nap times were when I was expected to get down to business. How was I supposed to get things done even though I was barely conscious?
I was anxious and depressed and started having horrible thoughts about someone coming into his bedroom window and doing awful things to him. I didn’t listen to what my body wanted. I felt like I had to return that phone call, get the floor mopped, or make a loaf of zucchini bread, because those things weren’t possible when he was awake.
I learned very quickly none of those things matter. But you know what does matter? That you are replenishing yourself — and most of the time (unless you have help), the only available time for a mother to do that is when her baby is sleeping.
We need to normalize, once and for all, that having a baby is a huge life-change. Women are praised for not missing a beat. They are congratulated when they return to work early, or a friend shows up and their house is sparkling clean despite giving birth a few weeks ago. This should not have to be the case!
Your main goal as a new mother should be to take care of your and your child, period. Screw getting stuff done. Stop telling yourself you should be mopping the floor instead of watching Judge Judy.
I have news for you: If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else is going to do it for you. No one else is going to tell you to rest, or zone out, or scroll Instagram when the baby is asleep. Stop putting pressure on yourself to not skip a step because the truth is, in order to take care of you, you are going to have to skip several steps. And feeling guilty about this helps absolutely nobody — not your baby, and especially not you.
This is a time in your life to establish a new routine, gain your footing, and make sure you don’t get sick or run-down or burnt out. Keeping a tidy home, or not taking enough time off of work, or feeling like you have to get back to everyone has no place here. Your priorities have shifted, and there is absolutely no reason to feel wrong or guilty about that.
This is your time with your family. And after I changed my mindset with my second two children (no one was allowed to come over until I felt good and ready, I slept when they slept if I needed it, and I watched all the television) I was so much happier.
If it makes you feel better to get a few things done while the baby sleeps, great. But don’t hold yourself to always staying on top of everything, because your candle is going to burn out so quickly you won’t know what hit you.
Take it from a mom who has been there three times over — in the long run, keeping up with it all isn’t going to matter. What is going to matter is your wellbeing. Remember what’s most important when you think you need to get those dishes done or fold the damn laundry.