Life with a Newborn - The First Six Weeks
The little one is napping as I sneak in this entry. There is the constant drizzle of the rain, the quiet hum of our fan, Lilibubs’ little wheezes and sounds as she sleeps. There is the rumble of a plane as it lands or takes off, I’ve never really known which, a zit near my upper lip and cabbage leaves that have begun to lose their coldness on my two breasts. My dress is soaked in milk. I smell nauseatingly of milk. In the distance, a house is undergoing either construction or renovation, the street where we live never really free from dust or city noise.
The zit is bothering me. I go to the bathroom and pop it.
Blood. Being a woman, I’m so used to seeing blood it doesn’t bother me at all. At least that’s what I thought until I bled continuously for six weeks and three days after birth. Yesterday, the red flag was finally hoisted down. Six weeks to recover from a caesarian section, they say. That does seem right, as my bleeding has stopped, my wound is healing nicely and I’m feeling stronger. My OB said that I can exercise in another two weeks.
Not that my energy can tolerate anything other than walking though. With my body and sleep still tied to Lilibubs, who feeds every two-three hours, at times even every hour or an hour and a half, and who sometimes wakes up crying in between because she needs to burp/fart/change nappy, I feel that right now, there’s really not much I can squeeze in in my thirty minute to two hour breaks, especially since I’m also sleepy most of the time.
Tiring but fun. Challenging but fulfilling. Overwhelming yet educational. Fascinating yet exasperating. Life with a newborn is a life of contrasting emotions, a life that fills yet at the same time, drains. A life that adds a whole new dimension to you and yet, consumes you in its seeming one-dimensional, your-newborn-is-your-sun-and-you-are-the-planet-that-revolves-around-it orbit.
I have never been needed this much in my life, and I have never rejoiced in being so needed, until now.
It is pure hardwork, plain and simple. Day in and day out, a mother would give of herself: her milk, her warmth, her energy. The rewards would be getting to love her baby, gazing at her, hugging her, watching her grow. The babe at this point cannot reciprocate yet - all she does is eat and sleep and be needy, but when she is sated she sometimes gives a smile and all blood, sweat, and tears are forgotten, if only for that one smile. Romanticized, perhaps, but delightful, true.
I remember our first night in the hospital as a family: me in my bed, Mommy Jing and Joey in the couch, Lilibubs in her bassinet. She cried so many times that first night that we buzzed the nurse for help so many times as well, trying to figure out what it was she wanted or was complaining about. My nipples were sore from her unli-latching and our eyebags had eyebags, but the second night was a little better, and the night after that. Joey and I fell into a rhythm without talking about it: I’d sleep from 8pm to around 1am, then it’ll be his turn to rest. Our first two weeks went by seemingly hitch-free, with Lilibubs generally just waking when she’s hungry. Joey and I were a team, he’d burp after I feed, and we’d take turns changing her nappy. On our first week, we found out that Lilibubs didn’t like to wear mittens, that she preferred to have her hands free. By the second week, it was clear that she didn’t want to be swaddled anymore.
It was on her third week when Lilibubs “found” her voice, when she truly became “alive”. (Understandably so, because it was on her third week that she’s supposed to be full-term, had I delivered her then.) She was more expressive (read: she cried more) and clingy I had to remind myself that crying is her language for now and that preemies needed a lot of physical contact to thrive and that it’s impossible to spoil an infant. By this time, it was only her hunger cry that I could discern, all her other cries Joey and I would guess if it’s gas or nappy change or if she just wanted to be held. Her fourth week was pretty uneventful, more or less the same as her third week, just that we were more adjusted.
Bathtime was a nightmare. The first time I tried to bathe her in a bathtub, she cried and squirmed and vomited and pooped I was so traumatised I swore to just give her sponge baths thereafter, lol. (I remember praying then, “Lord, sana po hindi ko mapatay anak ko.” Ganun ako na-praning, hehe.) It was only when we noticed that she had rashes on her face and neck that we consulted her pedia, Dr. Bistek Rosario, who said that since Lilibubs was a month old and a big girl already, she could be given a bath everyday between 10am-2pm, her face washed with mild soap to prevent dryness.
Thankfully, on that first month with all its busyness and adjustments, I didn’t experience what many mommas cautioned about: postpartum depression. I suppose I was just so caught up in all that caring for a newborn entailed, all the learning that was to be made, that there just seemed to be no thought in my body left for anything resembling or leading to depression. Even when I knew how messy and undesirable and manas I must have looked, I didn’t mind. I was okay, and gratefully so.
I have to admit though, that in my first days of getting to know Lilibubs, I felt weird, like I couldn’t reconcile this baby to the one that was moving inside me. Lamang si Lilibubs in that aspect - she knew my voice and my smell, she can identify me as her mother anytime. I, on the other hand, was in for the most memorable blind date of my life. It can be said that my maternal instinct (whatever that was, haha) didn’t kick in at once - what I was was a bleeding and aching semblance of myself in awe of creation, amazed that from Joey and I this child came to be, watching with love as Joey lovingly watched our baby, and yet not identifying myself as her mother. Weird but true. Of course, as the hours and days passed and I got to know my baby, as our bond increased, those weird feelings went away.
I was powered by excitement, enamoredness, and the need to care for Lilibubs on our first four weeks. I somehow didn’t mind the staggered sleep, and found that whatever sleep or nap I managed to get was enough fuel to attend to Lilibubs. By the fifth week though, it seemed that my excitement-powered energy was dwindling down, and I found myself asking Joey to cover more of the caring responsibilities. There were nights when I would just conk out and Joey would just wake me up every time Lilibubs would get hungry, and I’d take her in my arms and offer my breast in a daze.
The challenges and doubts came on our fifth week. I unknowingly developed early stage mastitis and got hospitalised (I thought I was just engorged). My breastmilk supply was so messed up - I was producing so much more than Lilibubs needed. My breasts would fill up so quickly and my letdowns and milk flow were so forceful and fast, Lilibubs would get so frustrated at each feed. I was so confused on what to do - to pump is to tell my body that I needed more milk when I really don’t anymore, but to just do hand expressions don’t seem enough to relieve me (I’ve finally learned how to do it properly - thanks to a lactation consultant). I would get so frustrated every time Lilibubs would choke when I fed her, even if we were in a reclining or lying down position. The oversupply also caused an imbalance in my milk, resulting to more foremilk which made Lilibubs so gassy.
Awang awa ako sa anak ko kasi nung una hindi naman kami ganito.. I could feed her in any position and she wasn’t as gassy and she wouldn’t cry :( Thoughts of me and my milk not being good for her would cross my mind, as well as that of giving up direct latching and just pumping my milk to feed her through a bottle or cup. I was at a loss on what to do.. right now, I’m keeping at it and praying that my milk supply would balance out soon. I think the cold cabbage leaves have been working as well as the block feeding I employed because I get less engorged now, but my milk flow is still too fast.
This week is a different challenge. Lilibubs would get so cranky for two hours after her 6/7pm feed (usually it’s precipitated by my fast milk flow; she’d get frustrated and cry, her feeding no longer relaxed :( ).. it would be so hard to put her to sleep. She would cry nonstop, and when I would try to soothe her she would automatically root and lunge for my breasts, understandably so because she would smell my milk, but frustrating because she just fed so I know that she just wants to use me as a pacifier. I wouldn’t give in and she would get angry and cry, and on and on it will continue. Had me think of giving her a pacifier already, but so far, we are still holding on and trying other ways of soothing her.
But this week had its ups too, as for three straight days at different times during the day, Lilibubs would put herself to sleep! One time she was just listening to music, the other she was looking at our colourful nursing pillow. On all times I was so proud, huhu.
I wonder what the following weeks of caring for an infant would bring us. One thing’s for sure: time indeed flies by so fast! One night we came home with a tiny, tiny preemie and now - when I look at this chubby cheeked, always hungry miniature version of Joey, all I can do is marvel. She has grown so much in such a short span of time. Am I glad that Joey and I were there with her 24/7, at every feed, burp, bath, sleep, fart, and nappy change.
The little one has started to fuss. My mom is here, so I ask her to pick Lilibubs up to burp her. After passing gas, the little one starts to root. My mom immediately says, “gutom na”. I tell her not yet, that she just needs a little help getting back to sleep. My mom tries to soothe her but Lilibubs continues to fuss. So I get her, then sing to her an impromptu funny song, shielding the smell of my breast with a swaddle. Her rooting ceases - I watch her watch me at first, she seems to be listening.. then after a little while she closes her eyes as her body relaxes. I wait for her mouth to open just a little - our sign that she is deeply asleep and can now be put down.
She sleeps, she smiles. I smile, too.
On and on it goes, this dazed and exhausting, yet incomparably rewarding, life with a newborn. <3
Thank you for reading! Have a lovely weekend :)