My son was born shortly after Labor Day, 2011 which, now, feels symbolic: it's the time of year when everyone says, "OK, it's time to get down to business again." As soon as he popped out, my partner and I hit the ground running as new parents (as all new parents do). I often think the first year or so felt like one very, very long day. Time moved differently, and I didn't have a solid night's sleep to demarcate one day from another. The things I did for myself in the first year of motherhood were, by and large, small gestures — snatches of personal time and ultimately insignificant rituals. Nevertheless, these were the things that kept me centered and, frankly, me in a time when I easily could have lost myself.
A new mom's postpartum period can be really dicey even under the best of circumstances. The general flood of all kinds of emotions, plus physical recovery, plus the learning curve of having a new baby, plus having to leave (at least some) aspects of your old life (like work) while managing so much change and responsibility (to say nothing of the possibility of postpartum depression or postpartum anxiety) is overwhelming and exhausting.
However, something I don't think I've ever heard anyone say but which I nevertheless feel is true, is that the best possible person to manage your life is you. That means that you have to care for yourself and work to maintain some semblance of you. Self-care is not selfish; it's necessary on every level, not just for you but for your new family. This is not something I realized at the time but, looking back, I can see that my attempts at self-care were essential to my enjoyment of motherhood overall, but especially in year one.
Said "No" A Lot
Consider this a preface to the rest of the list: even the more socially aggressive, proactive things I did in my first year of motherhood were few and far between because that's all I could muster.
Like I said, September 2011 to September 2012 was basically a kind of hibernation period for me. A long, much needed hunkering down, especially in that first winter. (I was basically committed to the whole hygge thing before it was a thing.) This meant that I said "No" to a lot. Social engagements, new responsibilities, family commitments, travel; no, no, no, and no. Part of me felt bad, but another part of me was like. "Let me get the hang of everything I desperately need to get the hang of. Also, I'm exhausted all the time, so I actually don't know if some of what you're suggesting is physically possible."
Took My Time
Time moves differently for you after you have a baby. Everything goes slower, takes more effort, and is more prone to meandering or derailment. Babies DGAF about clocks or schedules, and in that first year you are very much just sort of catering to their needs and worldview because it's basically impossible to impose yours on them. Alas, the rest of the world moves on at its usual clip, so there's a huge adjustment period as you learn to straddle these two worlds.
Of course, taking your time isn't always an option: my boss was cool, but I wasn't about to tell him, "Actually, I'm going to come in at 10, because #babytime." Still, insofar as it was possible, I allowed myself not to get frustrated when things didn't move along as quickly as I imagined they should. I just tried to accept that whatever was happened was unfolding as it was supposed to, in its own time, be that a feeding, trying to get out of the house, or going down for a nap.
Maintained A Social Life
I definitely wasn't going out every night or every week or every month, but I did make it a priority to go out when I could and when I was up for it. I knew it would be easy to let all non-baby activity just sort of slip through the cracks and I knew I would regret that once he got older and my life wasn't quite so child-centric. This was sometimes difficult, especially since I was breastfeeding, but it was important for this little extrovert. Besides: my friends had been with me through a lot, and they remained really important to me.
Ignored Magazine Covers
I didn't need to "get my body back." It hadn't gone anywhere. I didn't put pressure on myself to get a six pack four days after giving birth or even fitting back into my jeans right away. I made it a point (via concerted effort) to really and truly allow the awe of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding to sink in as much as possible so I could spend more time appreciating what my body had done and was rather than what it did or did not look like.
Stopped Watching Mindless TV
This wasn't actually a conscious decision, and it's certainly not some sort of smug judgment on other new moms who want to bliss out on a Real Housewives of Beverly Hill marathon. But I personally found that all the mundane baby stuff I was engaging in — washing pump parts, endless rocking my infant in silence because he would only fall asleep on me, playing peek-a-boo — was taking up the brain space normally reserved for the scripted/not scripted hijinks of bougie and dramatic housewives and histrionic teen moms.
When I wasn't doing those things, my brain needed to exercise for a bit, so my viewing habits skewed a bit more complex and/or intellectual. Just so you know, Netflix has a lot of documentaries, you guys.
Splurged On Fancy Nursing Bras
I knew I was going to be wearing those things for a while, so they needed to last. I went to a fancy Manhattan bra shop, got a fitting, and walked out with four bras that probably cost me more than I had spent on bras in the previous ten years. But you know what? Worth it. Those things lasted me through two babies over the course of more than three years. They put up with a lot of stretching, handling, manhandling, and leaks.
Got A Haircut I'd Always Wanted
I almost didn't do this, because I knew that going from long hair to a pixie cut would be interpreted as a "mom chop," and I fought against the idea that I was a typical mom. Then I thought, "That's not why, and I know that, so screw what everyone else thinks. I've wanted a pixie for years."
Along with shedding a baby out of my uterus, apparently I shed all the f*cks I had to give (along with about 10 inches of hair).
Stayed In Maternity Pants Until I Was Good And Ready
Guys, seriously, there is no reason maternity pants should not be the new norm for everyone. Confession? My youngest will be three this year and I still wear my maternity jeans. I'm sorry, but I just haven't heard a cogent argument against their continued use. They're like regular jeans, but way more comfortable. This seems like a complete no-brainer to me.
It can be hard to "feel pretty" when you're a tired new mom covered in spit-up and various other body fluids that may or may not belong to you. Also, even the most body positive among us can fall into the whole "my body doesn't look the way it used to and that gives me the sads" moments. To combat this sense of drudgery (which actually started when I was pregnant and also feeling sort of lackluster), I made it a point to have a five minute makeup routine most days. It wasn't a requirement, I knew, and if I didn't have time or didn't feel like it I didn't get bent out of shape, but enjoyed the ritual and the result.
I swore up down and sideways that I would never, ever do this, which is basically a guarantee that I was going to. If parenthood has taught me one thing it's, "You will find baby poop in places you never imagined possible," but if it has taught me two things the second is, "Never say never."
My baby loved co-sleeping, too, but, if we're keeping it real, this was really about me getting more sleep. Sorry not sorry. Besides, a well-rested, happy mama makes for a happy baby.
Went To Non-Babycentric Places My Baby
I discovered pretty early on that infants sleep a lot. And when my particular baby slept, he could be carted around pretty much everywhere without waking up. And if he did wake up, he could either be worn in a baby carrier or nursed and was perfectly content to just chill. In this I recognized two things:
1) I was lucky and;
2) this "easily portable" stage wasn't going to last.
So I took advantage of it. I took my son to parties at friends apartments (he would often sleep in their bedrooms while we kibitzed in the living room), restaurants (thank God for infant car seats), cafés (he sat in the stroller while I got some writing done over a cup of tea), and museums. Later on into that first year, such excursions would prove impossible, so I was really grateful for the times we seized the moment.
Sat In The Back Seat With Baby
Yeah, I was one of those moms who was convinced something was going to happen to her rear-facing infant if she wasn't staring at him the whole time. I knew it was paranoid, but I indulged myself because, you know what, it's OK to give in to the whole "new mom neuroses" from time to time.
(Finally) Got A Library Card
Between realizing how expensive babies are (and wanting to save money wherever possible) and needing entertainment that could be enjoyed at home, I finally got myself a library card. Seriously you guys, I was an idiot for not getting one sooner. Game. Changer. The library card is probably tied with the kid for the best thing to happen to me in that period of my life. Like, you know libraries are great before you get one, but you don't realize how great. They have everything! Books, movies, e-books, public programs, kids' stuff, assorted resources and volunteer opportunities, and it's free!
I promise, the American Library Association is not paying me for this content. I'm just telling you, go get a library card. It's your key to a whole new world, just like LeVar Burton always said!
My first year as a parent was, largely, not about me. At least it didn't feel that way in the moment. Since then I've been able to reflect on how I evolved and grew. But at the time it was really all about learning about and caring for my mini-human, who was a tiny black hole into which I hurled just about all my time, energy, and emotion. But those few things I was able to do just for me —to recharge, step away, engage differently, and remember who I was outside of another person — were the difference between a completely overwhelming year and an exciting one.