Notes from the first six weeks, part one

17 March 2016

I deliberately called this series “notes” instead of “tips” or “tricks,” because I’m thinking of what I’m sharing more as observations than prescriptions. Every baby and every family situation is so different, and I just want to share what’s worked for us and discuss what’s occurred to me along the way. Today’s post, especially, is pretty conceptual – thoughts on some of the paradigm shifts and ways of thinking that really impacted our first few weeks in a big way. If you’re looking for something a little more nitty-gritty, never fear — I’ll be back soon with a few more practical tips (yep, I’ll call them tips) from the first month and a half, and then I’ll follow that up with our favorite products from the first six weeks. Here we go!

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Choose a job with paternity leave. There is nothing that made a bigger difference in our first six weeks than both John and I being home with June. With a two-on-one dynamic, we were both able get more sleep, stay more calm, bond with our daughter, and learn how to take care of her. From helping me with breastfeeding to handling almost all of the diapers, John did so much; my experience would have been totally different had I been alone, or even with a family member, during the day. There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing a career, but if you know you want to have children, I’d recommend adding “family friendly policies” to the top of your list as you search for a job. This is often easier said than done, I know, and I don’t want anyone to despair if this isn’t their situation — but I feel like I can’t not mention it. Just something to consider.

Learn together. When I read Emily Henderson’s interview on Design Mom two years ago, this answer struck me as so true even then, and now that I have a baby, her genius has been confirmed. Apologies for including such a long quote, but it’s all so good! She writes, “I think that when moms know so much more about child rearing than dads, that they get intimidated and kinda give you the power, which causes lots of problems. Try everything you can to empower your partner as a father, to make him feel like he is good at it as you are, as often as possible. …Try to figure things out together, with a lot of ‘what do you think we should do about…? Where should we keep the bottles? How often do you think we should bathe him? How long should we let him nap?’, instead of you telling him what you guys should do as parents.

I think when women come up with child care systems and then just tell their partners about them, it can lead to them feeling like it’s just not their thing and then of course you bear the burden of more child care. Even if you think you know, try to learn it again with him so he doesn’t feel stupid and scared and then you are annoyed and feel like you can’t leave the house or he isn’t going to be able to feed or bathe your baby. It’s a cyclical process: Brian is a good dad because he feels like he’s a good dad. He feels confident and that he knows what he’s doing and therefore wants to do it even more. Most people don’t like to do what they aren’t good at, so help him be good at being a dad without making him feel stupid and he will want to do it more.

YES! I love to read, so of course I read lots of books on pregnancy and raising kids. I’ve seen over and over, though, that my “book learning” is no match for John’s common sense, so it’s not at all hard for me to think of him as an equal partner. Still, keeping Emily’s wise words (and specifically using this vocabulary) in mind has been so helpful for our functioning as a team!

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Remember, you will know more tomorrow than you know today. And you know more today than you knew yesterday. We had a lovely two-hour chat with our friends just a few days before June was born, and they said something that really stuck with me. Like us, they didn’t have too much “baby experience” before the birth of their son, and they marveled to us how much more they knew at the end of the first week of his life – like, light years different. That was so encouraging for me to hear, and I’ve found it to be true over and over. For example, from the beginning it seemed like people were constantly commenting to me about how I probably could recognize June’s different types of cries and what they meant. Uh, nope. Definitely not at first. But now I can! We’ve gotten to know June more every day, and along the way, we’ve learned so many things about HER as a baby and how to help her – what it means when she makes a certain noise while eating, when she wants to be held upright versus cradled, how to best settle her down for a nap. Babies change constantly (they like to keep you on your toes!), but your knowledge base is constantly growing, too. You’ll know more tomorrow than you know today!

Keep your expectations low. Perhaps because I’m admittedly not a baby person, I never had illusions about how wonderful the newborn phase would be. In fact, I expected it to be hard, frustrating, and exhausting, with little emotional feedback from our newest family member. I wasn’t depressed about this; I just figured it would be something we’d have to get through, and it would get better every day. And though there have been harder days, on the whole, June’s first few weeks were SO WONDERFUL! Because I had low expectations, every good thing felt like a revelation. Even the smallest victories and happy moments were a delight. If you can, really and truly keep your expectations LOW.

Unwrap each day. I wanted to write a whole post about this, and maybe I still will. But at the rate I’m going that won’t be until 2017, and it’s too important to wait until then! On the recommendation of our friends and our siblings, John and I watched “About Time” when June was three weeks old. Have you seen it? It’s a little perfect gem of a movie with Rachel McAdams and an older Weasley brother :) I don’t want to give too much away because I expect you all to watch it and I don’t want to lessen the emotional impact it will have on you — but just know that the lesson from this movie is one that has literally changed my life, and the way I move through my days. We couldn’t have picked a more perfect movie to watch with a newborn. You will bawl, but it will be worth it.

Ready for my next post? Here are seven very practical suggestions that helped us through the first six weeks! In the meantime, I would love to hear what you think about today’s five thoughts!!

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March 17, 2016 8:12 am

I love your thoughts about how to include your partner with parenting styles. I will definitely have to remember that for the future! And about keeping your expectations low, as one baby and family are completely different from others. So glad to see you and June smiling! :)

March 17, 2016 9:46 am

I just love your notes on learning together to be good parents. What a beautiful way to make y’all stronger as a team and help you grow closer together as a couple! Definitely seems like the way it should be, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be very common. :) No wonder that quote stuck with you for 2 years! Love this post and truly so happy for y’all!

March 17, 2016 9:53 am

you finally watched ABOUT TIME! Seth and I have recommended that to you guys repeatedly for YEARS. :)

March 17, 2016 10:43 am

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Emily. I love what you say about learning together and empowering your husband. I’ve made a note about this for one day in the not too distant future, since I’m sure I could be guilty of reading allll the books and then telling him how it’s done. As odd as this parallel might be to make, it reminds me of what we’ve already learned about finances in our first year of marriage. In addition to being much more naturally frugal than I, my husband had a whole budgeting system in place before we got married and I just “let” him take care of it. Once we developed a system that worked for BOTH of us (thanks to your Google doc / budget post!) I became much more invested and empowered in handling our finances. Now I’m committed to financial freedom, too!

March 17, 2016 11:23 am

About Time is SUCH a good movie! I’m so glad you mentioned it; it seems like no one has heard of it! The message in that movie is really wonderful, and the last song of the film had such an impact on me that it became the first dance song at my wedding. :)

And thank you for your insights! My husband and I are planning to start a family soon, and are blessed that his job offers paternity leave – something that made us consider starting a family sooner than expected!

I’m looking forward to more of these posts! Also, I would love to hear what books you read preparing for pregnancy/while pregnant.

March 17, 2016 1:54 pm

So apparently I know what I am watching this weekend!

Also, I agree very much with number two–such a good approach. And your first point—I think this just underscores how important the national conversation that really needs to be had about parental leave policies is. Think about the moms out there who don’t even get sufficient maternity leave!

March 17, 2016 10:07 pm

You always have such great advice and wisdom! Thank you for sharing. I really like the point of learning together! This advice can be applied to in so many ways. It made me think about even doing “housework chores” or keeping things organized, making appointments, running errands, anything really – learning and empowering our husbands helps them feel confident rather than less than, like we do a better job of it. Great points!

March 19, 2016 9:21 am

A concrete application of this: dads/husbands should never refer to, or be referred to as, “babysitting” their own children. That puts him on the outside, and only the mom on the inside. Instead, it’s called parenting, or just being a dad.

Kelly Strawberry
March 22, 2016 8:21 am

Such good tips, Emily! I experienced my maternity leave right before you (Nov-January) and I can definitely say my experience was the opposite of this! My husband went back to work two days after our son was born. I was on my own. I was a crazy person during that time, thinking I was literally going insane. I cried during the day, completely exhausted and overwhelmed! I was learning everything on my own, which then led to the other issue you addressed here, and now I am the one that knows how to care for him. I’m so glad my husband is picking up my slack in other areas (cooking, etc), but I am STILL doing it all for our 4 month old. I need to write the post “what NOT to do!” ha! :-)

March 22, 2016 11:42 am

I love About Time! Such a cute movie. Also, I don’t know how I would have survived if my husband didn’t have his two weeks off after our son was born.

But yes to point number 2: while this is something I am still working on (I noticed it again when I left our son with my husband for two nights over this past weekend for the first time), I definitely agree. It’s easy to tell my husband how he should do certain things (change a diaper a certain way, feed and hold him a certain way, and assume only I know the “right” ways to do certain things). The more I trusted my husband to let him find his way and use his instincts, the less stressful it was for both of us!

March 22, 2016 4:12 pm

I’m so grateful for this post, and knowing that you have a few more coming. :) I loved reading this, and treasure your advice! Random question but my observant self noticed you’re using water wipes.. where do you buy them? I feel like most websites always list them as out of stock.. sigh!

Bonnita Chazen
March 23, 2016 6:26 am

I’ve always loved your posts and followed them for a few years now, only recently having the courage to start commenting. Today I would like to say Thank you!

I am 14 weeks pregnant and its been scary these first few weeks but I am so glad that you have had time to share your thoughts and experiences because its often hard to ask other moms and I prefer to read about it: I have found that there are so many blogs that scared me more than motivated me.

Your honesty and kind way of writing makes me feel happier and I will follow more and more as you go along and take as much as I can for my own! So thank you Emily, thank you :-)

Laura B
April 7, 2016 10:05 am

Thank you for including the Emily Henderson interview about sharing responsibilities with your partner. This is such helpful advice and something I have been thinking a lot about as Dan and I prepare for Baby B’s arrival. I feel so fortunate that he’ll have 4 weeks of parental leave and hearing how you and John worked together has given me some helpful perspective to consider. I am so grateful that you are a new mom right before me! xoxo Laura :)

April 8, 2016 7:36 am

So, so helpful! Thank you for sharing your notes without making it seem like the first 6 weeks will just be the worst time ever. After reading and talking with so many people my expectations are certainly (very!) low, but I needed your dose of helpfulness this morning!