Dear 4th Trimester Mama in December:
I’ve had two 4th trimesters that went into the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. My first was with my first child. My second was with my 3rd live birth and 5 years later. My, how different they were.
The first time I hadn’t figured out how to nurse. This is huge. If you are having trouble nursing at home, I give you permission to STAY HOME and continue to master this invaluable practice in your safe space. Not in the presence of friends and family you see 2-3 times a year and pretend you have it all together.
If you have the slightest desire to stay home from gatherings and events, those are your instincts. Honor. Them. There are several reasons for this. Germs being one. Undue stress and pressure on you, new mama, is another.
Becoming a mother, be it the 1st time or the 7th time, is a sacred space. There should be no one in that space that you haven’t 100% invited in yourself.
There are so many *things* we think we *must* do in the month of December. Be it gift buying, card writing, carol singing, candle light service attending, or family tradition upholding… they all call to us and, quite frankly, guilt us.
I have a secret for you.
You. Don’t. Have. To.
“Have to what?” Any of it.
If the thought of getting bundled up to go outside is overwhelming… LISTEN! Don’t go. This is your time. This is the only time that will ever have this infant in this stage and moment. Spending it stressed about how little or how much they’ve slept since you left the house four hours ago is not how you should spend it.
You SHOULD be snuggled, skin to skin with that child in your bed bonding, establishing breastfeeding, and memorizing every detail of them for the millionth time.
If you are a mama in your 4th trimester and you’ve made it this far, I give you permission to stop reading. The bottom line of this article is above. Our history and intimate story is below.
Our first 4th trimester went into December… Let me tell you about it.
Our son was born October 18th after 4 days of labor. I used to say prodromal, but after delivering 4 more children (1 miscarriage, 1 stillbirth), I know it was labor. I didn’t know a lot of things then as he was our first. He was born exhausted… as I was too. He wouldn’t latch. And I was convinced by people I was supposed to be able to rely on that he could begin to associate frustration with food and not eat at all… thus, I was persuaded to feed him my milk by eye dropper, if after the first couple of attempts he chose to not latch. You don’t need the details of this, but bottom line, if this is you, get a lactation consultant, don’t give formula, and keep trying! (I had plenty of milk, btw. Supply was not the problem. If supply is your problem, use formula.)
Four days of labor wears a person out. And by 2 days postpartum I had to have reached epic zombie states. Since he wouldn’t eat, I was told to attempt to feed him every 90 minutes. I could go 2 hours at night but no more until he was latching well. This ‘schedule’ would continue over a month. That. Is. Not. Enough. Sleep. Even if I had been sleeping during the day but I was a first time mom. Who does that? (YOU should! That’s who.) As a first time mom, I was under the illusion that life needed to ‘get back to normal’ As Soon As Possible.
People near me told me how they were back to doing everything they had before within two weeks. Many sooner. So I pushed… hard to regain ‘normal’. My husband was home for two weeks wherein he ended up doing extra things that weren’t part of our ‘normal’ routine. I was thankful to have him home… and yet honestly, he was busy with other things… not us.
This was just the first 18 days. By one month, my son had not regained his birth weight and it was an ever present concern, worry, anxiety. But I kept going with our breastfeeding journey. Despite all the voices that screamed we should not. I knew I was designed for it. I knew I was meant to do that. What I didn’t know was that to establish that well, those first two weeks should have been IN BED. Not baking with a baby in a football hold while my husband was outside doing extras.
Fast forward to December and I was not well. I had suffered a clogged duct… silently I might add for 4 days because nursing hurt. Who knew it was NOT supposed to feel like liquid fire going from your ear down your body and out your breast? Not me. My son was nursing… but not gaining. Not sleeping like I thought he should (burn Babywise… sorry, not sorry. I know it works for some. But a first time mom that makes skim milk and doesn’t know it… it does not work for. My child was hungry). I had huge anxiety.
I remember dragging us to church one day against all instincts (listen to those). We were about to leave. I had just spent the whole time in the nursery thus negating the going in the fist place… and my son began to cry. Some well meaning elderly lady who had known me my whole life said, “Stop pinching that baby.” It was said in play. But she didn’t know that my every minute was wracked with worry. That I was weary from too little sleep. That another month or two of this and I would be fighting for my life. All I saw and heard was another arrow fired at me to degrade.
I remember Thanksgiving that year. I sat on the floor in my mom’s laundry room desperately trying to nurse a six week old. Neither of us had it figured out and there was nothing modest about the attempt. I hoped against hope that he would fall asleep and I could lay him in his carseat and we could leave which is why I had chose the laundry room. It was near the exit. But instead, I sat in that room, alone, struggling to feed my precious child who I adored but things just weren’t working.
I remember the candlelight service we attended. I… spent it in the nursery.
No candle light.
Just unnecessary anxiety. And I could have avoided it! All I had to do was stay home.
Christmas. The family gathering was during ‘nap time’. Seriously, he was two months old. They sleep when they want to. But I didn’t know that, I had a schedule to keep. By the time we got there, he had fallen asleep in his carseat so we tiptoed up to a bedroom and set the carseat on the bed then went downstairs so that we had at least made an appearance. But that was riddled with ‘where’s the baby?’ ‘I need to see him!’ ‘I haven’t held him!’ etc.
As I hadn’t had that sacred just me and baby time yet (2 months pp), all those comments did was send me to that room to vehemently guard my son. Driven by an instinct that I have no name for. People called me overprotective. But what they didn’t know was that being close to him, holding him, was the only way I felt safe. And dragging he and I out and around made my skin jitter and my head hurt and my heart ache.
But what they didn’t know was that being close to him, holding him, was the only way I felt safe.
I realize I may be the only person who has felt that way… but I doubt it. I just may be the only one to speak up about it.
All of this ‘abuse by obligation’ during the holidays would manifest in extreme postpartum depression by 4 months postpartum.
So, mama. It’s December. You just had a baby. I don’t care if you’re 3 months postpartum or 12 hours. You have absolutely no obligation to attend any event that you do not feel 100% comfortable with.
YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LEAVE THE HOUSE WITH YOUR BABY TO ATTEND SOME FUNCTION IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO!
Blame it on germs if it makes you feel better. It’s a valid excuse. But you do not have to go!
Your metal health is more important than that.
Your physical health is more important than that.
You have a gaping wound inside from birth that needs to heal. If it were visible from the outside, no one would question why you cannot attend this pageant or that party.
So, treat yourself as you are. Healing. That way by March you aren’t me… sitting with a notebook writing for release… all of the thoughts that want to make you take your life. So disconnected that your husband isn’t sure if you and the baby will be there when he gets home from work.
It’s not worth it. Take care of you this holiday. If you’re up to it, decline invites but allow for them to come see you briefly at a time that works FOR YOU and ask them to fold laundry etc. If you’re not up to it, I have a script for you. It goes like this:
“That sounds like it would be fun! Thank you for thinking of us, but we will not be able to attend.”
Simple. You do not need to tell them why. You do not need to fake that you’re okay and go. You are the gatekeeper of your home and your body and your mental health. No one else can say ‘No’ for you. You must do it.
Once again, this is the only time you will get with this little one in this season. Treasure it. Guard it.