I’ve been thinking about my experience of doing this a lot lately. Sometimes I think back to those first days, after coming home from the hospital, and I’m amazed at how this entire experience has evolved and moved me, deeply, on so many levels. I was alone throughout the entirety of my pregnancy; lived by myself, went to most of my doctor’s appointments by myself, save for the few times I was joined by an acquaintance who offered to be present mostly out of pity for me (I think). Things were very emotional for me; it was the deep of autumn, the frigid of winter, and days were dark – both figuratively and literally. I did my best to think positively, pray, and hope for a happier time.
Well, that happier time is here. If you are reading this and you are an expectant mother who feels or is alone, if you have been shamelessly abandoned by a man, or if you have chosen to have a child on your own but are wondering if you are really ready for this, I am here to tell you that all will be well, and you will be fine. We each have different intelligent ways of navigating stresses and difficult emotions, so I know that what I say here is really just me telling you how I did it in the situation I was in – not my prescription for what I think you should do or what kind of approach I think you should take. Everything is up to you and I am a firm believer that you need to listen to your own intuition more than anyone else’s well-meaning ‘advice’. Sometimes people’s well-meaning (and often unsolicited) advice is really off-the-mark so. Lesson numero uno: listen to your gut.
Coming home from the hospital with a baby, alone (and recovering from an emergency C-section), can be a bit frightening and worrisome at first. Some of the questions that went through my mind were: How will I manage? Will I be ok to do all this by myself with a not-yet-healed C-section wound? What if there’s a problem, who will help me? How will I make food for myself if I have to hold the baby? Et cetera. Keep in mind, all of these worries may be compounded depending on the type of birthing experience one has had; if you have had a negative or traumatic birthing experience, you are not alone. In fact, there are far too many women who have been extremely violated by medical personnel in hospitals and this is an issue that is finally gaining steam and beginning to be addressed. I’ll be posting more about this in the future. Hopefully your birth experience will have been a very positive one. Either way, you will have to go forward. You will go home with your baby and you will do your best to navigate through all of the emotions, hopefully with people around you who will be there to listen. I remember sitting up in bed the first night, holding my little one, trying to get comfortable with all my pillows so that I could breastfeed, and I realised that this was a whole new world that I’d stepped into. But I felt joy. I instinctually knew that things would be ok; it was my mind that I had to convince.
So, managing alone. How do we do it? If you are a soon-to-be mama, or you are a new mama, here are a few things I did that helped make things a little easier for me in the absence of a support network. First, here are some things you may want to consider getting:
- Baby sling (to be upgraded later when they’re a bit bigger)
- Stroller (something with a storage basket at the bottom)
- Car seat (with padded infant insert)
- Firm pillow (to rest your arm on while breastfeeding)
Transportation: Ok so this isn’t really so much about transportation as it is my opinion that you need to have a car seat with a padded infant insert ready for when you leave the hospital. In some states/countries, the hospital won’t allow you to leave with an infant if they know you don’t have a car seat. If you’re strapped for cash, you can get a cheapo model brand new (the one I used was only £35/$40). New is safer as it will have passed all up-to-date regulations and inspections. Old models, though available and much, much cheaper, are a potentially problematic because you never know if they’ve been sitting in the sun, involved in an accident, dropped, etc. Personally I think new = safe in this case. And like strollers, you don’t need a flashy model. This is not about impressing anyone, this is about function over form. FUNCTION rules. It will be a worthwhile investment. You can also use it in taxis if you don’t have a car.
Feeding: Whether you’re breastfeeding or bottle feeding, in those early days, when the baby is just home from the hospital and you’re trying to figure out your groove and preferred positions, a firm pillow definitely helps. You don’t necessarily need to spend a bunch of money on a breastfeeding pillow (I never used one), but you can. Maybe they work, depending on the position you end up sticking with. Positioning is really about gut instinct as well; the hospital or midwives may suggest a lot of different feeding positions to you but at the end of the day, it’s really about what works for you and your baby. I personally found a lot of the recommended positioning very awkward and painful, causing a lot of unnecessary neck and back strain. So, do what works for you. Don’t allow yourself be railroaded into doing things that don’t resonate with you instinctually or physically. I digress. So, you can use one big firm pillow or pile a couple regular pillows on top of each other; put them under the arm that you will use to hold your baby’s head. Try putting some pillows behind your back as well. This will ease a lot of the pressure on the muscles in your neck and back, and will be comfortable over the duration of a feed.
Co-Sleeping: The question of whether to co-sleep with your baby or to put your baby in a cot/crib is often the most difficult decision to make for people who tend to ignore their intuition (in my opinion). Co-sleeping with your baby will save you and your baby a lot of time and pain. I co-slept with my baby since the first day home from the hospital and I have no regrets whatsoever. There are a lot of people out there with a lot of very strong opinions about this, and they may tell you that co-sleeping is dangerous, and causes SIDS, etc; but there is literally no proof of this. So. They can have their opinion, that is fine. But there are also a lot of other people who gone against the institutional grain and do it, have been doing it for a long time – with several children! – and it has worked really well for them. In fact, literally since the dawn of traceable human existence, women have been co-sleeping with their babies. Yes, even with their newborn babies. Why? Because it’s natural. Babies need (not want. need) close contact, touch, they need to feel and hear your heartbeat, to smell your skin. Babies need their mamas close. Co-sleeping is perfectly safe and natural; however, if you are a heavy sleeper, if you drink or take any kinds of drugs before bed, co-sleeping may not be a good option for you and your little one. You may want to invest in a bedside cot, or a cot that will be near you somewhere in your room. The reason I’m including it on this list of hacks is because it’s basically a hack to get more sleep than you would otherwise. If you have your baby in a cot/crib, just know that you’re going to be physically getting up a lot, and if you’re a light sleeper like I am, that sucks because it means having a harder time getting back to sleep – multiple times. If you choose to co-sleep, all you’ll need to do is roll over to feed your baby and both of you can drift off again easier. Added bonus of having your baby close and waking up to that cute face every time.
Cooking: When it comes time to feeding yourself, you will wonder how you’ll do it with an infant that needs constant attention and, depending on the infant, may or may not respond well when you lay them down to nap. No matter if you have a perfect baby or a colicky baby, get yourself a baby wrap. I personally found this to be my saving grace, particularly in those earliest days when the babe is so tiny and wants to be snuggled and swaddled and near your heart constantly. Baby wraps are great because as soon as you put the baby in it and start walking around, they hear your heartbeat, feel your warmth, and respond to the movement by drifting off to sleep. It mimics the womb in many ways for them. My baby didn’t like it at first but after about three or four times of trying it, all was well. While you wear your baby, you can get a lot of things done because your hands and arms are free! Yay. It’s an amazing feeling, especially if you’ve not used one before. Plus, baby likes it too, so it’s a win-win. Cook yourself some food. And if baby wakes up at some point before you’re finished cooking, they will probably just enjoy being with you while you finish. Take your food with you when you go to breastfeed/bottle feed. Eat it in bed, if that is where you do it. Get used to this because this is the way it will be for several months.
Cleaning: For cleaning the house, get a baby wrap (see above). For cleaning yourself or spending any amount of time in the bathroom, strap the baby in a bouncy chair or a car seat and bring them into the bathroom with you. Seriously. I would not have been able to shower or go to the bathroom at all if I had not done this. It works. They may even like the white noise of the running water; my baby loved it and either slept in the chair or enjoyed watching me as I washed up and sang songs.
Shopping: Stroller is absolutely necessary for those of you who, like myself, do not have a car. Get yourself a sturdy, affordable stroller that has storage at the bottom. And again, you don’t need a flashy model. This is not about impressing anyone, this is about function over form. FUNCTION rules. It will be a worthwhile investment. When you go shopping for food, wear your baby in the baby wrap and use the stroller as a mule. Seriously. This works wonders. Lower the back of the stroller down, put your bags in there, and pop another in the storage basket at the bottom. Since you’re wearing the baby, you can also hang a couple lightweight bags on the stroller handles too if you need to. Just be careful about weight distribution because if you put too much stuff toward the back, you may inadvertently tip your stroller and that would suck. Not that I know… 😉
Dating: Don’t. Seriously. “Why not?” you ask. Girl, why not not? Do you really need to find someone to date when you’re recovering from having a baby? No. No, you don’t. In fact, your entire experience of being with your child, and really getting in-tune with your baby will only happen if you are not distracted. Pay attention to your baby – but also yourself. You, as a woman, are being born again through this experience. You are changing. This is natural. You will continue to change. You will see things differently. You will think about things differently. Allow yourself the opportunity to be alone. Just be. Be as the universe has it. If you are alone, just be in that aloneness and experience all of the feelings that that aloneness brings. Yes, even the hard parts. ‘Family’ can mean a lot of things, and the old adage ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is true – to an limited extent. It takes a village of trustworthy, healthy people to raise a child. This village of healthy, trustworthy people can be made up of friends, co-workers, whomever is willing to be there to help. But girl, listen to me: men are not necessary for the successful raising of a well-adjusted child. If you think that your child will be worse off without a man around, or you won’t be able to do certain things without a man, get that shit out of your mind right now. Children of single mamas turn out just fine without a father in their life; when they don’t, it’s not due to the absence of a man, it’s due to the presence of an unhealthy or abusive man, and/or a host of other negative influences in the home and/or community. Children of lesbian parents turn out fine; children of single mamas with a lot of extended family there to help turn out fine. A man is not a necessary component for successfully raising a well-adjusted child. Do you really need to have a man around to raise your baby? No. No, you don’t. Wear that singleness proud, mama. It is a mark of strength and wisdom. Protect your child from harm. You wasting your time on some irrelevant guy is harmful for your child. You wasting your time trying to find someone to date, and all the emotions that go along with that is taking time and energy away from your relationship with your child. It’s ok, and sometimes/often better, to be single. Keep working on building your community of healthy, trustworthy people and you and your baby will be fine.
There are also other suggestions and ideas here. If you have any suggestions for other things, feel free to leave them in the comments.
Hopefully some of these ideas help or inspire you to come up with your own innovative approaches to doing this. No matter what you think or feel right now, you can do it. Even if you don’t have a big support network. You can do it. You will amaze yourself when you look back on all this in a year or two.
I believe in you.