Parenthood Part 3: How can I ever be ready? Surviving the first days.

So I’ve established that I think parenting’s worst aspects are all logistical and that the medical establishment and our own desires for immediate control of our bodies work together to contribute to our putting way more emphasis on being pregnant than on preparing for the actual baby — when preparing for the actual baby is something we can do successfully and thoroughly much more than controlling gestation.

I started to make a list of all the worst logistical problems, what month or quarter they apply to and what options I saw for heading them off at the pass (if indeed that could be done at all). And I stopped. That’s a list of future posts, not a single post in and of itself. Hell, books have been written on less than my short list.

So instead, I think this post is going to be about figuring out who can help you at the very beginning. And what you really need first whether it’s done by you or someone else. Some of us are lucky. We know we have parents or child-having friends and those people know what we need. Er. Do they? They might. Let me crack a myth right straight way. Your mother/mother-in-law MAY be completely useless. You love her. You trust her. Heck, she raised YOU, didn’t she? Yeah. She raised you 20 or 30 years ago. If you’re lucky, she’s available and excited about holding a grandchild, but just because she can give a bottle and knows how to burp a child, that’s no guarantee she really remembers what YOU need. Her need to hold a grandchild is, in this case, nice, but pales next to your need for her help.

Now the other mythical helpers: Your friends with small children. If you’re not going first in your circle, your friends are more likely to really know what you need. But are they available to provide it? If they don’t live in the neighborhood – like less than 10 minutes away – you are still going to have needs for companionship and support they will have trouble meeting. I don’t discount the power of a telephone call. It’s just that doing things for you in the immediate vicinity of your own home is most of your need for support in that first week or two.

Am I saying that everyone you’ve been taught to count on is useless? No. Far from it. What I *am* saying is that you cannot depend on ANYONE doing stuff for you when and how you need it without you asking for it specifically and being able to tell them what you need. Your friends have lives and your mother, though she may be under your nose, is not a dependable mind reader because it’s been too long since she was there. What that leaves you with is the conundrum of figuring out what you need and pocketing your pride about asking for it.

For me, the thing happened like this. After my daughter was born, my mother came to stay with us for a couple of weeks. And she sat on the couch and held the baby. For about a week. That’s lovely. I was glad she was enjoying her grandchild. And without knowing quite why I found myself seething with frustration. I had a c section. I could not get up easily and the housework was piling up. My husband was coming home from work and making meals. And my mother’s visit was not constituting “help”. Then my friend, Ann, who was a mother of a 10 month old drove 2 hours each way in a single day and spent about 4 hours doing the following:

She made me lunch.
She changed the sheets on my bed.
She put me in the bed for a nap.
She cleaned my kitchen and my bathroom while I slept.
She dropped a snack by the bed, kissed me and left.

I cried. I was so tired and so amazed and it was WHAT I NEEDED MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD. Clean sheets. I didn’t know they were better than sex. Trust me. In the days after you have a child, they are. The next day, my mother and I talked, and mom — who also realized after Ann’s visit what needed doing — started filling up the fridge with food that required zero prep time, leaving me to nurse and sleep as I could. She just hadn’t realized what she was doing — or more importantly NOT doing. She was more than willing to help.

Would I have figured out what I needed if Ann hadn’t dropped out of the sky? Or how to ask for it? Would my mother have gotten the message without such a serious object lesson? I don’t know. But I do know this: When you bring a newborn home from the hospital, your house needs to be organized and clean and you need a full fridge — not just a freezer — of healthy things you can eat standing up in front of the fridge if necessary. Ideally you would like to have someone to bring them to you in bed. Heated. But take what you can get. What you do not need is company who want to hold the baby and sit around and talk. Or anyone who requires any waiting on.

Note, too, when I say an organized house, I mean something you had better have done months before the baby showed up. If your house is a clutter-fest before the baby, don’t just clean the bathroom and scour the kitchen floor. ORGANIZE IT. And I don’t mean stack 8000 perfectly folded T shirts on a shelf in a closet so that the first time you need one, you burrow into the pile and they all fall over again. That does not help.

I mean get a system or systems you can maintain together and if you have to throw out every possession you own in order to do it, do it. If things don’t have places before the baby shows up, sweetie, they aren’t going to find homes later on their own. Later it gets harder. This to my mind is the important stuff that all those Lamaze and Bradley classes are sucking your attention away from. Kids breed clutter and suck attention away from any clutter fighting activities you ever had. If you need to clean out your file drawers or closests or balance your check book, you need to get it done and stay on top of it. Take care of as many outlying stressors as you can before the baby shows up. You can be prepared for the first days by automating and keeping maintained as many other pieces of your life as possible.

So, you get to day 1 — and whatever organizing you’ve done is what you’re going to do. You gotta go with what you have. What you need now is food, sleep and maid service. If you don’t have good friends or family to back you up, what can you do? Well, if you get caught with an early labor, for the heavy stuff I recommend sucking it up and hiring a maid service/yard service/any service for at least one cleaning. I’m also a big fan of take-out and calling Pea Pod or some other grocery delivery service. That’s if you have a partner who can’t do any of it or no partner at all. Of course that also suggests you have money to pay for these things.

I am shamefully middle class about these things. I don’t know what women with no friends, no partner AND no money do. I shudder to think. It will be very very hard for them.

How much help you get from your friends and family, as opposed to your wallet, depends on how much you or someone else close to you is capable of organizing them as well as how intuitive they are. Ask friends to each make something for your freezer or to bring snacky food when they come to visit after the baby is born. Some will know already. Some won’t. Anyone who’s child savvy will likely do a surprising amount more for you than you ever anticipate. They’ve been there. They know.

Be braver than that, though. Ask friends to clean your house. You’re tired. You need help. If you’re feeling physically strong or you’re just a sissy about asking for help, ask for company. Maybe you ask them to hold the baby while you clean. Moral support and a second set of hands with the baby are worth something. They just don’t take the place of having the work done when you’re tired and weak.

In the first week or two of your child being at home you need food with no effort, all the sleep you can get, and no worries about your house, laundry or other responsibilities. The rest is gravy.

Needing people happens in small doses if at all that first week. Bigger doses the next week. And grows all the weeks thereafter. I’ll probably talk about needing people socially next time.

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