Surviving the Newborn Stage | A Look Back at the Fourth Trimester
Today Max is 13 weeks old, which means we’re officially well and truly out of what some people refer to as the “fourth trimester” : a time of so much change and adjustment that it feels a little bit like an extension of pregnancy.
Actually, I guess the fact that I intended to publish this post LAST Friday – when he turned 12 weeks old – is a pretty good illustration of just how crazy those first three months are. Honestly, it’s been the most surreal time of my life – so much so that when I think back to those first few weeks, it feels almost like it was another lifetime ago, rather than just three months. I mean, three months is NOTHING, right? But just look how much he’s changed already:
The photo on the left was taken in week one, and the one on the right in week 10 – so he’s even bigger now, OMG. (That’s the same Sleepyhead he’s in, by the way – it’s just the cover that’s changed!) And its not just his size, either: somehow, in the past 13 weeks, he’s gone from being a tiny little newborn, whose clothes were all too big for him, to a bouncing little baby boy who laughs and babbles his way through the day, and who already has a little personality all of his own. And this is why the fourth trimester is so hard to sum up, really: the changes are so huge that it almost feels like he’s a totally different baby at the end of it than he was at the start – and we, of course, are different, too.
Actually, when I think about those early days with Max, my main impression is of darkness – both literal and figurative. I mean, I’m sure there must have been times when it was sunny outside, but if there were, I don’t remember them, because all of my memories seem to be of nighttime, and darkness, and they’re all completely and utterly surreal. Between the short daylight hours we get here in January anyway, and all of those night feeds, I guess it’s not surprising that’s all I remember, though: and not just the darkness itself, but the total claustrophobia of being snowed in and stuck on the couch all day long, in a body that didn’t feel like mine any more, and with this tiny, brand-new little human totally depending on me to keep him alive.
It was pretty mind-bending, all things considered – and that’s without even taking into consideration Terry’s trip to accident and emergency, his mum’s illness and subsequent death, and my own health anxiety, which found so many triggers during the post-natal recovery period that it was honestly harder for me than the pregnancy itself was – and that’s saying something.
It was hard. It was really, REALLY freaking hard – and somehow, it just kept on getting harder. We got snowed in. Max developed reflux. The day after Terry’s mum died, my mum was admitted to hospital with glaucoma, and then, a few days after THAT, I was given an emergency doctor’s appointment when my c-section recovery, which had been going pretty well up until that point, hit a bit of a bump in the road.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been more anxious.
For the first four weeks of Max’s life, every time we drove somewhere, I travelled in the back seat, so I could keep a close eye on him – and even then, there were at least a couple of times when I totally freaked out and convinced both myself and Terry that he’d stopped breathing. (Turns out the motion of the car makes it REALLY hard sometimes to see the baby’s chest move – WHO KNEW?) I was absolutely exhausted, but I was also too scared to sleep, for fear that something would happen to him during the night. The first time I was left alone with him, I panicked, and had to call my parents. The next time, Terry came home after a 20 minute trip to the local shop to find me in floods of tears. I’d been a parent for just a few days at that point, though, having never so much as changed a nappy in my life until then: I just wasn’t ready to go it alone so soon, but with Terry’s mum in hospice care, and then my own parents similarly out of action when my mum got sick (She was admitted to a hospital in Edinburgh, which meant my dad had to be away from home all day just to be able to visit her), I didn’t have much choice. By the end of the first month, I’d come to absolutely hate my own living room, because I was spending so much time on the couch there – normally in the dark, and on my own.
It. Was. A Nightmare.
And then, all of a sudden? It wasn’t.
Everyone told me that, for them, 6 weeks was the turning point. I didn’t believe them at the time, but, sure enough, Max hit 6 weeks, and things gradually started to get easier. The biggest change came when Terry and I hit on a routine whereby he did the last feed of the night and I did the first one of the morning: so, I’d go to bed early, and then be up again at 4-5am, and he’d stay up late, and then sleep late the next day. It wasn’t ideal, and made us feel a bit like ships that pass in the night, really, but it meant we were both getting a decent amount of sleep again, which made all the difference.
At around about the same time, we started making small excursions out of the house with the baby. The first time (Or the first “proper” time, anyway – our ACTUAL first trip out with him was to my parents’ house, and then, sadly, to the hospice Terry’s mum was in at the time…), we went to a local cafe: it took us so long to get out of the house that we got there 20 minutes before it closed, and Terry spent the whole time worrying we were going to inconvenience someone with our car seat, but Max slept soundly through the whole thing, and I remember feeling a bit like the sun had finally come out after a very long winter. (Which is ironic, really, considering that the ACTUAL winter is still going on NOW. GOD.)
First coffee shop trip
After that, we made a concerted effort to get out of the house as much as possible, just to get a little taste of normality again. The days started getting longer. I got back into my pre-pregnancy jeans. Best of all, Max started smiling, and then laughing, which made every surreal second of the previous few weeks feel 100% worth it. Month two was a whole lot easier, and now, at the end of month three, it feels almost as if those first few weeks were just some kind of bizarre dream. It’s still hard, don’t get me wrong, but these days I travel in the front seat of the car again, and I can’t really remember what it was I found so daunting about being left alone with the baby for a few hours. We still have our night-time routine in place, but while Max still wants to eat about every four hours during the day, he’s recently started going 5 or 6 hours at night, (With a couple of 7s thrown in for luck- and, yes, I know it won’t necessarily last….) which means it’s normally light outside by the time he wakes up in the morning – and, when he catches sight of me peeking into his cot, he always gives me this huge, spontaneous smile, which totally melts my heart, and makes those early mornings a whole lot more bearable, for sure.
Right now, our biggest challenge is still his reflux. We’ve tried so many things to get it under control now, but we’ve found that anything that stops the reflux – or reduces it at least – just leaves him with constipation instead, which is even worse. The doctor’s best suggestion was to prescribe lactulose for the constipation, but the lactulose upsets his stomach, and we’re not really keen on giving him one thing for reflux, and then another thing to counteract the effects of the first thing, so we’re basically just trying our best to deal with it – which is inconvenient for us, but at least not painful for Max, the way the constipation was.
It does, however, make feeding time a bit of a challenge. Sometimes it all goes fine, but most of the time it doesn’t matter how many bibs and burp cloths we have on hand, Max will end the feed soaked, and will have have to be completely changed – and sometimes either Terry and I will, too. So the washing machine is never off, and it can be tricky to take him out for longer than the four hours he goes between feeds (We have recently started feeding him while we’re out, but for a long time we were basically having to feed him, then rush and try to get everything we needed to do done before the next feed was due, which sometimes felt like more stress than it was worth…), but Max is happy, and is gaining weight exactly as he should be, so it looks like it’s just something we’re going to have to deal with for now.
(Yes, we’ve tried keeping him upright, and elevating the end of his cot, and basically everything anyone’s ever suggested: unfortunately the only thing that helps is giving him the thickest milk possible, but that’s what makes him constipated, so… yeah.)
The other big challenge, meanwhile, is lack of time. Although Max sleeps pretty well during the night, he’s not keen on napping during the day, so he’ll be awake a lot of the time, and looking to be held or entertained. He will spend some of that time playing in his activity gym (He’s just recently started grasping at toys, so anything that rattled or makes a noise is a source of fascination for him), but he still much prefers human interaction, which means Terry and I have to work/shower etc in shifts, and try to fit things in whenever we can. I’m writing this post at 10pm, for instance, and the only other chance I get to work tends to be really early in the morning, when he’ll sometimes sleep for a little while after his morning feed. The house never really gets properly cleaned, and I can’t remember the last time I watched a TV show without being on my phone at the same time, answering emails or comments … but then there’s this face to make it all worth it:
And honestly, he’s just such a joy. We’re still in that stage where absolutely everything he does is fascinating and amazing to us: I take so many photos and videos every day that I max out my icloud allowance at least three times per month, and I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ve both become complete and utter baby bores. The thing is, though, this baby stage lasts SUCH a short time. Already, I’ve had to get rid of his tiniest sleepsuits, and when I look at the ones I put into his memory box as keepsakes, it’s hard for me to fathom that he was ever that tiny. Yesterday he discovered he loves being bounced up high in the air by his dad, and today he decided it was super-fun to grab my nose every time it was within reach. Tomorrow he’ll be different again, and will have left another little bit of the tiny newborn he once was behind him – and, as excited as I am to see him grow, I can’t help but wish he’d do it a little more slowly, just so we could savour it more.
But today he’s 13 weeks old. He loves the black and white clock on the living room wall, a Jellycat puppy called Patch, and the sound I make when I touch his nose and say “Boo!” Most of all, he loves watching our faces and interacting with us both: he’s already started to try to imitate some of the sounds we make, and although he has his moments of total meltdown (When he scowls, we call it his ‘Emoji-mouth’, because he looks almost exactly like this guy –> ), we can almost always get him smiling again pretty easily.* There’s a video on my phone (And on one of my Instagram highlights, actually), of the first time he laughed, and sometimes when I go to bed early, I just lie there and watch that video, or one of the 101 others I have of him, until Terry brings him up to bed.
He’s 13 weeks old today, and he’s absolutely the best thing that’s ever happened to us – so here’s to the next three months, Max: I can’t wait to see what they bring…
(*In the interests of honesty, I feel I should add that, after I finished writing this post, both Terry and I spent the next two hours trying to placate a screaming Max, who constantly looked like this:
Thanks, Emoji-Mouth Max!)