A Survivalist Mom’s Guide to Enjoying the Newborn Stage

“Survivalism is a…movement of individuals or groups who are actively preparing for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare to become self-sufficient, and build structures (e.g., a survival retreat) that may help them survive a catastrophe.” – Wikipedia

Well, I’d say that pretty much nails my current job description. I’ve always been a bit of a survivalist, anyway, but with a spin that I’ve started calling survival-in-comfort. I loved to see how long I could last in the mango tree in my front yard…with the most creature comforts possible. I’d stuff my pockets with Oreo brownies and cookie dough balls from the freezer, grab a pillow and a good book, and find the perfect branch. Nearing the end of my pregnancy with Annie, similarly, I started setting up camp for a few months of comfort-survival: nesting, I suppose, but with the intention of making it as luxurious and fun and not-boring as possible (tagline: “Party in my nest!”). Below are a few comfort-survival tactics that made all the difference in getting us through the first few months and helping us to find and create as many silver linings as possible in the newborn fog. 

Create a haven for you and yours. I didn’t have much time to prepare for Sam’s coming, since he deprived me of six weeks of prep time, so this time I went all-out. I cleaned up the backyard, put comfy chairs around, and bought a hammock. I went shopping for a pretty robe and set out my favorite essential oils. I stocked the fridge with a cache of La Croix (okay, and Angry Orchard), wrote some scriptures on index cards and stashed them in various places, cued up my favorite old Reading Rainbow episodes to show Sam, filled up my Kindle app with exciting new books, and—if you can only do one thing, do this—hid tiny stockpiles of individually-wrapped dark chocolates in secret and strategic locations in every room of the house.

Fill the freezer. My last-hurrah trip to Costco and Trader Joe’s—at 8.97 months pregnant with only one kid in tow—felt like I was shopping for the apocalypse. Several cashiers asked if I was having a party (answer: yes), and one asked me if there was a run on cheese. If doomsday comes, I don’t want to be caught without plenty of chocolate, a refrigerator bin full of dark greens, olive oil, garlic, seven types of cheese, at least 100 metric tons of coffee, three flavors of ice cream, and my freezer full of my favorite recipes. (A few years ago I bought an extra ice cream arsenal—er, freezer—on Craigslist, to keep in the garage.) Expecting to be largely house-bound after Annie’s birth was the closest thing to the apocalypse that I could imagine, so I prepared accordingly: The best thing I did to get ready was to double all my recipes for a month and pop the leftovers in the freezer, and also to preemptively whip up family favorites like cheesy pasta and cookie dough and freeze them for those inevitable low moments when the only thing that will fix it is a warm chocolate chip cookie. Other things I put in the freezer included grilled chicken breasts, eggplant parm, two pasta bakes, three quiches, six trays of sweet rolls, and a lasagna. Okay, so maybe I went a little overboard. 

Plan your escape routes. This time, expecting the second kid, I had the presence of mind to write a note on my phone with a list of potential adventures and ideas for simple, fun places for us to go on weekdays after Jordan went back to work. A typical scenario is that I’m able to make the big push to get us out of the house, but then I sit in the driveway, paralyzed, because I don’t have any energy left to think of somewhere to go. Now I can consult the list and choose something appropriate on the spectrum between “Go to Target and drink Starbucks while riding the escalators” and “Drive two hours to Big Sur and play in the river.”

Camp out somewhere new and awesome. At some point during the pregnancy I had this revolutionary thought: if I’m going to be caring for a baby around the clock, why not do it in a beautiful place whenever possible? Caring for a newborn and a toddler is challenging whether you’re at home or on the road. You might as well be on the road! So, in addition to our usual one-day adventures, I planned a 3 day getaway retreat for the four of us. A few sessions of Airbnb browsing produced a little guest house with views of the ocean, a hiking trail across the street, and access to a little creek for Sam to play in—basically, with as many of the “amenities” we love within arm’s reach and without any driving necessary–and booked it for a few days sometime around Annie’s second month of life. (I inadvertently timed it around a growth spurt, so she spent at least six hours a day eating, which would have driven me bonkers at home, but at the cottage I could sit on the couch and look at the ocean while Sam and Jordan walked to the creek or played on the porch. Also, Sam was going through an extremely defiant and unhappy phase, and we were able to focus in on him and figure out some ways to ease his struggle.). I’m all for sneaking away with your spouse before the baby arrives, but maybe a “babymoon” should also mean, babymooon, n., a trip where you take the new baby to a beautiful or unique place to get to know them better, escape the daily grind around the house, and get some fresh air. This could mean camping out at an especially understanding friend’s home for a few days, house-sitting, or finding a room or cabin in a scenic location. Really, anyplace with a different view will do, as long as it is 500 feet or more from your piles of mail and household debris.  

Put the baby down sometimes. It might sound controversial, but one of the best pieces of advice I received after having Sam was this: give the baby tons of attention and affection, but also help the baby get used to hanging out in a space of his or her own, with freedom to move and be independent. This worked well with Sam, who was a very self-sufficient first-born, so I was interested to see if I could train Annie this way, too, knowing that she’d probably have a different personality. She does love to be held and bounced (God bless the exercise ball!), but quite often she is also happy hanging out, close to us, on a vinyl crawling track we built (more on that later) or a yoga mat, with interesting high-contrast patterns and objects nearby to look at. Getting her used to spending as much time as possible on her belly during the day was a challenge at first–when she got frustrated we would sit next to her, coaching and encouraging, trying to discern sounds of frustration from sounds of distress and delay picking her up for just a few minutes while she got used to the idea–but it’s paying off in the long run. It’s essential for her brain and mobility development (she’s practically army-crawling at 2 months old) and it gives me a tiny bit of space, too. Plus, it’s great exercise for her and I’m convinced that her sleep is improved by extra “tummy time.” At the same time, I’m also a huge fan of babywearing and do it daily, but I try to balance the time I spend carrying her with time for her to be free. 

Make or enjoy something beautiful every day. It’s life-giving to find and create beauty in the midst of mundanity. At this stage, that might mean arranging your Chinese take-out in a nice way on a plate, taking and editing one great picture, writing two reflective sentences in a note on your phone, or setting aside 90 seconds to sit outside uninterrupted with your coffee: every little bit counts toward your sanity and feeling of wholeness in an identity-altering season of life. It’s always worth the energy expenditure. Energy is in short supply, yet, though it seems counter-intuitive, the giving of it for a good cause gets us some more. Sleep when the baby sleeps…except when you have an opportunity to do something beautiful.

The newborn stage is hard, and neither making the right preparations or adjusting your attitude can preclude the physical, emotional, and hormonal challenges of bringing home a baby. And yet I don’t want to believe that this stage is merely about survival. So maybe my survivalist instincts are actually desires to maintain beauty, comfort, and interest in a trying and mundane season, which I think is entirely possible and essential. Just asking the question, “How do I turn this into a party?” might be the first step to thriving rather than simply surviving.   

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