Advice from the Trenches of New Motherhood

by Rachel Muller

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Given that we already had three teenaged children, I wouldn't be giving away much if I told you that our fourth child was a surprise. Once we'd gotten over the shock of this unexpected gift, my husband and I sat down to assess our financial situation. Overall, we were optimistic. I was already working from home, and we weren't counting on my very modest income for our daily expenses. There wasn't a whole lot left over at the end of each month, but from past experience, we knew it was possible to take care of a baby with very little money.

With our limited budget in mind, we threw ourselves into the task of preparing for the newest member of our family. My husband reorganized several areas of the house to make room for a nursery, and I made use of all my frugal skills to decorate it. We borrowed a crib from my brother, and collected the remaining baby furniture and equipment at thrift stores and garage sales. I filled the drawers of the two dressers in the room with second hand baby clothes and cloth diapers.

As my due date approached, I stocked up the pantry, cooked and froze meals, made and purchased Christmas gifts (I was due in November), bought postage and supplies for birth announcements, and even blank thank you cards for the gifts I anticipated. In short, I did everything I could to ensure a super smooth (and frugal) transition into new motherhood. I was prepared, and boy did I feel smug!

But as every new mother learns quickly, you can never really be prepared for the changes a newborn brings. It's impossible. Babies are designed to catch you off guard, to exhaust you, to sabotage your most careful plans. It's in their secret manual! In the days and weeks following my daughter's birth, I was grateful for all the preparations I'd made. But it wasn't long before the pre-cooked meals ran out, and stocks in the pantry ran low. One of our older daughters needed a new jacket, and another one outgrew all her pants overnight. There were school field trips to pay for, birthday gifts, and unexpected car repairs. In other words, life went on. And as a sleep-deprived new mom, it wasn't long before I was feeling overwhelmed. It became more difficult to carry out all my routine money-saving strategies, at a time when we needed to use those strategies more than ever. In order to keep our budget balanced, and to keep sane and healthy at the same time, I had to learn some new coping strategies. Here are a few of the things I've learned:

  1. Make a to-do list every night. I include the things I need to do the following day, and the things I'd like to accomplish, in order of priority. I don't necessarily expect to get everything done, but at least I know I'm heading in the right direction. I've learned what I can do with one hand, what I can do with two hands, and what I need both hands and all my concentration to do. This helps me use naptimes more efficiently. For example, I may chop all the ingredients I need for a soup or casserole while my daughter is sleeping, and then throw them together just before supper while I'm carrying her in one arm.

    Before I go to sleep, I also lay out clothes for myself for the next day. This helps me get a quicker, less stressful start in the morning.
  2. Accept help when it's offered and ask for it when necessary. Taking care of a new baby is physically and emotionally exhausting (not to mention time-consuming), so we've re-assigned the duties in our house. Our older daughters each have a few more chores. My husband now does a lot of the grocery shopping that I used to do, using lists I've made from going over the weekly flyers. (My family members don't necessarily do things the way I would do them, but I do my best to be gracious!)
  3. Think simple at mealtime. I'm sometimes tempted to order pizza or take-out at the end of an exhausting day, which would definitely sabotage our food budget. Instead, I fall back on simple menus: grilled cheese and tomato soup with carrot sticks, or scrambled eggs and toast. Or I ask someone else to cook. When I'm able to cook something more elaborate, I make double batches so we can have leftovers the next day.
  4. Do something every day for sanity. I spent a lot of time in front of the television my first time around as a new mother, but excessive TV time is an energy zapper. Now I read books from the library as I'm nursing, selecting books with decent-size print that I can keep open in front of me (I use a clip to hold the pages down if necessary). I also make sure that I get some exercise every day, whether that's a walk pushing a stroller, or a workout with an exercise DVD.
  5. Don't attempt to be superwoman. This can be dangerous. New mothers with "superwoman" complexes are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression. Aside from the pain this can cause and the extra burden it places on a woman and her family, it's also a surefire way to throw a budget out the window! So keep things simple: clear your calendar, and relax your housekeeping and food preparation standards. It's ok to be in survival mode for a while.

When I was a new mother of twins fourteen years ago, I received a letter from a woman who advised me that I shouldn't feel obligated to wash the kitchen floor every day. I could just sweep it. Thank God I had a sense of humor! I barely had the energy to wash myself daily, let alone the kitchen floor! Chances are, you'll also receive a lot of advice as a new mother. Take it all with a grain of salt. Ultimately you have to do what works for you.

A freelance writer and children's novelist, Rachel Muller writes from her home on Vancouver Island, off the West Coast of Canada. She is married and the mother of three teenage daughters and a new baby girl.

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