The two biggest challenges have been breastfeeding and sleeping (or not sleeping). First, breastfeeding. After having gut wrenching pain, bleeding, and painful engorgement the first few days home, we called a lactation consultant to come help. At the hospital, we had one lactation consultant say Baby L had a minor lip and tongue tie, another one say he did not have either, and his pediatrician said he did not have either. The one we hired to come to our house said he definitely did, and showed us what it looked like. She recommended having it lasered off, which we did the next day. Baby L did fine-he cried, but was pretty easily soothed afterwards. I on the other hand, was a mess and it took me like an hour crying in the upstairs waiting room until I could get it together to leave. I felt so terrible putting my little man through this when he was only a week old! Josh had to do massages on the wounds for the following week to make sure scar tissue didn't build up, but it looks great now and Baby L can move his tongue all over!
The lactation consultant also gifted me with a nipple shield to use to protect myself from the crazy pain in the mean time while we worked on L's sucking. What a world of difference that thing made! It was a life saver. I am forever grateful to it because it likely has saved our BF relationship. I also dealt with the engorgement by pumping myself empty, using cabbage leaves, ice, and ibuprofen. Hallelujah.
So we had taken pretty major steps towards working on BF, but it has been such a process. I expected overnight results with each intervention we have tried, and that is just not how BF works, at least for us. There have been many tears shed (by mama and baby) and frustrations vented (by mama) in the past three weeks. While I love the shield, it is a hassle. You have to wash it every time you use it, sterilize it every day, and if you go anywhere, it's just not all that convenient. It never felt like a long term solution to me, and it's not meant to be. I tried repeatedly to get L to feed without it though, with little success. At first, it still pinched. Then, he wouldn't even latch at all without it, which may have been the most frustrating because there was just milk dripping everywhere, he was screaming because he wasn't getting it, and I was crying because I couldn't understand the disconnect between me and him. I just kept trying however, because what else was there to do??
Two days ago, I noticed that on one side after using the shield, my nipple had four little dots on it in the same shape as the shield. It turns out little man has become such a proficient sucker that he was sucking me right through the shield. That's a good sign it's time to stop using the shield! So we have been without it for the past 24 hours! While I have required positive affirmations and neck rubs from Josh while feeding L, I have not cried (about BF)! This is progress, people. So we are feeling hopeful about this currently.
The other crazy hard part is the sleeplessness. The recommendations these days are for babies to sleep on their own, on a flat surface, on their back. If you can find me one newborn who this works for, I will call that child a miracle. Newborns are used to being snug inside their mommas, not isolated in a cold little bed! So we have struggled with guilt when he does not sleep like this, and fatigue to the point of being crazy (legit crying/screaming/yelling CRAZY) when he does. The problem is he will only sleep in his bassinet for about 1.5 hours. This means you get between 30 minutes-1 hour of sleep at a time. Which is madness and not sustainable. So we have no solution to this problem yet, but we try something different every day. Mostly, we're just holding out until 6 weeks because that's when people and the internet say it will get better?! Let's hope we haven't gone mad by then.
Other hard things about newborns, or at least this newborn: they cry all the time! Not like a cute little whimper, but an all out "my life is terrible, do something NOW" scream. This is our routine: baby sleeps, wakes up screaming, baby gets changed, baby gets fed, baby may fight getting fed if he is too hungry OR feeding may go well, baby screams during getting burped, baby falls asleep getting fed again OR he has a blissful 20 minutes of peaceful and happy awake time in which you think "aw, newborn life is beautiful! Hurry, take a picture so this is what we remember!" Then he screams because he is tired. The bottom line is there is a lot of screaming.
It is also so hard because there a million chances to doubt what you are doing. Should I burp him longer? Should I eat that broccoli or is that why he was gassy? Did we swaddle him too tight? Did we swaddle him too loose? Should we swaddle him at all? Should I wake him to eat? Should we try and set a schedule or let him sleep and enjoy the peace? If we wake him will he sleep longer tonight? Should we give him a pacifier? What about a bottle? What if that ruins breastfeeding before we even figure BF out? ............You get the idea. I don't think I ever realized that he would totally, 100% be reliant on me for everything. Every second of his life right now is dependent on what I do (or Josh). That is a huge responsibility and so incredibly terrifying and daunting.
So this whole baby thing is crazy hard. Don't get me wrong, there have been moments of peace, joy, love, and happiness. They have just been few and far between in these initial weeks, although I think they are becoming more regular as we all adjust to each other a little more. Some of the highlights of having baby L home with us:
- seeing Josh as a dad. I did so well when I married this man. He is the patience and voice of reason at 3am when I am crying hysterically. He is already the fun one who does tummy time, songs, and otherwise engages our child when I am laying on the couch exhausted. He is the one who helps us get out of the house successfully. And he has changed 95% of the diapers so far. Baby L is one lucky little man to have such a great papa.
- seeing Baby L's newborn smiles while he is sleeping. We like to think he is playing with Sloane when this happens :)
- Looking down at Baby L at 1am after he has fallen asleep after eating and seeing the resemblances between him and his big sister. I love knowing they are siblings and they know each other.
- hearing L's coos when he eats
- seeing L's big blue eyes when he is looking around this new world and us as his parents
- seeing his big belly after he eats and feeling pride knowing that he is growing because of me and the pain and sacrifice I am putting into BF
Life is all about the extremes right now: when it sucks, it REALLY sucks, but when it's good, it's REALLY good.
I have been so lucky to have so many amazing, incredible female friends who are a step or two ahead of me in this journey of motherhood. Friends who can say, "yes, the first few weeks are terrible, but you will make it!" Friends who I can text endlessly about my nipples and they aren't weirded out, but instead offer encouragement and suggestions. Friends who check in regularly because they know my sanity is at stake if they don't. Friends who validate every crazy, hormonal, emotional feeling you have because they have felt it, too. There are friends who are a little further down the journey of motherhood and who can look back at the newborn stage with fondness- maybe one day I will get to that point, too. Friends who bring meals and ice cream and sushi and subs. Friends who mow your lawn. And friends who reassure you, over and over and over and over and over and over again, that you are doing the right thing and you are doing your best. If he uses a nipple shield, if he gets formula, if you have to pump every feeding, if he sleeps in your bed, if he sleeps in his bassinet, if he sleeps in his swing, YOU ARE DOING YOUR BEST. I should get that tattooed on my arm, but instead I will rely on my friends (husband included!) to help me through.