There’s no doubt about it: Bringing a baby home a newborn is hard. For first timers, making the transition from no baby to new baby is a true culture shock. Just about every new parent says, “wow” after joining the ranks of parenthood. “I never knew it would be so hard and relentless … and exhausting,” says first-time mom of 2-week-old Jacob, Carly Stephenson. “I am tired almost all day long and live in a bit of a daze … of course, he’s worth it,” she adds.
On the other hand, parents bringing home new babies for the second, third or more times — although already grounded in parent culture — wind up with a host of new trials that come from meeting more than just one demanding person’s needs. While the age old advice, “Sleep when the baby sleeps” might be possible with the first baby, with each addition to the family the ability to find a moment to rest diminishes in proportion to the number of children.
However, with a little organization and advanced planning, it’s possible to find time to rest and recover, even if your new baby is child number four.
Ann Maher is a testament to this. She survived the early days home with daughter, Tara, now 7 weeks old. In fact, to look at and talk to her, it seems hard to believe that she has a total of four children — the oldest being 5. Her survival strategies with the addition of child number four have centered around practicality.
From the Moment Baby is Born
Strategy number one began on day one in the hospital where Maher took advantage of the 48-hour policy and used the time to rest. “I fed the baby at midnight,” she says, “then asked the nursery to keep her until morning.”
Once home from the hospital, Maher had her mother stay with her for the first week, which was necessary in order to provide care for her other baby, 17-month-old Sean, who still needed to be lifted and carried much of the time. In fact, deciding what to do with Sean was Maher’s biggest problem, since at 26 pounds he was too heavy for her to manage while recovering from the delivery. Maher’s survival technique was to have her mother take Sean home with her during the weekdays for weeks two and three. Her other children, Tippy, 5, and Erin, 3, were able to spend large parts of the day playing independently, and they were happy to watch videos or play in the yard while she sat in the shade with Tara.
“If anybody called and offered a play date, I accepted,” Maher adds when discussing how she managed the early weeks with her two oldest children. She also said “yes” to any offers of dinner. Or, when meal time arose, she dipped into the prepared food like hamburger patties and chicken she froze before Tara’s birth. Plus, she points out, “We had a lot of sandwiches and pizza.”
Another survival technique that Maher advocates is putting off the house cleaning or enlisting the help of others. In her case, Maher’s in-laws provided a house cleaner for the first several weeks. But, Maher adds, in general with a large family, a person can’t be a fanatic about a clean and tidy house. “It’s not going to happen,” she emphasizes. For quick clean ups, Maher says baby wipes work well on bathroom sinks and toilet seats so they don’t look quite so bad.
Get Lots of Support
Before the baby was born, Maher also made arrangements to have a neighborhood pre-teen help out with the older children. “She’s a ‘mother’s helper,’” says Ann. “She is not a baby-sitter; her role is to entertain the other three children.” The 11-year-old helper lives across the street from the Mahers and earns $4 an hour playing games and tending to children while Mom cares for the baby.
“You know,” Maher emphasizes when asked if she has any other survival tips, “Dad has to help.” Meaning, she explains, by four o’clock, she’s pretty spent for the day. So, when Dad walks in the door, he has to go on kid duty.
Cathleen A. Hanson is a mother and former editor of Baltimore Baby,
a magazine for new and expectant parents.