Having a baby is all kinds of wonderful and brutal mixed up into one crazy shitstorm of a few months. What do you think? Did I describe that accurately? It’s such a unique and complex experience that is difficult to describe accurately in a few lines. When you become a mother, there’s a lot of talk about survival. And, let’s be honest: that’s what it can be about many days--just getting by. That said, after having my second baby a couple of months ago, I feel better equipped to handle the ups and downs of newborn life and am pretty committed to creating a life that looks a lot more like thriving than surviving. I want to share my own lessons learned and tips to thrive through these crazy days in hopes that it can help other new moms live even a little above that survival baseline and maybe even create a life with her baby that she always envisioned.
#1 Get your feeds in and manage the daytime sleep
This is probably my most specific tip and may not win me any popularity contests depending on your parenting style or school of thought. But I’m ok with it, because I can honestly say that this rule helped me stay sane with both of my babes and, because of that and the nature of this post, I can’t not share it.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love baby sleep. And I don’t just mean babies that sleep (although, ultimately that is what we’re aiming for here). I mean I love learning the ins and outs of baby sleep. There is a boatload of literature and resources on this topic and it can be difficult to figure out how you want to approach sleep and how to get your baby to actually do it. But, a common thread I’ve found amongst most sleep resources and professionals is this: have your baby consume most of their feeds during the day. I’m no expert, but this screams logic to me. If your baby consumes the majority of their food during the day, they are less likely to be asking for it all night long. So, I always suggest starting there. Feed every 2-3 hours. Now, this inevitably affects daytime sleep. Sometimes, in order to ensure your baby gets in all of their feeds, you have to wake them from naps (gasp!), thus also controlling their daytime sleep. And here’s the thing: another concept that makes sense to me is that a baby who sleeps all day long will, at some point, sleep less during the night. I know this is the part of my belief system that doesn’t always sit so well with every parent. But, hey, this is my blog. And because I want to provide something really practical and actionable, here’s a rough daily feeding schedule that I used with both of my children from very early days (once they had reached birth weight after that initial loss), and spoiler alert: both of my kiddos have always been awesome night sleepers. By no means are they perfect, but they’re really good. I’m not saying that this is why… but I’m also not saying it’s not. If you’ve never done something before, and you don’t have anyone to tell you where to start, it can feel like driving without a road map. A schedule gives you a starting point, and thus, a little bit of confidence.
Six weeks ago, we welcomed the fourth member of our family earth side and, needless to say, we’re pretty smitten. Austin Andrew Mundy arrived on December 22nd at 6:58am, weighing 7lbs 6oz. We didn’t have a “plan” that we were hoping would pan out when it came to the birth of either of our children. It was really about getting in there and seeing what felt right, and, of course, making sure baby was safe and happy. That said, we had a few ideas of what could happen this time around, based on some consistent family history. Myself, my mother, and my grandmother were all born at home due to precipitous birth--in other words, an extremely fast labour. So, with this top of mind, although we were hoping to make it to the hospital before delivery, we had a soft home birth plan… you know… just in case (it involves a lot of shower curtains).
We had planned a family Christmas celebration with my inlaws, which included a full weekend of events and a sleepover party. I had been experiencing inconsistent contractions here and there in the days prior, so we threw the hospital bags in the car, prepared for anything. Around 5pm on Saturday, while sipping Perrier and snacking on horderves, I started to notice some light cramping in fairly regular intervals. Looking back, I’m not sure why I wasn’t concerned that I wouldn’t just pop my baby out in the bathroom of his Grandparents, given all of the discussion that had taken place around this possibility. I guess my intuition told me otherwise. As the evening progressed and contractions increased, it was clear that I would, in fact, have the full labour experience once again. But for how long was still unknown. I wasn’t even convinced it was really happening. However, around 6pm, I looked at my sister and said, “I think I’m in labour.”
Contractions were still about eight to nine minutes apart and manageable. So, we put Ayla and her cousins to bed and planned to sit down for one of the few civilized grown-up meals of the year. However, halfway through dinner, we made the decision to head home. Contractions had become painful and required my focus to breathe through. They were still eight minutes apart, so we figured we still had a good chunk of time before things got serious, and I knew I wanted to be labouring in the comfort of my own home… without my extended family members as cheerleaders (no offence--love you, guys). I had some major mom guilt about leaving Ayla behind without being able to give her an explanation about why she would be waking up without us, but felt very fortunate that she had a slew of babysitters that loved her. It really could not have worked out much better.
By the time we got home, contractions were six minutes apart… then five… then four. Dave was calling the midwife while simultaneously filling the bath, thinking we may not make it to the hospital if things continued to progress at this speed. I had just changed my clothes, turned on the John Mayer Live soundtrack and hopped on my exercise-turned-birthing ball when my midwife came, checked me and said it was time to go if we wanted to have this baby in the hospital. We hadn’t been home for an hour and contractions were now one minute apart. Preferring to labour standing up, the drive there was as excruciating as I remember with Ayla, but I was thankful to have avoided the long early labour I had with her, and was more rested this time around. When we arrived, everyone was fairly confident that I would hop up on the bed and push this baby out. Active labour was intense and contractions were starting to run on top of each other. But, after a quick check, I just wasn’t dilated enough. We made the decision to break my water, in hopes that that would move things along. Still, progress was slow, despite the fact that contractions had become “merciless,” as my midwife would later describe them. As I knelt on all fours in bed, they offered me nitric oxide, which I eagerly accepted. The pain was excruciating at this point, and without any breaks, I was growing weary and fast. I just needed a minute to rest, and it simply wasn’t going to happen. As I furiously sucked in the gas, desperate for relief, a nurse came and said if I wanted an epidural, I had to get it now before the anesthesiologist went into surgery. I remember feeling so vulnerable and helpless in this moment. I felt like I should be able to push my baby out now. It didn’t seem right that my labour would be so fast and furious without any progression. But, alas, I still was not dilated (this would make sense later). Feeling defeated, I said yes to the epidural. My feelings of defeat weren’t a result of choosing the epidural. A goal I had set for myself this entire pregnancy was to work with my body during labour--something I didn’t feel like I did with Ayla. I prepped for it. I visualized it. And when the time finally came, it actually felt like it was my body that wasn’t working with me. I didn’t know what else to do. If someone had been able to tell me, “You only have to do this for 20 more minutes!” I know I could have endured. But no one could do that. So, I hedged my bets and got the epidural (thank goodness).
Soon, I was able to relax, although sleep still eluded me because of the constant pressure of contractions. Still, hours passed without much progress, and although baby was still happy, everyone was a little confused. Then, during a check, my midwife told me that she wanted to consult the OB. The doctor came in to check me and both women decided that they were fairly certain they were feeling my cervix--and not in the way they wanted to. My cervix had begun to swell and protrude, essentially blocking Austin’s escape route. Neither professional had experienced this phenomenon before, but baby was still happy, so they decided the best plan of action was to wait it out and see if the issue would resolve itself.
A couple of hours passed and the situation began to worsen. My cervix continued to swell and Austin’s heart rate suddenly began to drop dangerously low after the passing of each contraction. The doctor explained that the baby was getting tired and that things had become dangerous for him at this point. She said, although it was never her first choice, I needed to get to the operating room for an emergency c-section. This baby needed out.
Not once in my nine months of being pregnant had I considered the idea that I may ever need a c-section. Ayla had been delivered naturally and the idea of anything else just hadn’t crossed my mind. But in the moment, I had to let go of any feelings of shock and fear and focus on what mattered most: getting my baby out safely. They quickly prepared me for surgery and I was whisked away to the O.R. within minutes. At this point, my epidural was wearing off (or I had been weaned off of it. Who’s to say at this point? I was an exhausted wreck), but I was told I couldn’t move as they administered the spinal. I was experiencing painful contractions, extremely close together, and was also beginning to feel nauseous while simultaneously fighting to keep my eyes open (a special cocktail of drugs and lack of sleep). One of the doctors/nurses/some kind of medical professional (I legitimately can’t remember what this woman actually did) stood in front of me, wearing a mask over her mouth, preventing me from seeing what she really looked like. She braced me from the front for stabilization as they began the freezing process, and I recall it being one of the most vulnerable moments of my entire life. Something about the exhaustion, the pain, the worry, not having time to properly process the idea of a c-section and not having Dave with me (he was getting scrubbed in and would join me in a few minutes). I clung to this woman I had never met, silent tears streaming down my face, trying desperately not to move through contractions. Such an odd feeling, being so desperate for a stranger’s love and support and trusting her to help me keep it together. And she did. Whoever she was. I still remember her eyes, and being so grateful for her in that moment.
Soon, I was on the table, curtain up between me and my bump, and Dave was by my side, holding my hand. I remember thinking how badly I wanted this to be over so I could have a glass of water. I was parched! A strange thought when you’re about to meet your child for the first time. Within a few minutes, there were cheers as they pulled Austin from my body, lifted him above the curtain for a quick glance before my midwife whisked him over to the warming table. There was lots of commotion as my midwife and nurses rubbed his little body and performed some suctioning. Dave and I both anxiously watched the clock. A full three minutes passed before we heard the most beautiful cry from our son. The longest three minutes of our lives. We both let the tears fall and breathed a sigh of relief. Dave was able to perform skin to skin as they stitched me up and prepared us for the recovery room. They put Austin on my chest as they wheeled me out of the OR. The following few hours were peaceful and quiet as we went from recovery to our inpatient room and began to process everything that had just happened, as well as update our family. He was here and we were healthy.
(Days later, I would work through some big emotions that I knew would come from having a c-section. At first, they were difficult to describe and understand, as my baby was happy and healthy, and I felt that’s all that should matter. But my midwife said something very important to me that I will remember forever and her words became the foundation of my healing: It is not selfish or unjustified to feel the way you do. You have to mourn the birth you did not have)
The hours and days that followed included lots of baby snuggles and the beginning of a painful, unexpected recovery process. 48 hours after he was born, we headed home and introduced Austin to his big sister (an emotional reunion I will never forget. I missed that kid like crazy). And of course, we still celebrated a very toned down Christmas, something that was important for us to give Ayla, in spite of everything going on. Safe to say things were a bit of a whirlwind at first. But once the dust settled, we began to sort out what life would look like for our little family of four. Tiring, a little chaotic, lots of change, but mostly just full of love.
Austin: we love you, little boy. Let the adventure continue.