how we survived the first month or: an ode to our baby nurse
For how we survived our time in the hospital, click here.
We were both bouncing off the walls by the time we finally got cleared for discharge from the hospital. The fold-out chair that served as Mike's "bed" during the nights we were there was, more or less, a box spring without any padding. By the second night I told him just to squeeze in with me on my twin hospital bed. It wasn't like we were getting much sleep anyway. There was also no hot water in the shower. And, of course, there was the endless flow of people in and out of the room at all hours. Needless to say, we were ready to go home, where our baby nurse, Delrose was meeting us.
Before we move on, a little primer on the concept of baby nurses. Let's be honest here: it's a wealthy New York thing, and, more specifically, it's kind of a Jewish thing. I didn't even know they existed until I started dating Mike (a Jew!) and his mother joked that all the Jewish girls had them because they didn't want to deal with the tsuris (look at me with my Yiddish!) of child-rearing.
So, let's get one thing straight from the outset: a baby nurse is not raising your child for you. People do not hire baby nurses because they have no interest in taking care of their own baby. They hire them because, among many, many other skills, they teach you HOW to raise your baby.
A typical baby nurse will work for you and your baby 24 hours a day, generally for a minimum of two weeks and maximum of six months, but I've heard of people who have had them for a year and people who had them for two days. A night nurse is similar to a baby nurse, but they only work -- you guessed it -- the night shift. Both take care of all things related to baby: clean their room, do their laundry, help sterilize your bottles and pump parts, and dress, diaper and bathe them, if you so desire. They sleep when the baby sleeps (ours slept in the nursery with Avvie) and, as you can imagine, they are the sort of people who can fall asleep very easily. The best baby nurses are often booked six months to a year in advance, often just by word of mouth. We found ours from a friend who sent over a list of baby nurse contacts, but as it turned out, Delrose, also worked with my friend's older sister last year.
Are they expensive? Yes. Having someone that is essentially on-call every minute is an absolute luxury. I don't write this post with the aim of advocating that everyone get a baby nurse; that's not realistic. What I do want to illuminate is what baby nurses, and specifically ours, did for us in those first bewildering weeks of parenthood. Delrose was an integral part of our first days with Avvie and I don't regret spending the money to have her for a nanosecond. She set up the foundations for Avvie's sleeping and eating schedule and, I believe, is the major reason why we haven't been waking up every hour at night since she was born. She's also the reason why I was not an absolute zombie in those first few days home from the hospital and why, when Mike had to go back to work that next week, I wasn't an absolute puddle. In short, if it's something you can save up for, do it. It was the best decision our brand new family made.
So, how did that first month go? In retrospect, I'm sorry that I didn't keep more detailed notes; it is absolutely true that you forget how you felt in those early days. But, as one of my friends reminded me, it wouldn't BE those first few weeks if you had the time to write down everything.
Week One (1 - 6 days old)
We brought Aveline home when she was two days old. Delrose had an appointment that afternoon, so she sent her good friend Sonia, another baby nurse, to meet us at our apartment for the first few hours. Sonia got straight to work as soon as we walked in the door: helping us unpack, showing us how to swaddle her in different ways and making sure that we had all of our baby supplies ready. Delrose came a few hours later and picked up where Sonia left off.
Since Avvie still hadn't latched, I was still hand-expressing my breast milk and, as I mentioned earlier, we were feeding it to her from a tiny, sample-size ice cream spoon. We switched to a mini plastic cup later that day, but good lord, that was tiring. Pretty much as soon as I was finished, it was time to start again. But, with Delrose there, we could pass the baby off to her after she was done eating and she took care of changing and burping her so I could get some rest.
Avvie had also lost a bit of weight (as all newborns do) so we made sure her first checkup was that Friday, when she was three days old. That was really the first time I had left the apartment and to say I was walking like a cowboy might be an understatement. It was a solid two or three weeks before I felt like I could sit normally and standing for long periods was uncomfortable for almost as long. Luckily, our pediatrician (West 11th Street Pediatrics) is only a block away AND I was so excited to use our stroller for the first time I hardly felt the pain. I even took a stroll down the block and bought myself a smoothie, which felt like the ultimate in luxuries.
Did I tell you guys I have a pink stroller? I have a pink stroller.
We also met with our lactation consultant that day, who, unfortunately didn't have much luck getting her to latch either. She did recommend that we rent a medical-grade breast pump, which was a total game changer. I'm still using it today, in fact. I had been under the (wrong) impression that you couldn't pump until your milk came in (as opposed to colostrum), but I was able to pump and then bottle feed her starting that afternoon. It saved us a ton of time and it also meant that she was eating more. We had a second weight check that Monday when she was 6 days old and she'd already put on a few ounces, which made us feel great.
In terms of her eating and sleeping routine: from the day she came home, Avvie slept in her crib, in a swaddle. This made it easier for Delrose to help with her at night and it also allowed us to get some sleep in our room. Delrose would come get me when Avvie woke up and I would either pump while Delrose fed her or sometimes I would feed her myself and then pump. Those first two weeks or so, we fed her every two and a half to three hours during the day and then whenever she woke up at night (which was sometimes two hours, sometimes over three).
And a final note about parental mental states: it is OK to be mourning your former life during these first weeks. It's OK to turn to your husband in the middle of the night and wonder if you did the right thing by having a kid. Yes, it's really fun to have your baby on the outside of your body, but that body is pretty ravaged. And if hurting physically wasn't enough, mentally you're KO'd too. You are confused, overtired, sad, scared, and probably feel guilty on top of it for feeling all those other things. The first two weeks with a newborn are shitty, there's no way around it.
But, even though some days it may feel like it, this period won't last forever. Now that Avvie's almost three months, it's like I have a different child. She smiles, she laughs, she's just a rad human. And it only gets more exciting from here! So, fellow parents, hang in there. Moving on...
Week Two (7 - 13 days old)
I'm piecing most of this together from looking at photos and my Google Calendar. For the TL:DR: babies this age sleep a lot and they look very cute in their swaddles.
By this point, my milk had come in, but I still didn't have a baby who was latching, so I was pumping about 8 times a day and we were bottle feeding her breast milk. The good news was that because the pump was so efficient, we had a lot of extra colostrum, which we kept in the fridge and had her finish before starting on "regular" breast milk. I'll dedicate a whole post soon to breastfeeding, but I definitely think feeding has been the trickiest part of having a baby.
We also took a visit during this week to the cranio-sacral therapist, who had been recommended by our lactation consultant to help with breastfeeding issues. Since I had pushed for so long during labor, we knew that Avvie still had some residual stiffness in her neck and jaw. Amy, our therapist, was able to help loosen up her neck muscles so she had greater range of motion and she also worked on her suck. Did she end up latching after this? No, but we definitely noticed a difference in her movements. Baby steps!
In mommy news, this was also the first week I put on REAL clothes, to attend Morgan and John's wedding in Midtown. While we only ended up staying for the ceremony and cocktail hour, it was pretty fantastic to feel like a real human for a few hours. And, get a few sips of champagne, hiyo.
Valentine's Day was spent at our kitchen table, eating delivery pizza from Two Boots. It was perfection.
Week Three (14 - 20 days old)
By the start of week three, we were finally starting to see a baby emerge. Instead of being blob-like 24 hours a day, we were getting about an hour (total) during the day of awake time. Hooray! It's right around their two week birthday that they also begin tracking things with their eyes, which might as well have been Avvie doing astrophysics considering how excited we were. I'm still pretty pumped about it, I won't lie.
We also did our first date night, down the street to Alta, which gets a million bonus points for serving delicious food incredibly quickly. Did we talk about anything other than the baby? Probably not, but it was such a thrill to be out and about, it didn't matter. Also, their meatballs are the best. I even wore real pants for the occasion.
Nanny interviews started this week as well (and again, I'll write more about this later). We knew we wanted someone to start soon after Delrose left, so it was a rolling process over a couple of weeks.
Week Four (21 - 27 days old)
While Avvie needed shampoos from the day she came home from the hospital, we didn't give her a real bath until her umbilical cord stump fell off, sometime during this week. Luckily, she loved her bath tub from the first time we put her in it, so I'm hoping that continues as she gets older. It's obviously scary bathing them when they're so little and they can't hold their head up for more than a few seconds, but Mike and I have gotten our tag team routine down pat. We're like Legends of the Hidden Temple good.
By the end of her fourth week at home with us, her sleeping was also getting a little better. I know every baby is different, but I think feeding her on a three hour schedule during the day has contributed a lot to her sleeping longer stretches at night. During this week, we would get a four or sometimes five hour window right when she went down, which felt incredible after getting up every three hours.
As I write this now, she's 12 weeks old and last night she slept for 12 straight hours. I know that might not be the case every night, but I have been doing so many fist pumps all day.
In closing: as everyone tells you, the first few weeks and months are a blur. Being the writer that I am, I'm a little sad I don't have more written documentation of what was happening every day, but like I said before, when you're in the thick of it, who has time for that? Just inhale their baby smell, squeeze in naps when you can, and remember your little doughnut pillow wherever you go.