Beyond the first 40 days: Rejoining the real world with baby
I’d received a flyer in my discharge packet: Get Back Out There! Get in Shape! (*And bring a doctor’s note giving you permission to resume exercise.)
I was late, of course, because Baby Girl wanted to nurse when she wanted to nurse, which was still somewhat unpredictable. And then she pooped—even more unpredictable. And then she pooped again—on her clothes. Then she spit up on mine—all while looking utterly adorable. So it goes.
Frustrated, nervous, sweating, driving about five miles per hour while speaking in new, chirpy tones to—basically—the back of her rear-facing infant seat, I almost gave up on the whole thing, turned around, and went straight back home, with a plan to call the Wellness Center for a class refund. I nearly went back to my little cave to breastfeed and burp and change more diapers because at this point, she was hungry again.
But I didn’t.
I made it to class, which was well under way when I finally arrived. Everyone waved and smiled and made a fuss. New baby, new mom. They knew this was a big day for me. Weeks before, months before, these women—all with babies of different ages—had shyly walked through that door for the first time. They had taken those same baby steps toward rejoining the world at large and—let’s face it—toward reclaiming sanity.
The class was absolute genius: A stroller segment—dancing in front of baby and pushing her around to fun, happy music. A carrier component—baby-wearing and moving in a circle so that the little ones could look at one another and begin their own “out in the real world” socialization. And finally, matwork with babies on blankets—playing and exploring a new environment while the mamas worked on reestablishing stable core muscles.
What was great about the class was not the exercise in particular but the fact that I was out there doing something for myself, but not at the expense of my baby, my breast milk, or our developing routine. It was completely normal to stop mid-class to feed or bust out a diaper.
Here were other mothers: frazzled after fussy, sleepless nights and over-enthusiastic about their child’s painstaking roll from tummy to back. They were speaking my language. They understood the highs and lows. They were living proof that someday—not too far in the future—I would have time to brush my hair again, maybe even wear matching socks, and eventually dare to throw on a thin coat of pale, sparkly lip gloss. And they were also there, kindly, to remind me that even months from now, there would be those days when I would leave the house without the bare necessities: diaper bag, bra, my mind.
Eventually there were invitations to potluck brunches, Storytime at the library, walks around the park.
Occasionally, I’d just sit with one mom after class—in our workout clothes, on the ubiquitous balance balls—and we’d bounce our babies to sleep, chatting through the spontaneous in-arms naptime about birth, marriage, and our college majors. These moments were everything to me—at once an appreciation for this crazy new life and also a reminder that we possessed history and texture beyond the obvious sleep deprivation. Sure, we were now mothers, but we were still individuals—with quirks, hopes, dreams, ex-boyfriends, and silly parlor tricks.
I still have such affection for the moms I met during that first year postpartum, when I briefly lived in Virginia—a million lifetimes ago. Or merely nine years ago. Seems like a million when your heart is dragging helplessly behind time—infant, toddler, little girl, kid.
These women who saw me through my best and my most uncoordinated are not my closest friends, but rather acquaintances now—inspiring me stop and smile as I scan the Facebook feed. Their now-grown children were once babes in my own arms. Then, we had each other’s back, without hesitation or expectation.
I suppose the positive support network I had during that first year of motherhood partially shaped my eventual work as a postpartum doula.
Finding your tribe
When I work with new mothers, my objective is not to do things for them or even to tell them “how to handle their baby.” Instead I help guide and encourage their own leanings and instincts, offering mere tidbits from my experience in the field. It is support over hard instruction and the goal—honestly—is to be taken out of a job. What I love most is when a client tells me—with confidence—that she is ready to let me go.
It is my hope that by the time my work with a family is through, they are ready to leave the cozy, restorative birth bubble and rejoin society. The bleeding has stopped, the body has healed, and the Moby wrap is mastered. It’s time.
I always insist that whether Mom’s exile from the safety of home is mandated by a return to work or whether she’s just sick of the same four walls and ready to flee, that her first few outings with child be completely baby-friendly and mom-fueling. The initial attempts at being “normal” should not involve Target, the gas station, the DMV, or the dentist.
New motherhood is isolating. As you fumble in the dark, through the hormones, beneath itchy nursing pads, it takes more to lift you up than the cereal aisle could possibly provide.
You need more.
Find the dead hour at your favorite breakfast stop. Eat pancakes while making faces at baby. Invite a friend.
Join those playgroups. “Pick up” other mamas at parks and coffee shops simply by asking, “How’s it going for you?”
As your confidence grows and you get to know your baby, as you eventually get out there, it is imperative that you find your peers—and by peers I mean the people that make you happy. Mama drama? Judgment? Cattiness? Move on.
Find your tribe. You do not have the time or energy for anything other than be-yourself and feel-good. Try La Leche League or Attachment Parenting International if that’s your thing; Stroller Strides or Bump Club if you want a broader spectrum. ECFE is an amazing combination of enrichment and community.
Find your place. Seek it out. Join up. Open up. Embrace. Be unafraid to say, “Hi.” Be unafraid to say, “I hate this sometimes.”
You need to be allowed to hate it sometimes. You need a community willing to hear you hate it—and love it obsessively—with unconditional compassion and understanding.
For me, it was a Mommy & Me exercise class in Chesapeake, Virginia—my baby girl dressed to the nines in pink bows and rosebuds, me in maternity PJs and curdled spit up. It was messy and it was hard, but I got out there. And there is little that I look back on with more fondness.
Jen Wittes is a freelance writer and mother of two living in St. Paul. She also works as a postpartum doula with Welcome Baby Care in Edina.
CLASSES WITH CLASS
There are a number of companies throughout the Twin Cities that offer classes for new parents. Here are a few:
Blooma • Minneapolis & St. Paul • blooma.com/classes
The Childbirth Collective • Minneapolis & St. Paul • childbirthcollective.org
Enlightened Mama • St. Paul • enlightenedmama.com
Everyday Miracles, Inc. • Minneapolis • everyday-miracles.org
Welcome Baby Care • Edina • welcomebabycare.com
Amma Parenting Center • Edina • ammaparentingcenter.com
Mother Baby Center • Minneapolis • themotherbabycenter.org