It is my belief that a mother is made not during pregnancy, labor or even delivery, but in the first weeks home with her newborn. These weeks rewrite her identity and redefine her priorities. This phase of intense bonding—call it the “honeymoon” or the “gauntlet”—demands sacrifice, day and night. The new mom will devote her time and attention to a tiny person whom she literally just met for the first time, a person who already trusts her implicitly and relies on her unrelentingly. She gives, baby takes. It’s sacrifice that makes a mother.
Now that baby Deacon is three weeks old, I’m beginning to emerge from the vacuum. However, those first weeks were an all-encompassing black hole of newborning (my word). In those weeks, the calendar and the clock had little influence on our existence. I was wrapped up in every detail of baby—his breathing, his sleeping, his sounds, his feedings and his diaper changes. When every waking hour (and most of the hours were waking—“day” and “night” ceased to have meaning) was filled with the observation of these minute details, a week felt like forever. Likewise, the expectations of the world outside fell away—it didn’t matter if I showered or brushed my hair (sorry, husband) or kept up a social life. My world was baby, and it was a very small world. Together, we were healing from the trauma of birth. He was learning to live, and I was learning to live for him.
Based on my own experience, I think the newborn vacuum follows every birth, whether you’re on baby No. 1 or No. 4. And for this reason, it’s so important to have help! If I were alone with my four kids during those first weeks, my older kids would have been royally ignored as I resided in the vacuum. My husband officially received two days of paternity leave (and he had to fight for that second day—I’ll share more thoughts on paternity leave in a future post!), so thank heavens my mom flew in from Pennsylvania to help for two weeks. Because of her, my 10-, 6- and 4-year-old were dressed and fed each day. They felt loved, so they didn’t resent baby too much for taking me away. And I didn’t have to feel guilty for focusing all of my time and energy on the newbie.
Because a person can’t live in a vacuum forever, I’ve started to venture out. It seems that time and weather haven’t stopped. Temperatures north of 100 degrees fried my flowers but produced some massive zucchini in our backyard garden. Brother’s baseball games and sister’s theater rehearsals came and went. My library books came due. And my kids played a lot of Wii, interrupted now and then by reading and trips to the pool. With the visitors gone, it’s time to find a new normal in our family, to balance newborning with meeting the needs of the five other people occupying our little house.