The first three months postpartum are often referred to as the “fourth trimester.” During this time, you are undergoing a steep learning curve in parenting and getting to know the latest addition to your family. It is a Sisyphean cycle of feeding, changing diapers, napping, and figuring out which of the above is needed when the little one is crying for the umpteenth time.
We are fortunate to have so many family members and friends offering to help during this chaotic period. We are also blessed with a baby who is mostly easygoing. His fussy moments have been few and relatively quick to resolve, he nurses efficiently, and he naps for one to three hours the rest of the time. He only wakes up twice in the middle of the night, and usually falls back asleep quickly. Of course, it hasn’t all been smiles and snoozes. We have had some trying stretches of cluster feeding (when a baby feeds in short bursts or constantly, for hours) and baffling inconsolableness. But for the most part, the fourth trimester hasn’t been the utter hell for which I had braced myself, so we haven’t needed much help from others.
Well, we haven’t needed much of the type of help that most people offer or expect to provide to new parents, such as:
- Food delivery. I had prepared several freezer meals, and we had gone to Costco prior to our kid’s birth to get more stuff that wouldn’t expire until February or March. At the beginning, my mother dropped off so much food that some didn’t even fit in our refrigerator. A lot of it ended up in the trash. I hate wasting food, so this gave me more stress than it alleviated. Now we are getting tight on freezer space, too, because so much of it is going toward milk storage. We’ve had to tell both sides of the family to ease up. Anyway, with all this newborn nap time and my husband doing the grocery runs, I am still able to cook my own food.
- Groceries and other errands. My husband does these. However, we did have to ask my mother-in-law to pick up a few items from Costco.
- Laundry, dishes, vacuuming, etc. My husband does these, as well. If needed, I can throw in a load before feeding the baby. By the time it’s done and needs to be hung to dry, the kid is fast asleep again. (People without an in-unit washer and dryer: how do you live?!) I also do a lot of miscellaneous cleanup.
Just as Liz Lemon wishes men at bars would offer food instead of drinks, I wish it were socially acceptable to request a different type of help. The above are basic tasks. What I would really appreciate is handling of more “strategic projects,” i.e., homeowner responsibilities we’ve put off embarrassingly long because of the research and/or effort required:
- Re-grouting and re-caulking the shower. Do I have to pry off all the tiles and existing caulk first? I’ll probably need to buy some tools, right? Sounds hard. Are there any caveats I should know?
- Deep-cleaning the bathrooms. Just takes so much time.
- Getting all the cat hair off our clothes and blanket. There is an awful lot of cat hair on an awful lot of clothes.
- Dropping off a stack of clothes, shoes, and books at a donation center. It’s not really on the way to anything else for us (though it’s not really far, either). I tried a pick-up service once, but I don’t think those are a good idea because everyone struggles to find my building. I fear a neighbor may have thrown my bag of clothes in the Dumpster that one time.
- Investigation of whether we have a roach problem, and any follow-up actions needed. Ideally, we’d resolve this ourselves without resorting to calling an exterminator.
- Seeing if anything needs to be done to optimize the dryer and the piping under the kitchen sink. I think the dryer needs water in a duct? And why does the sink sometimes get backed up, especially when we run the dishwasher?
- Purchase and assembly of a new dresser, and disposal of our old one. My husband is actually willing to do this, but I would prefer to see the previous items completed first.
- Installation of a fancy toilet seat from my mother (the best gifts are ones that require you to do work, right?). It needs an electrical outlet, which means it can only be installed on the toilet that already has a bidet. The old bidet should then be installed on the other toilet. “Ugh, let’s just return the damn thing,” I’ve been saying.
Admittedly, these have nothing to do with surviving the fourth trimester. These are the things I wish I could reply with when people ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” but I would feel guilty for asking way too much. So no, we are fine—thanks for offering!
If there’s anything you can take away from this, I guess it’s that parenting is hard, but not necessarily harder than regular life.