Those first two weeks with a newborn are a whirlwind, but as a first time mum I learnt a lot from them.
After what I would consider to be a pretty easy birth, Phoebe’s first day or two were delightful (albiet sore and undignified). I felt on top of the world and couldn’t believe that I was absolutely bossing this mum thing.
Then, on about day three or four, everything came crashing down and boy did I struggle. I have said to a few people that I’d rather do the birth again than the first two weeks of Phoebe’s life. Not that I didn’t adore my tiny human, but my hormones were absolutely all over the place and it really, really hit me hard. At the time I couldn’t imagine how I would ever feel normal again, and honestly I was absolutely terrified by some of the thoughts and feelings I was having.
I suffered with extreme anxiety, mostly triggered by the impending night times, which made it impossible to sleep during the day. I was having panic attacks and huge waves of anxiety that got worse and worse each day until about day 10 or 11, when it got so bad I had a numb, tingly feeling the whole way down one side of my body that actually caused me to collapse at one point.
My mum was so worried that it was something physical that we ended up at A&E after a 111 call, but everything was fine with me aside from my mental health. Strangely, that trip to the hospital was a turning point because it forced me to have to leave Phoebe in the car with Ryan. He fed her some expressed milk (luckily I had been using a Haakaa from early on so we had some in the freezer) and just knowing that she could take a bottle and I wasn’t solely responsible for her was a huge weight off my shoulders.
I also cried for the first time since she was born that day, which felt amazing. I had been struggling to feel anything at all aside from the anxiety. I couldn’t watch TV or concentrate on anything. They were all the telltale signs of postnatal depression, but thankfully it only lasted a little while longer before I felt like my old self again.
Those two weeks were really tough, but I learnt a lot from them that I will remember if I ever have more children. Here are the 10 mistakes I made during my first two weeks with a newborn, so maybe you can take something from them too. (You might also like to read my round-up of newborn essentials).
Before Phoebe was born, I said we wouldn’t accept visitors until we were ready. That is so, so much easier said than done! We were able to go home on the day Phoebe was born, so that evening my parents and Ryan’s parents and our siblings came over to meet her. It was lovely, it really was, but I was absolutely exhausted after giving birth literally hours earlier so it probably wasn’t the best of starts. (You can just about see me in the background in the photo above, standing because it hurt too much to sit down with a wobbly empty belly and zero sleep. Phoebe had been born just hours earlier).
We then ended up having visitors every day. It was fine at first when I wasn’t feeling so exhausted, but as the sleep deprivation caught up with me it was definitely a mistake. The thought of having visitors was always lovely, so I always said yes when people asked, but in hindsight it would have been better to sleep more. Plus, it meant that Ryan and I actually didn’t have any days to ourselves to get used to being a family of three.
Trying to keep the house tidy
The side effect of having visitors was that I was determined to keep the house tidy and clean. When I could have been relaxing I was putting a wash on or doing the washing up or hoovering. Ryan did loads too, but he could have been enjoying newborn cuddles.
Putting too much pressure on myself
Accepting visitors and keeping the house tidy were part of a bigger problem: I was putting too much pressure on myself. I wanted to feel like I had the hang of being a mum already. I felt like I should be getting out and about with Phoebe and that we should be able to be organised at home. But the first two weeks with a newborn are so unpredictable and you’re still learning and healing. I should have realised that it was okay not to have everything under control right away.
Not going outside every day
That said, it’s good to get some fresh air! I found that the days I went for a walk or just sat out in the garden were my best days. Being cooped up indoors all day every day is not at all healthy for the brain, which is something I still try to remember. I go out with Phoebe more or less every day now and it’s always so much better than staying in.
Taking Phoebe out in the evening
The first place we took Phoebe during those first two weeks was to our besties for a takeaway. It seemed like a brilliant idea and actually I do have fond memories of it, but she had a brilliantly long nap round there and all I could think was that I could be sleeping. Again, it was too much and I put too much pressure on myself to be ‘back to normal’.
A big part of the pressure I was putting on myself was because I thought it was abnormal to be feeling the way I did. It was only once I started talking about it that I realised almost everyone feels the same way. I bonded with so many people over shared newborn struggles and it made me feel so much less alone. It just shows you how important it is to talk about these things – perhaps if we talked about them more I wouldn’t have felt so much like a failure in those early days.
Not asking for help
Similarly, I should have realised that it wasn’t a weakness to ask for help. I used to think it was a bit odd that people would have the baby’s grandparents staying with them for the first few weeks but now I totally get it! When I was at my worst, my mum stayed over for a couple of nights to help out and it was exactly what we needed. I’m not sure what I’d have done without her.
Trying to sleep in bed
A big part of my nighttime anxiety was around the fear of falling asleep with tiny Phoebe on me. I’d read all sorts of stories about babies getting hurt (or worse) that way and I was terrified. I realised that part of the problem was trying to get settled for the night in our bed. When I was downstairs on the sofa with my feet up, I could sleep when Phoebe did but when she was awake I could sit up and watch TV and feel a bit less like I should be sleeping. We ended up doing this for three or four weeks and it was so much better. I knew when we were ready to make the move back up to the bedroom, when Phoebe was sleeping for longer stretches and I could settle her more easily.
Worrying about health visitors
Another thing that made me so anxious was health visitors. They all seemed to have different advice about things and they kept telling me what I should and shouldn’t be doing and I just hated it. I had two lovely health visitors who made me feel a lot better but I also had two that were just grumpy and made me feel so rubbish. I should have realised that the very fact they were telling me different things meant there are no hard and fast rules to this parenting thing.
Not trusting my instincts
Which leads me onto this – I did not trust my own instincts at all in the beginning. I was constantly Googling (biggest mistake of all, actually) and reading these horrible articles about everything and I felt like a terrible mum. But now that I’ve learnt to trust my own instincts, things have clicked into place so much better. Every baby is different so there’s no manual that’ll help, you’ve just got to use your head (and your heart).
At the time, I really couldn’t imagine how I would ever feel normal again, but as I’m writing this more than three months later I feel on top of the world! Babies are hard work, but now that we’re getting smiles and (almost) giggles it’s so worth it. I feel proud of myself, of Ryan and of Phoebe. I’m excited about the future and to learn more about this little human we made. I’m nervous but excited about getting stuck back into work during the second half of next year and I’m realising that, while life will never be the same, it’s not over! It’s a whole new adventure now and it’s only just begun.