Ahh, that wonderful time when you return home from the hospital with a brand new bundle of joy nestled in your arms. Without getting into the pros or cons of sending yourself or your other children away, or the benefits and possibilities of family or paid help, eventually everyone will go home and you’ll be all by your lonesome, raising the family. So how to make this momentous occasion truly memorable, instead of weeks of what could be construed by some as torture?
I work in a Williamsburg WIC office where large families with eight to ten children are the norm. While pregnant with my third child, I asked these wise women for some handy tips. Their advice was simple: prepare as much as possible before hand, and then gird yourself for the worst. As one forty-year old woman, who came in with her tenth child, put it succinctly: “I never thought I’d say this ten years ago, but cleanliness is history. Current forecast is hurricanes and volcanoes.” More likely than not, the house will be in an uproar, the laundry will pile up, the kids will eat cereal and milk three times a day, and you will live on less then four hours of sleep at night. But, it’s not all gloom and doom. You have a brand new baby! Mazel Tov!
Here are a few practical tips for a smooth transition with an additional baby:
Prep and freeze as many dinners as possible: soup, breaded cutlets, tuna patties, etc. If you you know the gender of the baby – depending on your family’s minhag – consider buying the paper goods and begin baking and preparing for the shalom zachor, vacht nacht (when kids come to say shema), bris or kiddish.
When the baby first comes home, have her or him “give” the older children presents. A gift from someone brings feelings of joy and gratitude – hopefully.
The first few weeks, keep the newborn in a separate room, away from the other kids. This way, the younger children don’t feel displaced by the newest member of the family, and you don’t have to spend half your day preventing the two year old from playing ball with the baby.
Keep the kids involved with the care of the baby, by either fetching diapers, rocking the baby gently in a bouncer or swing, holding the bottle, or my daughter’s favorite activity: reading the baby a book.
It takes approximately six months for the baby to be fully acclimated to the household. During that time limit any additional responsibilities i.e. hosting guests for Shabbos, volunteering for the PTA, or even hosting play dates. Focus on your family and don’t forget about yourself! Take the extra help you need. If money is tight, then figure out what help would be most appreciated and get that. I personally prefer to do my own cleaning and cooking while a babysitter holds the baby. Other women may opt to buy take-out, which cuts back on shopping, cooking and cleaning time. Remember, a Jewish mother is not a martyr. Hashem will provide the resources that are necessary for you to manage.
Savor the joy and mystery of this brand new human being! This time is so fleeting, and just as quickly forgotten. Capture the moment as much as possible, mentally and on camera. These days, with the cameras on your phones just as good as any digital camera, it’s easy to collect a treasure trove of memories of your precious little one just as he is starting his new life.
Personally, I prefer not to find out the gender of the baby, as it gives me something to focus on instead of the rapidly climbing number on the scale, but as we are already blessed with a daughter and son, I felt we were prepared for either one. I did, however, prepare presents for my children, and arranged meals for following my delivery. My son Noach was born after a particularly traumatic cesarean section, and frankly, I didn’t see how I would ever recover. But now two months later, I find that our household has settled into a comfortable transition from two to three children. To give myself a much needed break from the excitement of having two babies less then two years apart, I send my toddler to the babysitter three hours a day and if necessary, I give my children oatmeal and yogurt for dinner guilt-free.
Although this may be a tad controversial, one of the biggest factors that contributed to my rapid recovery after my delivery is that I have the baby sleeping down the hall from me, in a separate room from the other kids. Like many mothers, I found that I had trouble sleeping with the newborn in my room. His soft sighs and turns would wake me up and leave me staring at the bassinet, wondering if he was going to want to nurse or just go back to sleep. At the tender age of three weeks old, I sent him down the hallway, where he learned to have a night schedule and wakes up me only to eat. Afterwards, I quickly fall back asleep for a reasonable amount of time until the next feeding.
There are still times when I find myself alone with three crying children, each one desperate for something else at the exact moment. Rav Noach Weinberg z”l, my baby’s namesake, taught that when a mother is overwhelmed with her children’s needs, she should just focus on getting through the next half hour, and the next half hour, and before you know it, the kids are distracted and calm, and everything falls into place. So, at those all too frequent times, instead of pulling my hair out and hiding in the bathroom, I repeat the mantra the ladies from Williamsburg taught me: this too shall pass.
Postscript: I wrote this article before the horrific killing of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his sons Arieh, 5, and Gabriel, 3, and Myriam Monsenego, 8, in Toulouse, France. As a Jewish mother, this tragedy shook me to the core. There is so much uncertainty and pain in this world. We should treasure the normal irritations and demands of healthy children. All too quickly, it can be wrenched away from us leaving just a void. May Mrs. Eva. Sandler and the Monsenego family be comforted amongst all the mourners of Tzion and may the neshomos of the kiddoshim have an aliyah to the highest gates of heaven.
About the Author: Pnina Baim holds a B.S. in Health and Nutrition from Brooklyn College and an MS.edu from Yeshiva University’s Azrieli Program. She works as a nutritionist, a certified lactation consultant, a home organizer, and in her free time writes as much as possible. She is the author of the Young Adult novels, Choices, A Life Worth Living (featured on Dansdeals and Jew In The City) and a how-to book for the Orthodox homemaker, Sing While You Work. The books are available at amazon.com. Pnina is available for speaking engagements and personal consulting. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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