In my third trimester, I remember signing up early for hospital classes on breastfeeding, birthing and baby care basics. Ever the Type A, I was the one in the front row listening intently and asking questions.
It must have been adrenaline that kept me going through those evening classes that carried on into what I now consider to be the wee hours of the night. You know, like 9:30 pm. What can I say? I was excited (and terrified) at the thought of becoming a mother.
At each of these classes, the hospital touted itself as being “baby friendly,” a recognition not bestowed on many hospitals in the U.S.
One of the criteria for this designation is that hospitals are required to promote “rooming in” with baby 24 hours a day. On tours of the hospital, the other expectant mothers and I would be shown nearly empty nurseries and told that most babies were in the care of their mothers.
The classes emphasized, strongly and repeatedly, that this practice was to promote breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact and bonding between mama and baby.
I was so excited about having the opportunity to snuggle with my little one right away—and only a little nervous that I wouldn’t even know how to hold him, let alone feed or change him, mere minutes after his birth.
The day finally came for my wee babe to be born. I labored for 16 tireless hours and welcomed him into my arms at 8 o’clock on a Thursday morning. My epidural was still going strong, but I was wiped.
They wheeled both of us into my recovery room and we introduced our tiny one to a steady stream of family and friends who came and went throughout the day. He was passed around to so many proud aunts, uncles and grandparents that I barely had any time to worry about how to hold him.
Eventually, the last excited few left and the sun set on an amazing day.
That’s when it hit me: the simultaneous fear of caring for this child with no safety net and the wave of exhaustion that I felt from my hard day’s night in the delivery room.
I may have been ready to catch up on my sleep, but my little guy had other ideas. For starters, it was time for me to experience my first diaper change and my first pee shower and my first poop explosion, henceforth known as a “poopsplosion.”
The evening was off to a great start.
After a few attempts at breastfeeding, my little guy decided that he would rather cry at the top of his lungs all night than sleep. Between wails, my husband and I conversed.
What have we done?
I think we made a defective one.
The night nurse popped her head in a few times. She was nice about it, but it was clear that our little guy (and his not-so-little lungs) was keeping everyone else on the floor awake.
“Do you want me to take him so you can get some rest?”
“Oh no,” I replied. “I know it’s better for him if he stays with us.” He would soon be in our sole charge at home, anyway, I reasoned. We might as well get used to taking care of him on our own.
It was all I could do not to fall asleep while holding him in my weary arms. I would have walked around to soothe him (and keep myself awake) but I couldn’t even go to the bathroom on my own.
By 1 am, the nurse was done asking. “I’m taking him to the nursery now. Get some sleep. I will bring him back for his next feeding session.”
I felt so incredibly guilty… for, like, five minutes. And then I slept. And it was so rejuvenating that I woke up at 3 am excited to feel him in my arms again.
Looking back, those were the last two hours of my life in which I had no one to care for but myself. For probably the next 18-plus years.
I recently moved from Texas to Stockholm, so I expect that my second child will be born under very different circumstances. But, given the chance, I may just soak up every bit of uninterrupted sleep I can during my recovery. If not for myself, then for my squishy little newborn.
I realize now that I am such a better mother + human being when I have scored at least a couple of hours of sleep.
It’s true what they say. If you want to be able to take care of your child, first take care of yourself.
Did my little one’s visit to the nursery quash all hope of mama-baby bonding? Not even close. How much bonding can a mama do when she can’t even keep her eyelids open, anyway?
If anything, taking a short break allowed me a moment to steel myself for the long weeks ahead. Honestly, I think those two hours of peace made me treasure my son even more.
As for my biggest fear, I realize now that asking for help after the birth of my son didn’t mean I would never be able to care for him independently. I have had plenty of days (and nights) to hone my skills at rocking, soothing, feeding and, yes, changing diapers.
Whether you accept help in the hospital or at home after giving birth, I assure you, it doesn’t reflect the kind of mother you will be. It simply means that your body has been through a lot and needs some TLC—just like your beloved babe.
Trust me: It will be much easier to get the hang of caring for your baby when your body is a bit more rested.
If you are fortunate enough to enjoy a peaceful first night with your baby bean, there is probably no feeling sweeter in the world than soaking up as many of those first snuggles as possible.
If, however, your little one is a handful from the get-go and you are craving sleep, there is nothing wrong with giving your body what it needs to recover from childbirth.
However your childbirth story unfolds, just know that you are the perfect mama for your baby, even if it takes you a few days (and some rest) to realize it.