“Child-Raising Vacation”

That’s what they call extended maternity leave in Romania. You get six weeks of obligatory medical leave, then after that you have the option to take two years of paid “child-raising vacation.” Sound too good to be true? I thought so, too.

We were in the car on the way gone from the airport, and on a whim I decided to check my bank balance again. I’d been checking it every few days for the last few months, anxiously awaiting the day my maternity leave pay would finally show up.


Baby Takes Flight

America, meet Benjamin!

carefully chosen flight wardrobe

I was pretty stressed about this trip. We'd been sleeping a solid 8 hours every night for about a month, with a nap schedule that worked, and I was not looking forward to messing that up. Ben also hates long car rides and usually goes between sleeping and screaming whenever he's strapped into his car seat. The thought of 11 hours on a plane did not sound fun to me.

Well, it turns out all the stress was for nothing (as usual), because traveling with baby was actually no big deal. It was almost easier than flying without him. Yep, I said that.

I know I'm not the first to write about this, but there were a few things that I was so glad I did to prepare for this trip!


Self-Care, or "How to Stay Sane"

One of the most difficult parts of motherhood for me has not been taking care of the baby. I had some anxiety about knowing how to respond to his needs, but as it turns out, he's pretty simple -- feed him, keep him in a dry diaper, and rock him to sleep every couple of hours, and he's good.

What nobody tells you before you have a baby is just how hard it is to take care of yourself.

In the weeks after I gave birth, I honestly felt like I was still pregnant. None of my clothes or shoes fit, the nights of poor sleep continued, and thanks to my C-section, getting up and down was even more difficult than it had been with a huge belly. I was still just as miserably hot all the time as I'd been for the past several months -- why didn't anybody tell me that breastfeeding can trigger hot flashes? It really felt like a fourth trimester of pregnancy. Aside from the huge relief of not having heartburn anymore, I still felt pretty crummy, and with the added pressure of having a small human depending on me 24/7!

I soon found out that I needed to take care of myself, for the good of everyone in this house. Here's what got me through the first three months of motherhood...

Prayer and Coffee
I make it a point to spend the first feed of every day in prayer. I pray for Ben, I pray for my husband (Lord knows he needs it with me around!), and I pray for myself. I read. As much as I've always hated reading the Bible on my phone, it comes in handy when you're up before dawn and/or only have one free hand. Then, as soon as my husband is awake and making his coffee, I get him to make me a cup, too. If I don't do these things first thing in the morning, they probably won't get done, and we all know my attitude needs Jesus and caffeine more than just about anything!

A nice, hot shower does wonders. Being clean just makes me feel human and slightly more attractive, so it is pretty high on my priority list. I must confess it doesn't happen every day, but I try to make it at least every other day.  My, how standards change when you have a baby. At the risk of sounding heartless, I have been known to leave my crying baby (fed and changed) in the safety of his crib, shut the bathroom door, and just block it out for ten minutes while I wash spit-up milk out of my hair. Don't knock it till you've tried it.

Nursing Gowns
Specifically the ones that don't even look like pajamas. I wore a gown home from the hospital, back to the hospital to get my stitches out, and even to the grocery store, and nobody could tell I was actually in my pajamas! They are comfortable and make you feel less guilty about still wearing the clothes you slept in when company comes to see the baby. Leggings and big t-shirts serve the same purpose, but leggings bothered my incision, so the gowns were essential.

Easy, Nutritious Snacks
I think I lived on instant oatmeal for a few weeks. I ate a lot of mixed nuts, dried fruit bars, and fruit and yogurt smoothies -- basically anything nutritious that I could eat with one hand. I always keep a huge water bottle nearby, too! I think a great gift for a new mom would be a smoothie maker, one that blends the smoothie directly in the bottle you drink from (in other words, less dishes to wash). I got one for my birthday and I use it almost every day!

Medela Swing Pump
I've used the pump a lot more than I thought I would. Sometimes people offer to keep the baby, and you should take them up on that. I try to keep a couple of bags of pumped milk in the freezer for those occasions. I've also pumped on road trips when I knew he would need to eat, but we couldn't stop on the highway to take him out of the car seat. I just pumped and gave him the bottle right away. Now that he's started to sleep all night, sometimes I wake up super full and end up pumping from one side. I love the Swing pump because it's small and battery-operated, so it's easy to take it with me in case I need to pump while I'm out. You could also just get a hand pump as an alternative. Either way, don't think you'll never use it, because you will!

Taking a break!
Like I said, sometimes nice people offer to help, and you should accept that offer. This was hard for me in the beginning because I have an independent streak that wants to handle everything without help. That is a dangerous attitude postpartum. Exhaustion is risky business. If you have a neighbor, friend, or family member who offers to keep the baby while you run errands, DO IT! If you say you'll be gone for an hour, but finish sooner, go get a cup of fancy coffee. Walk around outside. Eat with two hands. Whatever. Just relax knowing that your baby is completely safe and being entertained by someone who isn't sleep-deprived or stressed out. Even just letting my husband stay home with baby while I bought groceries once a week was the only thing that kept me from losing it the first couple of months!

This applies at home with baby, too. If you can't seem to throw together a decent meal, don't be above ordering pizza or take-out more than once a week. When baby is asleep or at least sitting quietly, do something good for yourself (eat, brush your teeth, change your socks, etc.) before you try to do any chores. Let daddy hold the baby while you walk the dog and get some fresh air.

The bottom line is this: You can't take care of a baby when you're falling apart yourself.

Your own physical and mental health need to be your number one priority, and smart people in your life should understand that. It won't last forever, and the rest of the world can just deal for a couple of months.

What helped you get through the first few months of being a mama?