Have you ever noticed that mommies of two seem to be more comfortable leaving their babies earlier on the second time around? I’ve noticed that some of my friends and some celebrities seem to go on no-baby dates or vacations much faster than they did with their first. It’s not a “second child” thing I think it’s because, after a test run, moms realize that not only will their babies be totally fine if they leave, but that mom herself will be better for it. When I had Lily, I thought being a good parent meant being with my child 24/7 and doing everything by myself. That didn’t get me very far! I wasn’t more than two months postpartum before I was so exhausted and overwhelmed I could barely function. At the urging of my husband and doula, I became (cautiously) willing to accept help.
I’m going to be really, really, uncomfortably honest with you guys right now. When I gave up my career as a journalist to move around the country with my husband, I took my “job” as a wife and future mother very seriously. I have always felt like if my husband was working all day and providing a very comfortable life for us, I should be responsible for doing everything else. I wanted to be this 1920s housewife but the kicker is, I had zero experience being domestic. I was never a person who liked to clean, garden, craft or decorate. I’m lucky that the way to an offensive lineman’s heart is through his stomach because cooking is about as domestic as I get. I was bred to be a career woman and homemaking just wasn’t something I cared about. I didn’t even want children until I started dating Andy. So, here I was 5 years into our relationship at 26-years-old trying to care for three homes, two dogs and a baby while also attempting to keep myself in shape and my husband happy and well-fed. During my worst days while dressed in a breastmilk stained t-shirt and hair I hadn’t washed in days, I wondered how our great grandmothers did it. It seemed like they could raise children by themselves, care for the home and have on a dress and a face full of makeup with dinner on the table when their husband got home. I wonder if all that is an illusion? Maybe those women were much more unhappy than it seemed? Maybe they had been taught all of those things at a young age so they could prepare for being a housewife? Or maybe they had a lot of family or support around that we just didn’t know about.
The truth of it is, maybe I just didn’t get the housewife gene. I thought I was a total failure. I wasn’t living up to my standards of being the perfect mom. I couldn’t believe I couldn’t handle only caring for one child. Although I had always been the best mother I could for her, I really couldn’t find time to care for myself while I was alone with her. Some mommies are better at this multitasking than me, they work out in the living room while their kids play or nap and bring their babies along when they need to get something done. My Lily would scream the majority of the time she was awake and it seemed like I couldn’t even put her down long enough to go to the bathroom, let alone finish a workout. I also felt like because she was nursing so often (and I was pumping between nursings) that I couldn’t leave. Possibly more than anything, though, was the fear of losing my pride. I didn’t want to be yet another privileged housewife who needed help caring for her only child while her husband was hard at work all day. I was going to become exactly who I thought I despised. I remember hearing other football wives talk about their nannies and I thought, really? You don’t work and you can’t take care of a couple of kids? I never thought I would end up being one of them. (p.s. This is SO MUCH more than I have ever thought I would admit to anyone)
Now I need to tell you why the mommy guilt/mommy pride logic is totally flawed and why my former way of thinking was just plain dumb. When you’re a mother, you are likely totally consumed with your child. If you’re with them, you are giving them 100% of yourself ALL the time. It wasn’t until after I accepted help that I realized how much I missed myself and how much better of a parent I could be if I got a break now and again. It honestly took until she was about 9 or 10-months-old before I really felt comfortable leaving her with a nanny for more than an hour or two. Before that, I was basically just at home getting things done or running quick errands while carefully monitoring everything she did. I would say closer to her first birthday is when I really started to gain my independence back. I remember just a few months ago, I was eating dinner with Andy and he told me “I’m really proud of you. You have come a long way and you’ve worked so hard to take care of yourself and your body.” It was one of the nicest and most powerful things anyone had ever said to me. He always told me how good of a mom or a wife I was, but it had been so long since I had heard someone tell me that I was doing great just being myself. I climbed a lot of hurtles in my postpartum journey but getting back in shape, sleeping a full 8 hours and starting this blog has given me purpose again. No, I’m not working outside of the house or contributing financially right now but everyone in my family is happier because I am happier with myself. What a gift it is to know that YOU matter as an individual, not just as a wife and mom.
I wanted to share with you what kind of childcare I used and some suggestions for getting a break yourself. I know part of the problem with writing this post is that people will feel like “of course you can say that, you can afford a nanny, but normal people can’t.” I don’t want my suggestions to come off that way and I do believe there is a way for almost everyone to get a break without breaking the bank. I think the best way to get some “me” time is by asking a family member, a neighbor or one of your very trusted friends to help out. Even if its two days a week for a couple of hours, schedule something for you: a workout, a manicure or lunch with a friend. It’s amazing how much adult female interaction can help you feel refreshed.
I didn’t have any family or close friends around, so I couldn’t pass her off for a few hours to get time to myself. I needed to hire out and that was horrifying for me. Who could I ever trust to take care of my only child? Don’t forget, I was a total control freak and perfectionist. I started with a night nurse from a company called Nurse & Nurture. We only used her 4 nights but she was great. I think night nurses can be really helpful if you use them early on. Having the baby or monitor in a different room from you can make ALL the difference when it comes to sleep. All of those tiny noises or movements won’t wake you up, but you can rest assured someone else is keeping a close eye on them. My night nurse would bring her to me whenever she would wake up and want to eat. I find that hiring through reputable agencies especially if one of your friends has used them, helps make you feel more at peace. When we were out in California, we found a postpartum doula to come 3 days a week for 3-4 hours in the morning so I could get some extra sleep. We sleep trained Lily at 4 months and after she started sleeping through the night, we asked through word of mouth for good babysitters. We would jet out right after we put her to bed and be back by 10 so I could do my “dream feed” aka night breastfeed. When we realized we wanted long-term help, we used a company called “Your Happy Nest” to find our nanny, Yvonne. I interviewed 3 people before her and she was something special. The other nannies wanted to sit and chat with me, but Yvonne went straight to Lily. She had a way with children. It made me feel more comfortable that she had 4 kids of her own. I loved knowing that she had done this before and knew what a child really needed. I now use her usually 4 days a week in the morning from 9-noon and then she does household stuff for us for 2 hours while Lily naps. So, I have Lily to myself from 7-9am and 2-7pm. Plus, I do still do a lot from the house, so I just step in whenever I want to play with her. I still make her meals myself and I usually will attend play class with her even if Yvonne is working because I enjoy it. But just having 5 hours a day that I can plan a workout, a couple of errands, a shower or a lunch date with a girlfriend has been really wonderful. I’m still able to give Lily everything she needs and someone else can play with her for 3 hours with a fresh energy.
If daycare or nannies are out of the question for you and family isn’t nearby, there are some other options. If your partner gets home late from work, see if you can find an hour a night 2 or 3 times a week where he can take over and you can just leave. Getting out of the house, even if it means seeing your partner a little less can be really good for you. I think we tend to have a little resentment when we know they have been able to be independent all day and we have been stuck at home with the kids. You could also join a mommy group and find another woman with a child your age you can buddy up with. Once you get to know and trust one another, you can take turns watching each other’s little ones so the other one can get a break. There are also options like Care.com to find a reputable sitter you can use even once a week so you can get a little time for yourself. If none of these is an option to you right now, even if it pains you, let the TV be the nanny every once and awhile. You can turn on a TV show to keep them distracted or wait until nap time and find a workout video on YouTube. Just that small burst of energy you get from a workout can help you to feel pride in yourself. No shame in just inviting a girlfriend over for a glass of wine while your kiddo plays nearby either!
I know by this point it probably sounds like I’m preaching, but it’s because I take this SO seriously. I always heard women talk about “taking care of yourself” and thought WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT?! And admittedly, you really don’t in the first 3 to 4 months. But once the initial craziness has worn off, it’s time to start finding moments for you. I promise, no one is happy if you aren’t happy. Your baby and family deserve a mommy who is able to be her refreshed, best self. Take it from a mommy who has experienced both sides of the coin! You deserve happiness, health AND sanity, mama. Xo