These are scary, unprecedented times with the status quo changing dramatically over the course of a 24-hour news cycle. Most of us are (hopefully) upending our lives to accommodate drastic emergency measures to protect and prevent further damage caused by the first pandemic in a century.
Social distancing. Quarantine. Staying home indefinitely.
The seemingly extreme recommendations that rapidly crystallized over the course of the last few days have left many people in a panic, trying to figure out how to adapt and reconfigure their lives in this new temporary virtual and stationary reality. Amidst all the chaos, and aside from the biggest grocery shop I’ve done in a long time, I am struck by how my day-to-day life remains relatively unchanged while the world swirls around me.
This is because I’m a new mother.
I have essentially been practicing some version of social distancing for the last six months. Except for the rare venturing out on my own, or brave outing with a young baby, most of my time has been spent at home. At first it was quite deliberate; I was healing from childbirth and protecting a newborn with zero immunity is paramount in those first couple months.
Then it just became a matter of convenience. The monumental 24/7 task of feeding and changing a baby every 2–3 hours, in addition to adhering to nap schedules, is not super conducive to life on the outside. It’s easier if you just … don’t, and only do when you really must or want.
For the past half-year, my daily interaction in the real world, if it happens at all, has been pretty limited to Target, the grocery store, coffee shops, outdoor gardens, and weekly Mommy and Me groups. The rest of my day is spent at home with my new little best friend.
Fortunately, I am already a freelancer, so working from home in between naps is the norm for me. In fact, I’ve predominantly worked remotely for the last six years, so I was already equipped to compartmentalize how to stay at home all day before my baby arrived.
I am, of course, anxious and terrified, as any reasonable, educated and information seeking person should be. I can’t offer you any advice on how to stay safe other than what the CDC strongly recommends, and I’m not going to sit on a soapbox and list platitudes to make yourself feel better (Just make a warm cup of tea to wash that nihilist dread away!).
But, what I can provide is a little insight into how I’ve made the transition from being a girl about town to a long-term stay-at-home human, while still maintaining a sense of self.
Keep A Routine
As much as I’d like to think of myself as a carefree, spontaneous spirit, I am not. When the first few weeks of having a newborn turned my world inside out, I was all over the place without structure. Being up at all hours, stressing over breastfeeding issues, staying home all day, and healing from a major medical experience made me feel underwater.
Let me be clear about the idea of a routine; it’s fairly lax. The baby sleep expert I follow preaches about the merits of having a flexible routine and not a fixed schedule. This is wise and I believe can be implemented in areas outside of trying to get your kid to go the fuck to sleep.
A routine is just an order or sequence of events. It’s ok if one thing takes longer than anticipated or gets overlooked. It’s a guide, not strict instructions. A routine can, and really should be simple. The idea is to bring anchor points into the day to alleviate a feeling of chaos.
Routines are meant to be changed. They’re modular. Since my son was born, I’ve had a dozen variations on my own routine as his needs have waxed and waned. Just when I get into a groove, it’s time to move on to something new.
In this time of chaos outside the home, commanding some sort of flexible order inside can help create a sense of normalcy and calm in the face of the everyday unknown.
I’m a big fan of writing lists. I’m an even bigger enthusiast when it comes to crossing things off the list once they’re complete. This is pretty satisfying under the most mundane circumstances, but when you’re stuck at home…it takes on a heightened rush of elation.
In the early weeks of adjusting to life with a baby, it became pretty clear to me that not much was getting accomplished in the course of a day other than keeping the small human alive. Like I said, feeding alone is a full-time job with overtime every day. As someone who is used to being a productive force with which to be reckoned, this was a major speed bump in how I felt about my day and self-worth. Who was I if I wasn’t kicking shit off my to-do list like Chun-Li in Street Fighter?
So I started making smaller, simpler lists. No, seriously, some days the only things on that list were:
- Make the bed
- Clean litter box
- Sterilize bottles
- Eat lunch
- Wash towels
Even though my to-do lists were not as “important” or social as they were before the baby, this was a shortlist of tasks I could realistically accomplish, and that in turn made me feel productive and more like myself in a very foreign day-to-day life.
As soon as I could comfortably fit in jeans, I put them on every day. Who am I kidding? After months of not being able to wear real denim while pregnant, this was an absolute pleasure. But, more importantly, getting dressed helped me feel normal, even when I never left the house. I still practice this. In fact, I’m wearing jeans and a (gross nursing) bra right now! I even showered and washed my hair. Sometimes I even put on a little makeup, whether or not I leave the house. It’s for me, for when I pass my reflection in the mirror next to the door. It’s nice to see a familiar face when you’re home alone.
You don’t need to wear jeans or mascara or blow-dry your hair. That’s me. But, I do find that showering and changing into regular street clothes (even if they are super comfy) is a huge motivator and touchstone to normalcy. To feel like you COULD leave the house at any moment can help feel like this time in isolation is a choice rather than a mandate.
Plus, I have a sick ass t-shirt collection and they’ve finally been getting the airtime they deserve. And with daily baby spit up, I’m really rotating through these puppies. Think of all the cool t-shirts in the back of your drawers that need to breathe!
When I started working from home in 2013, I lived in a one-bedroom apartment. I spent way too much money to have a bright red vintage desk repainted grey so that I could have the perfect workspace in my living room. After the baby was born, the whole house sort of became fair game in a way, but I was still cognizant of spatial separation. We practically lived on the couch, but the living room never became overwhelmed with baby stuff, and even he had his own space in a newborn pillow sleeping beside us. We change his diapers on his changing table and, for the most part, we play in his room.
When you spend a lot of time in your home, it’s important to have a clear delineation between work, play, and rest. For years, I’ve made it a habit to not really hang out in our bedroom unless I’m getting dressed or ready for sleep. Bringing work or play into your space for rest can be confusing for your brain and doesn’t allow for any sanctuary.
Unfortunately, I’ve had to start using my makeup vanity in the bedroom as a desk to teach online writing classes that coincide with the bedtime routine, and I’ve recently started using the kitchen counter as a standing desk while I do work while pumping during afternoon naps, and even that isn’t great. The kitchen is for food preparation, conversation, and family time. But, that’s what’s working for me right now, and it won’t always be the case.
Since I have worked remotely for many years, I am very comfortable and quick to hop on a video chat, but in my personal life, I rarely use it. Like any good millennial, I default to texting. But, when you have a baby, people wanna see that baby. In the past few months, I’ve been quicker to Facetime family and close friends who don’t live close (and even those that do) so they can see my kid. This has led me to realize…Facetime is great and a totally functional surrogate for in-person visits.
Guys, pandemics are scary as shit, but at least it’s happening at the height of communication technology. Don’t just call a friend or a parent, Facetime them. It will make you feel a lot better, and less isolated. Move that canceled happy hour online and all pour a nice glass of whatever while you chat. It’s not the same, but it’s close and it’s probably a hell of a lot cheaper.
Stay On Social
A lot of people would tell you to stay off social, and for good reason. You can’t avoid news updates and pundits giving their two cents. It is overwhelming and anxiety-inducing. But I have to be honest, social media was a huge savior during the first few months of new mom isolation. I stayed up to date on what was happening with my friends, responded to their stories, and kept in close communication with so many people. Some days I felt legitimately socially exhausted because I had so many conversations with friends, family, and acquaintances I got to know better because they had recently also had a baby or were pregnant.
Social has the ability to tear society apart, but I think it’s possible to focus on the power it holds to bring us together. [INSERT RAINBOW]
But seriously, if social media is giving you a panic attack, get off and see the recommendation before this one and phone a friend. Otherwise, enjoy your network!
When you have a new baby, you can’t go to a lot of places. There just aren’t many environments where you feel comfortable whipping out your naked breast, or where it’s totally fine to let your infant scream bloody murder. Outside venues work best on such occasions. I’ve been to more outdoor gardens and parks these past few months than my whole adult life. It’s actually very lovely to be in nature so much (surprise!). It’s also very fun to push around a stroller. In fact, my husband and I frequently fight over who gets to push.
This is all to say, we’re in isolation mode, not shut in our houses (as of writing this blog). Find some time to go on a hike or a walk. It really helps your mood, and it makes you feel like you got out of the house because — well — you did.
Learn New Things
I watched a lot of video tutorials in my first few months as a new mom. Granted they were mostly on how to use all the new baby gear I had received, but nevertheless I used that time at home to learn some new shit.
Because you probably don’t have five baby carriers to figure out, I think this is a great time to play with makeup, hair, or try to figure out how to fix or clean things around the house. YouTube is amazing and will keep you busy and productive for a VERY long time.
I used to hate baths. I found them to be super boring and hot and generally seemed like a nicer idea than practice. But, then I had a baby and my body hurt all the fucking time. So, I tried to get into baths and honestly… I’ve decided they aren’t half bad. In fact, maybe I like them?! Maybe I see why they help you recharge? I also used to spend HOURS zoning out on my computer with the TV on in the background. I may get half hour of this a day, if I am lucky. Now, it feels like a treat.
Point being, living in a small space for an extended period of time means smaller everything, even indulgences. Learn to luxuriate in everyday things like baking, bad TV, chocolate, a small glass of wine (because if you have any more you’ll fall asleep while pumping breast milk at 9 pm), or Facetiming your best friend who lives across the country.
Being a new mom is temporary. Every stage of babyhood is fleeting and changing, even if a lot of those evolutions keep you at home for an extended period of time. This too shall pass, and hopefully, you’ll have learned that even when things (God willing) return to normal and you’re out and about again, being a stay at home person is actually quite nice if you let it.