The night he was born, I lay in the hospital bed, trying to catch some sleep in between feedings, but was kept awake as the vivid images and sensations of his delivery continually flashed through my head rapidly and repeatedly. My mind and body were processing the incomparable experience they'd just been through. It was thrilling and a little scary and wildly different than anything I'd ever felt. When it got to be too much, I would blink open my eyes and look over at my baby (!) in his clear bassinet, marvelling at his existence and feeling so grateful for his safe arrival.
The thing about first-time pregnancy is that you're so focused on being pregnant and hoping with all your might that things go well that it's hard to think beyond that. At least for me, I had no sense of what it would feel like to be a mama, or how I would cope or what I would do. I was honestly too nervous to think that far ahead, as I just wanted him to arrive and take it from there. In stark opposition to my usual voracious reading tendencies, I didn't read about babies at all. I didn't read about sleep training or feeding or parenting. I wasn't ready to go there.
I was, however, lucky to have received some gentle advice and suggestions from friends and family both before and after Felix's arrival, however, that I found to be immensely helpful. I'd like to share some of that, and also things that I've discovered along the way. I hope you find it useful!
The hours and days after your baby is born will be physically challenging. Surround yourself with any help that is offered (even help standing up!) and accept the loving assistance of your inner circle. If you can limit the amount of people you see during this time, it's for the best. Even holding a conversation can be taxing when you're trying to learn to care for your little one and begin your healing process too. Allow yourself to be quiet and somewhat cocooned if possible.
There are countless lists online with suggestions of what to bring to hospital, but here are some considerations that I found helpful:
Pack yourself some great snacks. You'll want litres of fluids and to arrange some special post-delivery snacks for yourself. I requested root beer and fries and a McChicken when my parents asked what they could get me, which I don't even remember requesting but I demolished it all. Then a chocolate milkshake. Then the next day was more sensible: nourishing bone broth and a chia seed smoothie and anything the hospital staff put in front of me. In a cooler bag, in case you don't have access to a fridge, pack yourself some of your favourite treats and lots of high fibre foods to be gentle on your system. Yes the hospital will provide food but it's wonderful to have some of your favourite stuff on hand.
Pack some lovely toiletries. Seriously, bring a great soap and moisturizer. I was shocked by how fabulous my first shower was. I don't think I'll have a better shower in my life. It's so nice to feel hot and clean and refreshed after labour! So bring along some really good soap and moisturizer to soothe your skin.
Your own things. It's very comforting to have your own pillow, a favourite robe and other cozy items to curl up with as you're in a hospital. Anything soft and warm.
Recommended reads: Some people bring along a novel, but I was too exhausted to read anything but all the paperwork (birth certificate, social insurance and health card application for baby), and resources from the hospital.
Do bring a camera. I had zero desire to be photographed or to take pictures at the hospital, but Brian took pictures right after Felix arrived and they are now my most treasured. I forced myself to get up and take pictures of our little family in our room even though I could barely walk from exhaustion. I am so glad I did. If you're too tired, ask a family member to take lots of photos for you at moments you want to remember or better yet, hire a birth photographer! You will want to have these photos, at least on the day after delivery.
RECOVERY AT HOME
Take it (extremely) easy. Learn from my cautionary tale and do not try to leave your home too early. I tried to go shopping just a few days after birth and almost fainted. Nearly everything can wait, especially if you've done meal prep. Rest at home as much as possible and take advantage of any delivery service (more on that later). Here are some things that helped me recover at home:
- Nourishing, easy-to-digest foods like bone broth, oatmeal, soups, stews, etc
- Comforting herbal teas (Lauren Mary Holistics makes amazing ones!) and other warm drinks
- Sitz bath
- Epsom salts
- Heating pad
- Ice packs
- Postpartum wrap (such as the Belly Bandit)
- Bed sheets of the finest quality you can afford. Make your bed as comfortable as possible so that the precious sleep you get is near to perfect sleep.
You can also make it easy on yourself and order a curated box with nearly all of the above and more. What the Stork Forgot was created by Edmonton-based blogger Rachel Jones of Edmomton. It's a customizable gift bag you can purchase for yourself or an expecting friend and contains a brilliant array of must-have items for a recovering mama.
HELP WITH RECOVERY
I would highly recommend seeing a physiotherapist that specializes in women's pelvic health in addition to any follow-up you do with your OB/midwife/doula. I went to Cura Physical Therapies for sciatica pain (which they totally cured for me) during pregnancy, and for birth prep. I'm currently seeing them for help with my abdominal separation, and they can also help you with pelvic floor physio (aka recovering from the rigours of labour!)
LIFE WITH BABY
There are certain things that make life a little easier. Here are a few of my favourites:
- Halo SleepSack Swaddle. For me, an absolute must-have. It was instrumental in helping Felix sleep soundly for about the first two months. He has since transitioned to a regular sleepsack.
- White noise machine. It's comforting to babies to have some kind of soft, rhythmic sound when they're brand new. We chose this humidifier + white noise machine and love it. You can also keep it simple and just download a white noise app on your phone ;)
- Baby swing. Find one that suits you best, and I'm sure you'll find it to be an indispensable helper when you could really use an extra set of hands but you're on your own. Your baby will (very likely) love it even more than you do.
- Ring sling. I used this to carry Felix on walks, and also to soothe him at home on fussier days.
- Soft structured baby carrier. At the urging of my friend Gill (a nurse, who was concerned about my back dealing with the weight of an 18 lbs baby) we just started using the Ergobaby 360, as Felix is a little heavy for the ring sling until he is older and can hold onto me a bit.
- Lily Padz. So clever and convenient, easy to clean and very effective.
- Salt lamp. Provides soft and beautiful light for nighttime feedings.
- The Baby Box. Depending on where you live, you may be eligible to receive a free box for your baby to sleep in during the first six months. Simply sign up, complete their online "Baby Box University" (aka educational videos about babies, safety and postpartum mental health) and you can arrange to pick up your box. This provides a safe place for your baby for sleep, nap, or even hang out while you get a few things done.
Recommended reading: Your Baby is Speaking to You. This is very helpful in decoding body language and cues to help you decipher what your baby wants and needs during the earliest weeks.
BABY + MAMA CARE
Taking care of yourself during this time is so important. Keep yourself strong so you can care for your family. For me, this includes making time for soothing rituals and grooming for myself, but also delighting in establishing relaxing care routines for Felix. I've made no secret of the fact that I'm obsessed with Pura Botanicals' products. The above photo features my lineup of products for both me and baby (from left to right):
- Little Ones Remedy Oil. A wonderful oil for babies' dry scalps/cradle cap.
- Pixie and Sprite Wash. Beautifully aromatic yet gentle wash for babies' skin.
- Dreamtime Massage Oil. The best way to end a baby bath ritual. The most deliciously scented oil for rubbing into a little one's skin.
- Enchanting Lullaby Mist. Perfect for refreshing a nursery and also for lighting spritzing over a baby's bassinet or crib to establish a naturally scented nighttime fragrance associated with sleep and peaceful bedtime.
- Evening Primrose Therapy Oil. Healing for mama's tummy. Used it (and loved it!) during pregnancy and now in postpartum as well.
- Ambrosia Beautifying Complex. An exquisite potion for soothing your parched facial skin post-delivery. The scent is to die for. It's incredibly potent and a little bit goes a long way.
OUT AND ABOUT
Getting out of the house, once you're really and truly feeling up for it, is very invigorating and healing in its own way. Stepping back into the world, now as a mother, feels at once scary and wonderful. I try to go out daily with Felix so that we both get fresh air and also so that he's acclimatized to all different types of environments, sounds, scents, etc. It's easy to pack up and go now, but at the beginning, it felt very daunting. Here are some things that helped:
- Style. It may sound superficial, but making it easy to pick out your clothing is really important. For a while you'll be in limbo between your pregnancy size and your new size. You will feel squishy and strange, so don't feel weird still wearing your maternity clothes for a while if they're comfortable. If you're nursing, you also have to consider which clothes make feeding on the go doable! I highly recommend making yourself a capsule wardrobe for this specific purpose. It's so much easier when everything in your closet is wearable and practical at this stage. Everything else can be packed away neatly and welcomed back once you finish nursing. Here's a glimpse at my unglamourous, super cozy nursing capsule wardrobe:
- New mama makeup. I did a whole post about my minimalist new mama makeup kit.
- Keep your diaper bag stocked and organized. And pick one that feels like you. We chose this black canvas bag from So Young.
- Invest in an awesome stroller. We wanted something small and compact, and were ecstatic to find a Bugaboo Cameleon3 secondhand. This will be one of your most-used items so choose something that good quality, moves smoothly and makes life easier, not more frustrating!
- Keep your baby carrier on hand. You never know when you'll need to use it, so I recommend keeping a ring sling or soft structured carrier in your stroller or car.
CONVENIENT SERVICES + APPS
In the early days, any service that helps you get through the day more easily is a good service indeed.
- Grocery delivery. I've started ordering from Spud, a local and organic grocery delivery service. You can also do "click and collect" with many grocery stores, which means you place the order online and arrange a pickup time, saving you precious hours over time.
- Meal delivery. A friend sent us a Skip the Dishes gift certificate, which was a brilliant gift. It's really helpful to be able to order food right to your home on a day when you're completely out of energy.
- BabyCenter (app). Regular helpful info about your baby based on its age.
- Baby manager (app). I use this daily to keep track of feedings, but you can use it to track just about anything baby-related.
SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESSES
Whenever possible, I choose to shop from small and/or local businesses for life with baby. Here are just a few of my favourite purchases and gifts:
- Feltball garland and dinosaur banner from Little Lamb Co.
- Himmelis from Salvage + Bronze
- Bunny poncho from From Harper
- Slouchy beanie from BabyandBee
- Mama tee, heart print, teething necklace, lion pillow from Baby Plum
- Wooden camera teether from Whittle Wood
- Massage oil from Essentials by Nature
- Whales print from Paper + Ink
- Au Fait Mama batwing top from Yo Mama Maternity
- This fabulous, cozy, oversized cardigan from The Skinny
- Crocheted basket from The Knotted and Hooked Shoppe
- Many nursery décor items from Maven & Grace
SOCIAL LIFE + FUN ACTIVITIES
Three months in. The fact that it has taken me this long to publish this post is fairly representative of my reality; I've been too tied up until about now to have time to write this! My lovely neighbour texted me one day saying "at three months, you'll start to get your life back." I've been loving being ensconced in the early stages of motherhood, but it is definitely fun to be able to get out more and for Felix to be starting to have a rough schedule of naps. At this point in time, here are the activities that I've been enjoying the most.
Some of my favourite things:
- Visit somewhere warm like a conservatory. This is obviously especially nice if you have a winter baby.
- Attend a baby-friendly exercise class. I do postnatal yoga with instructor Vera Resera (with whom I practiced prenatal yoga) with Felix and we love it!
- Join a local group of mamas with babies born around the same time. I signed up for one through Alberta Health Services and really enjoyed the six weeks of nurse-facilitated sessions. Our group has since decided to keep up with our meetings biweekly and met for treats this week.
- Visit your library. I haven't done this yet but plan to do so! There are tons of free musical and early literacy programs offered by libraries. Take advantage of them.
All this being said, I strongly encourage you to keep doing as many of the things you loved before your baby arrived. This will make you feel like your normal self more quickly. We love going out for coffee, brunch, lunch or happy hour with Felix (not dinners yet as he's super fussy at night). I really enjoy meeting with friends and bringing my little sidekick along. I get so much joy out of going for family walks and of course, doing shoots with our little family as well.
To wrap things up in this very long post, I'd like to say that life as a mama is pure magic. The exhaustion, the frustration, the confusion... it's all thrilling.
I had a conversation with a friend in Montreal this week who was asking me how motherhood has changed my life. She wondered if everything in me has shifted to be about my baby and if I feel like I've had to give up many other things as a result. The short answer is no. However unprepared any of us are for parenthood, I was so very ready to be a mama. It's no small miracle that Felix is here and I am thankful for his arrival with every fibre of my being. But I still feel like myself, just with a new love that burns oh so brightly.
I delight in introducing him to the world, and sharing my days with him. I dream about how our family's life will continue to evolve and the adventures we'll have. But I don't feel like anything has been removed or given up; I feel like there is a new capacity of energy and love that was previously untapped that makes space for this new tiny human in my life, enriching it potently. Being a mama doesn't subtract anything from my life; it only adds and fills and expands and augments and improves, all the while making a great big mess and testing my patience and teaching me countless lessons. I'm loving every moment.