M y son (those are his feet in the picture above) will be three months old on Sunday, and while many of the truisms of new motherhood have definitely pulled me into their wake (hello, sleep deprivation, surprising hormonal shifts, and an irrational, yet immutable conviction that my baby is the most fascinating and beautiful creature on earth), one thing I haven’t felt is isolated. I suspect it’s because I’ve been doing a few things to keep myself connected to the world outside my home. Here are a few things that have worked well to keep me in touch with my local and online communities during the newborn stage of my baby’s life:
- Get out of the house once a day, no matter what. There have been days when I haven’t managed to get my butt – and the baby’s – out the door, and those have been among my lowest days, mood-wise. In much the same way I had to learn from experience that going to the gym wards off sluggishness, I’ve discovered that if I can drag myself out into the world for some fresh air and fresh perspective (and ideally, some adult conversation – even if it’s for 30 seconds at the coffee shop), I am far more likely to retain a sense of connectedness to the world I live in.
- So this is why Facebook exists. While I’ve used Facebook pretty regularly for years, nothing prepared me for how hard I’d fall for it after having a baby. There’s nothing like being able to check your friend feed at 4 in the morning, when you’re up for the fourth time in as many hours, to remind you that a) somewhere in the world, it’s the middle of the day and life is bustling; b) right in your community, there’s another mom in the same situation; and c) you’re not alone. These may seem like small things, but at 4 am, they are incomparably helpful. Not only that, but if you write a status update about what you’re going through, you’re guaranteed to get sympathetic comments from the parents in your friends list.
- Travel. As a business owner, I don’t take a lot of vacation time, so I’ve taken advantage of my maternity leave to get out of town and visit some friends. Infants are usually pretty great on planes – they sleep a lot, so they’re actually much more fun to travel with than a toddler who would rather be running around than strapped into an airplane seat. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get some help with the baby from people who are well-rested and energetic, and keen to help out. (Friends of mine took my screaming son off my hands one night when I was falling apart after two sleepless nights in a row, allowing me to doze for four blessedly uninterrupted hours. I will never, never forget that kindness.)
- Take your baby to conferences. I attended a conference two days after my due date, and that garnered some kudos, but nothing like the appreciation I’ve seen for bringing the babe into “work” situations. I accompanied my partner on a work trip when our son was four weeks old, and we were embraced with open arms and invited to hang around the office. (Admittedly, this was a high-tech environment, and those tend to be pretty tolerant of unconventional working arrangements.) While most of my time and energy were devoted to childcare, I got to meet some amazing people, participate in some deeply engaging conversations, and contribute in some small ways to a few exciting projects. More recently, I took the babe to a four-day conference in Silicon Valley; he was the only child present in a room with 625 participants, and he was embraced wholeheartedly by the group. The conference organizer personally thanked me for bringing my son along; I got to meet several of the speakers, who couldn’t resist cooing at a baby; and my sweet boy seemed delighted to have so many interesting faces to examine. Granted, I had to duck out of a few sessions when feeding times, diaper changes and gas pains interfered, but overall I was really impressed at how easy it was to participate while holding an infant.
- Listen to podcasts and audiobooks. I’ve found that I’m doing less reading than I was before the baby was born, because my son is a big fan of moving around – he prefers to be held and bounced (or walked around the room) more or less constantly, and that doesn’t leave me with enough hands to hold any reading material larger than what’ll fit on my iPhone’s screen. So I’ve rekindled my love of podcasts, which allow me to learn new things hands-free. I’m sure they’re also much more fun for my son than watching me read.
- Bring your pre-baby life forward. My partner, who is an expert at trusting the universe’s support, has been an enthusiastic cheerleader for not letting parenthood dominate and restrict our lives. We’ve attended parties, gone to fancy restaurants, entertained friends (with take-out food, natch), and taken long walks, all with our son in tow. This isn’t to say we don’t also have lots of days & evenings being homebodies – but we are determined to expand our lives to include our child, rather than making them smaller and more insular.
And because I’m a big believer in learning from failure as well as success, here are some things that haven’t worked so well:
- Tight schedules. Babies really don’t operate on the clock, so I’ve had to loosen my planning impulse significantly and allow plenty of margin for error.
- Phone calls. You might think, given my ode to podcasts, that I’d also be using the phone regularly – but I find my son has a knack for expressing his unhappiness at high volumes within ten seconds of me getting on the phone. So I’ve been eschewing the phone in favour of in-person and email communication, with the exception of short calls to plan get-togethers. This is causing some challenges in friendships with people I speak to by phone regularly, so I need to come up with alternate ways of keeping in touch with them – or find ways to keep my babe entertained while I’m on a call.
- High expectations. I’ve always been a compulsive planner, to the point of occasionally scripting conversations in my head before they happen. I have a knack for visualizing the ideal outcome to any given situation, so having a baby – AKA an agent of chaos – with me at all times has really challenged that habit. There’s no way to know definitively, ahead of time, what my son is going to want or need, so I’m learning to let go & allow things to unfold as they may. It doesn’t mean I’m always happy with how it goes, but I’m certainly more accepting of the unexpected; I resist it less.