I have a newborn. I say it like I’m in an AA meeting. Hi, my name is Erin and I have a newborn. It’s been 39 days since I last slept. I remind myself that there is a time for everything and this is the time to endure the unique torture that is sleep deprivation. This is the time for projectile vomiting and poonami’s and a distinct lack of personal hygiene. Have I showered today? I honestly can’t remember. I tell myself it’s a season. It won’t last forever. And even though my daughter, Éowyn (The Charger), is my very much longed for and prayed for rainbow baby, I struggle with this stage of life.
Any of us are apt to struggle when a tiny human is completely dependent on us. The nights seem to stretch out forever when baby just won’t sleep, but the time to get up in the morning arrives far too quickly. And you’ve probably heard it said: the days are long but the years are short. My son, Atticus (The Destroyer), turns 4 tomorrow and I’m not entirely sure where those years have gone. (He still doesn’t sleep through the night so that might have something to do with the blur of the last 4 years). But on those days when the baby prefers screaming to sleeping and the threenager prefers giving me attitude to giving me assistance… yes, those days are long. So how do I maintain some semblance of self when I can’t seem to do the things that make me, well, me.
When I’m not on (pseudo) Maternity Leave, I work in higher education. I normally use my brain to write things and say things for a living. This is a problem when you have what we in the baby-making industry refer to as “baby brain.” Baby brain, or nominal aphasia, as I experience it, is a real problem when words are your bread and butter. I was interviewing an applicant for my Mat Leave position and couldn’t remember the word “successful!” But there are things I can do when my brain isn’t braining well. I’m definitely no expert, but maybe they can help you feel more like you, too.
Go for a walk. Studies have shown that it can get the creative juices flowing. You get some fresh air, a change of scenery, and some physical and mental space to pray. And, as an added bonus, babies tend to like motion to sleep – they might just take a nap. Or, even better, someone in the village might like to watch baby while you get to walk hands free! Luxury!
And speaking of the village: it takes one. If people offer you their assistance: Just. Say. Yes. Mother-in-law wants to help with the washing? Yes. A friend wants to bring you a meal? Yes. The other day our car-enthusiast neighbour, Steve, offered to wash our car. Ordinarily both my husband, Will, and I would feel like we couldn’t possibly accept… but we’ve learned: Just. Say. Yes. Having fewer things that feel like they need to be done, and less of a mental burden, might free you up to do something different. Which leads me to…
Try to do something each day that is just for you. Between the feeding and the changing and the expressing and the rocking and the shushing (it’s a word, go with it) and the washing and the… you get the picture… there’s not a lot of time for you. Even if it’s only for a brief blissful moment, try have a quiet time (or something else that helps you connect with God), or do something you liked to do before baby. For me, I will forego a shower (don’t judge me) if it means I get to write. Writing helps make me feel more human, less milking cow.
When my eyes are watering because I haven’t slept, and when I don’t want to look at another breast pump as long as I live, I like to remind myself how indescribably amazing it is to sustain new life. My tiny humans were each knit together in my womb. My Destroyer and my Charger are fearfully and wonderfully made. They are perfect. I still marvel that they have been entrusted to me.
So, yes, it’s a crazy-chaotic-difficult season, but seasons come and go. There is a time for everything. This stage of life is also the season of first smiles and Koala-cuddles and that addictive newborn smell. How do they smell so good?
Anyway, I’m struggling to finish this article… So I’m going to go for a walk.
If you think you might be experiencing postnatal depression or anxiety, please see your doctor or contact BeyondBlue on 1300 22 4636
Erin Martine Sessions is Associate Academic Dean at Morling College. She's an indolent poet and mother to two tiny humans.