If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now: Having a newborn sucks. I hate the newborn stage. I don’t think I grasped the depths of its suck until I had a toddler who slept, engaged in imaginative play, and verbally communicated affection.
Don’t get me wrong: There are parts that I love. Like meeting your brand-new tiny baby for the very first time. Or the absolutely beautiful and fleeting time when your baby will lay their marvelous little soft skull on your shoulder and snuggle you. Truly snuggle you, completely at ease and at peace in the only place on earth they want and need to be: your arms. And you breathe in their sweet smell and realize that life is beautiful, God must be real, and time is a cruel bastard who will snatch every moment and stage away as quickly as possible.
So yeah, for all of those reasons newborns can be all right. But that’s about it. Otherwise, I find 0–12-week-old babies to be boring sacks of potatoes that only demand and rarely give (save for the existence-affirming moments noted above). But with the arrival of baby No. 2, I noticed a pattern in how I cope with this difficult phase of baby’s first year. I call it My Newborn Three, and it breaks down like this: Absolute Mania (weeks 0–2), Depths of Despair (weeks 3–7), and Battered Hope (weeks 8–12).
Stage 1: Absolute Mania (Weeks 0–2)
After delivery, I am wheeled to recovery. Welcome to Stage 1: Absolute Mania.
Rather than being overwhelmed in those early days, I am transformed into a rabid multi-tasker who has everything under control. Chalk it up to raging hormones or a body once again inhabited by only one soul. But whatever it is, I am on. Post-delivery, my hair is fairly clean, my makeup is on, and I only look 6 months pregnant. I’m basking in the glow of not being a pregnant woman anymore. The recovery room is a party; someone pass me a drink.
After discharge I wonder why anyone ever thought having a new baby was difficult. My baby? Sleeps all the time and softly cries. I call it coo-whispering. Nursing? Not bad at all. I’m even sneaking in two pumps a day (milk has not even come in yet), which I am doing just for fun.
Cooking, cleaning, playing with toddler, and some light exercise? Yeah. I just went for a stroll (limping slightly) supported by mesh undergarments and a hospital pad the size of the moon. Baby No. 1 has an open house at school four days postpartum (two days post-discharge)? I’ll be there with pint-sized baby in arms. Heights Taco & Tamale with friends the next night? Hell yes.
I am foaming at the mouth. I like to think I have it all together, but I am actually out of control. I am in a state of complete mania.
If we should happen to cross paths during Stage 1, please don’t take anything I say seriously. I will undoubtedly tell you how well all this “new mom stuff” is going. But I am having a mental break. I just don’t know it yet.
About the time newborn pictures are taken (around day 10), things are beginning to unravel quickly. My carefully planned newborn sesh is causing me immense distress. My husband is not taking it seriously enough for my liking (30 minutes ’til and his shirt is wrinkly and his hair is still wet — does he have no respect?!) and I want to light everything in my crummy house on fire. The baby isn’t cooperating during this expensive and mostly useless photo session, and it is making me violent. I feel the photographer judging me for being a horrid mother whose baby cries, and I am sweating a lot.
The baby is sleeping less and raging more. I realize that I haven’t really slept in weeks. My body hurts. The mania is taking a swing in the opposite direction. Welcome to Stage 2.
Stage 2: Depths of Despair (Weeks 3–7)
Stage 2 is where I am greatly punished for all of the self-congratulation I did in Stage 1. I am in for the special type of cosmic flogging that is reserved only for those who believed they were better equipped to handle something than literally everyone else in the entire world ever.
The baby is nursing/nipple-living all day, and she is up all night. For a week straight, I am allowed between 30 minutes and 1 hour of sleep. I weep. Have you ever wept? I’m talking lay down on the floor, head in hands, and helplessly cried? By God, I have. It’s a humbling experience.
Breastfeeding isn’t working, and the baby isn’t gaining enough weight. I am plagued by terror. Is there something wrong with her?! Is there something wrong with me?!
I feed around the clock, alternating between each breast and finishing with a bottle. I hate every minute of it. I am texting every mother I know and posting in every mom group I can find: “WHEN DOES THIS GET BETTER?!” They universally say about 8 weeks. I am convinced I will not make it.
As the sun begins to set each night, I am filled with dread. A long and lonely night awaits me. I begin to think I have messed up my life for good. I am now a large and immobile milking cow. Where can a large and immobile milking cow go from here? Surely not down but probably not up either. This is it for me.
And with another kid at home, I am convinced that I ruined her life too. Who knew a child could watch TV for so long? I constantly berate myself with factoids from articles that say screen time triggers the same region of a child’s brain as cocaine. See this understated article titled “Its ‘digital heroine’: How screens turn kids into psychotic junkies.”
Cocaine. I am basically peddling drugs to my toddler. I am the epitome of parental failure.
Then, like manna from heaven, something miraculous happens that changes my entire life: The baby sleeps through the night. Welcome to Stage 3.
Stage 3: Battered Hope (Weeks 8–12)
I’ll never forget the first time baby No. 1 slept through the night. She was 8 weeks old. I woke up and the sun was shining. I was terrified. I shot out of bed and shoved my face into her Pack ‘n Play, checking her vitals.
“My God,” I thought, “she slept through the night. I am saved.”
Pro tip: Babies are tricksters. They won’t always sleep through the night, so don’t get cocky. The first year is basically a never-ending mind game of good sleep/lull you into believing it will always be like this, and then “I am growing and enraged, and you’ll never sleep again,” and then back to normal. And repeat.
But even a sporadic night of sleep can work wonders for your life, your faith, your humanity. You have hope. A battered, limping hope that things are on the upswing.
Then something else happens: Your baby eats for a normal amount of time. And pauses for normal periods of time between feedings. You are confused and offer them more. Don’t you need to sit here and bottle and/or nipple-live for the next four hours? But no. They don’t. Angels sing.
And then the best thing of all happens: That little sack of boring smiles at you. Intentionally. They may even laugh. And its beautiful. You can’t believe it. You try to tell your partner, but you can tell they don’t really believe you (they would never actually say this because they are now frightened of you after seeing you terror-emote through the last two months). But you saw it. They smiled at you. They laughed at you. You are doing something right.
Stage 3 rocks. The baby starts looking at things like toys or hands (let’s not make it more than what it is though — baby is still basically a sack with eyes), and it starts sending out rudimentary, but most definitely positive, communications. You receive them with glee.
Sadly, as Stage 3 gets better and better, that cruel bastard Time shows his ugly face. He tells you that now that the baby is tolerable and life is worth living again, it’s time to go back to work. After all, it’s been such a relaxing 12 weeks. A veritable vacay! Its time for the next shitshow to begin: figuring out how to be a working mom.
But more on that later (and I’m currently at home, so apparently I’m no expert). When I had reached the end of Stage 3, I had survived. I did it. Buh-bye newborn phase. Until next time… (jkschedulevasectomyasap)