Initially following the arrival of a new baby, I feel like I've crawled into a little hole. It's a cosy, comfy little hole, full of cushions and knitted blankets. I can watch the world passing by up above but I don't quite feel part of it, a sort of dream-like quality. Getting to know the new arrival and remolding our life around them takes a lot of time and energy. Not to mention the tiredness that comes from sleep-deprivation and recovering from the physical exertion of delivery (however you deliver, it's still a massive undertaking; a Caesarean is a major abdominal operation). Your hormones are raging, causing all sorts of emotional upset. Plus your life has changed indescribably, whether it's your first baby or your third (I can't talk from personal experience past three, but I can imagine). Add to that the change in your relationship with your partner, who's also trying to adjust to the baby, and helping any other children to integrate and accept the new addition, and you can start to understand the emotional toll. Is it any wonder that your plate feels full by this point?!
After the first three months, I start to become comfortable psychologically venturing out of the house. You might have seen my physical being out and about but I wouldn't want to guarantee that my brain was present too! The cognitive difficulties still persist though. This is just selection of the issues that I'm still encountering, more than six months after the birth of my third child;
- Vocabulary - I just cannot find the words these days. When I was going back to work after Isaac, I was really concerned that I wouldn't be able to remember the word in an emergency. As it happened, I didn't struggle at all. I couldn't remember the word for the "cold cupboard" in the kitchen but I never had that problem at work, go figure!
- Names - I think this might be a side effect of having so many children but I can't keep them straight anymore. I owe my mum an apology for all the times I complained about being called by the cat's name growing up!
- Forward planning - seeing to the end of the week is getting easier, starting to plan for next week... well that's another matter.
- Complex thinking - actually formulating something with more than one stage in my head? Yeah right! Give me twice as long to think about it!!
- Distractions - I'm starting to think about getting my hearing checked because if there's more than one conversation going on at once around me, I just can't concentrate. I can't multi-task, I have to focus solely on what I'm doing, so don't you dare ask me a question while I'm trying to put a vest on a wriggling baby!
- Slow change - you want to move on in our conversation? Change the subject to something else? Give me another couple of minutes, announce the change, give it another couple of minutes and then I might be ready to talk about something else.
Things do get better; like I said, I'm moving out of the fog these days. I have a few ideas of ways to cope and keep functioning during this time.
- First, and this is the hardest step I think, take it easy. Be kind to yourself. Recognise that you've been through a lot (pregnancy is no picnic, let alone labour and delivery) and are still going through a lot. Think about what you would tell a friend in these same circumstances and then tell yourself the same. Far too often we look around us at how everyone else is managing their perfect lives with their perfect children and feel inferior. The answer seems to be to just try harder, work harder, be more when actually there are seasons in life that require rest and recuperation. Enjoy the first months with a new baby, you'll never get them back. I promise you that the only person judging you is you, everyone else is too busy cooing at the baby!
- Write it down, don't expect your brain to be able to hold on to all the important things whizzing round in there these days. So lists and calendars are your friend, with the added bonus that you can buy a pretty notebook to keep those lists in!
- Don't underestimate the importance of routines. When you do something in the same way on a regular basis, you develop a sort of muscle memory and you don't need to engage the thinking bit of your brain in quite the same way. Think of it as a rest for your brain. It's like driving or playing an instrument; when you first start, you have to think about every individual action (mirror, signal, manoeuvre) but as time goes on, they get grouped together into action sets (turn the corner) and require less thought. Doing the same thing at the same time each week, e.g. every Monday I go grocery shopping, reduces the decision-making element of the action, making it less of a challenge.
- Don't be afraid to ask for help from those around you. And if someone offers to do something, at least think about it before you automatically say no. Maybe an hour off while someone else walks your older children to the park and back will be the difference between sanity and the other thing.
- Decide what's important to you and stop trying to do it all. I do not clean. Literally, I've said this before, I vacuum when my carpet is crunchy, I clean my mirrors when I can't see myself in them anymore. It just doesn't bother me that much, I have better things to do with my time. It is impossible to do everything you need to, everything you think you ought to and everything you want to in every day. You'll only exhaust yourself trying.