What I’ve Learned in Six Weeks

IMG_0873My six-week postpartum period is over. According to my doctor, I’m ready to return to all physical activities, and if I had a “real” job, it would be time to get back to work. So what’s so magical about the six week mark?

As I took stock of my postpartum period, I realized I’ve actually learned a lot in this time. Maybe life isn’t completely predictable yet, but it is starting to feel more manageable. I think this is due both to Sam starting to fall into some patterns, as well as growing confidence that I can keep him alive and safe.

IMG_0429The other confidence booster is that, very slowly, a few activities from life pre-Sam are starting to return—shopping trips, sleeping in my own bed, cooking real meals, a bit of exercise, and returning to church and the church choir. Soon I hope to add writing on a regular basis and fitting into my pre-pregnancy wardrobe.

Here is a brief list of the wisdom I’ve gained in six weeks’ time: 

There’s not one right way to do parenthood, but some people and some books will try to tell you there is. Distrust anyone or any book that tells you your child should definitely be doing such and such by such and such time. This is a setup for failure and feelings of guilt.

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Sam with his Aunt Deb!

You can learn a lot by handing your child to someone else and just watching. For instance:

Place a pillow behind the baby’s back when laying him down to sleep.

The football hold works well to calm a fussy baby.

Bicycling the legs pushes out gas. (I mean in the baby.)

Full immersion (minus his head) in a bathtub won’t hurt the baby.

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Sam with my friend Nicole, and her daughter, who loves babies.

He just might sit and/or sleep in that swing if you let someone other than mom try.

That crusty stuff in his eyes goes away by itself within about three weeks.

If your child is always fussy, it doesn’t always mean you have a fussy child, but it could mean that you don’t have enough milk for him.

IMG_0290Sleep deprivation looks deceptively similar to postpartum depression. Only try to judge the difference after a good nap.

If you’re thinking of hosting a prayer meeting at your house and leading out within the first six weeks, don’t (unless a babysitter hosts your baby elsewhere. You’ll get interrupted about a million times).

IMG_0481Even the burliest of guys will discuss the merits of Desitin versus Butt Paste if they have a baby at home. (Learned last week when my toilet overflowed, requiring a steady stream of plumbers, contractors, and insurance guys to flood my house.)

If you’re desperate for sleep, go ahead and lay that baby down next to you. For added sleep, give him a breast if you have one. (Whether or not you have copious milk matters little for coaxing him to sleep.)

IMG_0941There are way too many formulas to choose from!

Six weeks, or even four or five, might be when he starts to stabilize. This seems to be a good time to start laying him down by himself at night.

For baby boys, beware: The incidence of spraying seems to go up with the changing of poopy diapers, as opposed to changing non-poopy ones.

IMG_0920If you can afford to hire a housecleaner, do it.

If your family members or friends offer to watch your little bundle, spread the joy.

Before five or six weeks, just give yourself a break. People don’t expect you to get as much done as you do.

Beat the frustration of breastfeeding taking up your “entire day” by using the time to read those books you’ve been putting off reading. (My favorite so far has been the acclaimed memoir Angela’s Ashes.)

The postpartum pooch, while it might make you cry, is a great place to set your baby.

IMG_0356Have a sense of humor about the house that keeps getting dirtier, the laundry that keeps piling up, that article that’s not getting written but you promised months ago (sorry Ashley), those thank-yous that haven’t made it to the mailbox, the bed you haven’t slept in for weeks, the sex you haven’t had for months, the spouse you hardly know anymore, those devotions you just can’t concentrate on, those telltale cries that come every time you’re about to eat, those hobbies you used to have, and those clothes that still don’t fit. Whatever needs to get done in a day will get done.

Try to enjoy your baby, as frazzled as you are. If you look at pictures of him from just two weeks ago, you’ll notice the moments are already fleeting.

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And last but not least, thank God for your baby, because if there is one thing every book and parent agrees on, it is that It will all be worth it in the end.

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A Career Is Not Enough

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A few months ago I sat on a park bench amidst the buzz of a college campus, realizing for the first time in two years that maybe I was out of place. I was twenty-eight years old. I was about to finish a graduate degree. And I was thinking of starting another.

I had also been married for almost eight years to a husband I rarely saw.

As I watched college freshmen skipping past, carelessly slinging their backpacks as if all burdens were so light, I pulled out a notebook and began to write.

It’s a lonely life right now. I am too old to be running around with a pack of friends like these kids—and yet, I don’t really have a family life. Not one that buzzes like this, creating its own nucleus of self-contained activity, a destination and end in itself.

Both still striving for career goals, my husband and I have talked about how these disparate strands will one day converge—we will have enough money to take jobs side by side at a university, or we will have enough money saved to travel together around the country, or we will one day have so satisfied our roles in society that there’s nothing left to do but sit on a park bench like this. We have talked about this meeting of our lives…but we have not yet arrived.

What is it that gives meaning to our lives as a couple? As individuals, we find meaning in work. I find it in writing. But what is the meaning with another person? There has to be common ground. A place where we reap and sow together. Where we both put in time, and dwell together.

Right now we have a house. And technically we both put in time there. He works on the yard (and usually does our laundry), and I work within the walls, doing dishes, cleaning, painting, arranging. Most of our time together we are asleep.

Our house seems oddly empty.

How do two people, young and building separate careers, find common ground, apart from the passing patches at home? Aside from those moments of rushing out the door in the mornings, or flopping down exhausted in the evenings?

Where is that common ground on which we can meet to slowly, deliberately, live life together? Not merely rushing to the next thing or recovering from the last? Is this an ideal that no longer exists in the twenty-first century?

Or is this where kids come in?