The big day was approaching and I was growing more and more anxious for our newest addition to arrive. I was getting excited to meet our new baby boy, see how he was similar or different from his brothers, and start to learn how he would be incorporated into our family. But as the eager anticipation grew, some old fears resurfaced – what if I had to deal with PPD again? What if my anxiety was overwhelming? What if this baby didn’t let us sleep?! (the last question is clearly the most concerning) As these little concerns started to grow into bigger concerns, I decided to take a fresh approach. I wanted to truly ENJOY the newborn days (even though they are some of my least favorite in childhood development) and use maternity leave as a chance to build into our family. Looking back, there are three major things that I did differently that made a world of difference in Daniel’s first 11 weeks (because somehow he is already 11 weeks old?!) and I hope that you will find one or two changes that can help ease your postpartum journey and find the JOY of motherhood.
Change 1: Ask for help – A LOT of it!
We are so blessed to live by both sets of grandparents and we are equally blessed that they are so loving, supportive, and engaged in our lives.
I am classically independent and it’s difficult for me to ask for help, thinking: I don’t want to be a burden on anyone else, I can handle things myself, no one else needs to worry about me. These lies have kept me from receiving a wonderful gift over the years, the gift of love through service. What I have realized is that when people offer help they want to love and support you; they are being the hands and feet of Jesus. More so, when we humble ourselves to ask for help we are practicing an act of obedience and submission to the Lord allowing others to work in our lives. So when people offered to help I took them up on it! This included lots of family visits, grandparents watching the two older boys so Bryan and I could have some baby time, friends and family bringing us food, and keeping our nanny. I realize not everyone has the financial means to continue to pay for childcare while on leave, but if you can swing it – even a couple days a week – I HIGHLY recommend it. Having another adult at the house who could help get Vincent to preschool or watch the baby while I helped the boys, or better yet – watched the kids so I can nap! – made all the difference in the world those early weeks. Now that I am coming out of my newborn fog, I hope to start incorporating working out into those times that I have childcare, too!
One note on helping new moms. I really appreciate when people don’t give me an option to accept their help or not. Many people simply said, “We would like to bring you dinner, when would be a good night?” Asking this way not only gave me the freedom to know that this was how my friends wanted to support us, but also saved me from having to think about what would be most helpful. If you want to help a new parent – this is a very impactful way to make the family feel loved!
Change 2: We made our Marriage a Priority
It’s really easy to miss your spouse in those early baby days. You are caught up in all the nursing and napping and trying to shower once and awhile, so meaningful connection can fall by the wayside. We have made a concerted effort to spend time just the two of us after Daniel arrived and [once again] it has made a big difference. Building into your spouse doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive (but I totally enjoy when we do get to do fancy and expensive things), it does have to be intentional. Bryan and I had a conversation about what quality time looks like for us in this stage of life and it was really helpful. It was good to hear each other’s expectations about what quality time looked like and what was realistic for this phase of our lives (spoiler: our realistic quality time was once per week, 30 minutes). We have done simple things like playing cards at our kitchen table or diving into an old favorite TV show. We also asked for help arranging childcare so we could go discover a new brewery or restaurant. We have also just made an effort to spend time in conversation after our day is done. Sitting, talking, and connecting for 15-20 minutes on the couch after the kids go to bed helps us encourage each other, talk about the hard things, and make sure that we are approaching parenting as a team (also, let’s talk about parenting as a team another time, okay?). It’s amazing to me what an hour or two away from kids can do for our relationship.
If this is an area you want to see change, I would encourage you to sit down with your spouse and figure out two things:
- What does quality time look like for each of you?
- What is a realistic amount of time or number of times per week that you can create space for quality time?
Change 3: Working to Accept things as they come
This is a constant theme in my life, but especially true in the first three-ish months of raising a child. I found myself with both Vincent and Teddy trying to anticipate what would happen and therefore building my anxiety both night and day. It was exhausting. I still fall into this trap, but now I work to tell myself that I will “deal with it as it comes.” This is especially true for nighttime. I get anxious wondering when Daniel might wake, if he will fall back asleep on his own, how often I might need to get up during the night, etc. All this worrying and wondering does not bode well for my own rest. I find that when I just think, “I will deal with tonight as it comes and get sleep when I can” that I can work through the uncertainty much better. The same is true for dealing with three kids under five day in and day out. If I try to anticipate the type of day we will have – and I can anticipate either positive or negative – I almost always cause myself undue angst. If I anticipate a day where I think I can get a lot done, and then it doesn’t work out I feel frustrated (and usually take it out on the kids). If I anticipate a negative day or a hard day, it’s difficult to find the little joys that kids laughing or playing can bring. So instead, I work to accept whatever is immediately in front of me and just deal with that.
Be still and know that I am God.Psalm 46:10
I have been practicing this acceptance in parenting, but really it’s a larger picture of trusting in the Lord isn’t it? We try to plan, anticipate our next move, worry about what may come and all the while God simply asks us to be present and accept what’s in front of us. How many precious moments have I missed because I am anxious about something that may or may not ever happen? How many times have I missed intimacy with God because my mind is preoccupied trying to anticipate what’s next? The verse that always comes to mind in these circumstances is Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” I think in the stillness we can experience God’s peace so we can know His plan. It’s when we can find the small joys in seasons that are difficult (like raising a newborn while keeping toddlers alive). So while I set out on this to enjoy the first few weeks of life, God revealed his larger plan – to help me learn how to find JOY with Him always.