Having a baby was a truly life changing experience, and while I'd done a lot (!!) of reading and other preparations, there are still a few things that surprised me or things that I'd like to remember for next time:
1) Trust your instincts and ignore the noise. Everyone has advice and stories that they want to share with you - especially other moms. There is a lot of good advice out there, but a lot of crap advice too. Listen, absorb.. and then disregard what you don't want. Your baby, your choices... it's that simple (and - sometimes - that complicated).
2) Have a "support team" assembled for your time at the hospital and first few weeks at home. This critical. For me, the core included my husband and parents. They did just about everything for me for the first week or two post-baby - cleaning my house, making my meals, doing my laundry, my shopping, etc. The only things I focused on were establishing a routine with my baby, bonding with him and feeding him. As much as possible I plan to do this again if I have other children - it was crucial to my mental health and physical recovery. I think 2 weeks is about the right amount of time - there's a point where you have to "sink or swim" on your own, but you should be back on your feet (literally and figuratively) first.
3) Set boundaries for visitors. For me, that meant that I didn't invite anyone to meet our baby at the hospital except our parents/siblings. While there were a few people that disagreed with my decision, I count it among one of the smartest boundaries I drew. It is so important to bond with your baby, and I simply couldn't do that with lots of people in-and-out. Plus, I didn't want my infant to be susceptible to so many germs - each of the people who met our baby at the hospital had received the TDAP vaccination, for example. I also drew boundaries over the visitors that we received at our home - in general, we kept visitors limited to close family. Perhaps you'll enjoy having visitors more quickly than I did - that's totally ok! Each mom is different - each BIRTH is different- and the important thing is to feel comfortable with your decisions
4) Accept help. My parents came for the first 15 days of Jacob's life (and the two days that I was in labor). I felt a little guilty accepting so much help at first (particularly since my mom had to use so much vacation to be here with me) but it made a world of difference. Scott had to return to work when Jacob was just THREE days old, so this help was so needed. It allowed me to take daily naps, and to worry only about being with my baby - they even did diaper changes so that I could do just the fun stuff. After a week or two, I was back on my feet and needed a lot less help, but their presence allowed my to heal so much more quickly... and to really start enjoying these special days with my son.
5) Do something for yourself every day. Take a shower, put on makeup, paint your nails, put on real clothes... any of these things work. I got a pedicure the day that Jacob turned three weeks old... it seemed indulgent and totally crazy and I loved it. I highly recommend it :) It doesn't even have to be that big though - since Jacob was one week old, I have showered - and shaved my legs - every day, without missing a single one. I don't wear makeup or do my hair every day, but a good shower makes me feel awake and fresh and so I prioritize it. I also work hard to build a good routine for us- even in the early days, we got out of the house at least once every day. It was usually a walk, and sometimes also Target, but it was really important to my mental health.
6) Figure out what calms your chaos, and prioritize it. It's a core value to me that my house stays clean, so I prioritize it, and it shows: my house is always pretty clean. I have talked at length about how I do that, but in general, it’s always pretty clean, because a messy house makes me feel chaotic. I don't prioritize a fancy or nice dinner, so I'm very cool with doing a crockpot meal once a week and eating leftovers all week, or eating a salad or sandwich for dinner. Whatever makes you feel best, put your time and energy there. (And on the weekends, worry about the rest).
7) Don't always sleep when the baby sleeps. I slept when the baby slept for the first week or so, but after that, I found that it's important to capitalize on his sleep time. At least one nap a day, I do something that doesn't involve me sleeping. Maybe I clean my floors, or talk on the phone, or write my Thank You notes. It keeps me feeling sane, productive and keeps our house afloat. Plus, babies can sleep up to 18 hours per day... and I don't need quite that much sleep :)
8) Get through the first six weeks. The first six weeks of Jacob’s life were the hardest for me by a LOT. It was a radical change in life and lifestyle, learning how to care for an infant, breastfeeding, lack of sleep, the whole shebang. Around six weeks, things got MUCH easier. I felt back to my normal self, post-pregnancy hormones begin to regulate, and things start to be on autopilot (ex: you can practically change a diap in your sleep) :) Do whatever you must do to get through the first six weeks – and, if you can, throw money at it. Book a weekly housecleaning service. Hire a “mother’s helper” to come for an hour so you can take a shower. Ask your hubby or your mom or your MIL to take a random day off work here-or-there (more on that later). Snuggle your baby as much as possible and don’t worry about establishing routines (those can wait).
9) A father doesn’t babysit his own children. Scott is a fantastic, hands-on father. During my maternity leave, he’d typically get home between 5-6. At 8pm, I went to bed. I stayed up a bit later a handful of times (less than 5?) but at 8, I turned in. He did that shift, and then gave Jacob a bottle at 11pm and woke me up just to pump (the next night’s bottle). Jacob usually didn’t wake up again until 1 or 2am, so that usually meant that I got 5-6 hours of really good sleep – only waking up once. Then anything I got from 2am-6am was an added bonus. Scott would then go to bed around 11/11:30, and he’d get 5-6 hours of straight sleep. That meant each of us could function the next day. This was so awesome. It gave Scott some alone-time with Jacob (where he was the primary caretaker, and had to change all the diapers, do the snuggling, calm a crying babe, etc) and gave me some quality sleep. Win/win!