The sweet luxury of going to bed early

I’ve been going to bed at 9pm, and it’s been a game changer.

It feels strange to call it a day so early when the sky is not even dark yet here in the Netherlands. But I feel so much better! The next day, everything is easier and more pleasant because I’m rested.

I tried to stay up ‘late’

As you may know, I have a 5-month-old baby. He likes to wake up 2-3 times a night, so I’m not getting the best sleep of my life right now. Over the last few weeks, I decided I could take it, so I was going to bed around 10pm or 11pm, only to be woken up by him several times during the night and then again at 6:30am. That was not fun.

Then my husband started taking our baby in the morning. That meant I could sleep until 9am if I wanted to (which is super late for me!). Surprisingly, that didn’t work well: I found it difficult to fall asleep at 6:30am, and once I finally managed to sleep, it was shallow sleep. Once I woke up around 8:30am, I felt groggy instead of rested. Apparently, trying to sleep in “late” isn’t my thing.

Resisting going to bed

Now, the obvious solution would be to go to bed earlier, but I resisted it. I felt like I finally had time to myself! We put our baby to bed at 7:30pm, and after that my husband and I would have time together, or I could read a book or watch something fun. This time felt special, and I didn’t want to give it up by going to bed early.

But then I thought about it: was I really doing something special with my time? In fact, what ended up happening was that by 8pm I was so tired that all I did was to check email or social media. I didn’t really have the energy to do something more demanding like read a good book, and I didn’t want to watch a movie because that gets me excited, so I can’t sleep. What’s more, Jacob (my husband) uses this time to work, so it wasn’t actually quality time together.

Going to bed early

Finally, I gave in and decided to try going to bed by 9pm. In fact, it wasn’t as difficult as I had thought, but it felt very, very good. I got uninterrupted sleep during those first few hours of the night, which made me feel much more rested. And when my baby woke up at 6:30am, I was ready to get up with him. Okay, to be fair, I would have liked to sleep for another hour, but it wasn’t too bad.

I noticed very pleasant changes: I was more rested (duh!), so my energy was higher throughout the day, making it easier to do all my things. I was also generally more upbeat, less easily frustrated, and just experienced life as nicer. By going to bed a little bit earlier, I made my whole next day better!

And how about the special evening time? Perhaps because it doesn’t feel like free-for-all time anymore and because I’m not that exhausted, I’m able to make better choices for my evening time.

First of all, I make time to do stuff during the day: write a blog post, read a paper, do online shopping, cook, tidy up the apartment, etc. In that way, after we put William to bed, I have nothing else I really need to do. So I have about an hour (7:30pm – 8:30pm) of quality time to myself. I use it to journal, talk to Jacob, or do something else I find meaningful. Also, let’s be real, I respond to messages. It may also be nice to play piano at that time, but let’s see if that will actually happen–it usually feels like too much effort at that time of day when I just want to relax.

And then, at 8:30pm, I do my bedtime routine where I do my evening reflection, prepare my water bottle for the night, brush my teeth, put on my pajamas, etc. The goal is to be in bed by 9pm. To be completely honest, it doesn’t always happen, but even 9:30pm is good. Since the sky isn’t completely dark at 9pm, I put on my eye cover, and then it’s nighty-night!

How about you? Do you stick to a bedtime, or do you go to bed whenever you feel like it?

My first time doing a Whole30 self-experiment

I love programs such as 30-day challenges. If the program resonates with me, I’ll do it 100%, with lots of excitement! But I also only embark upon challenges that I truly want to complete. If I commit to something, I am going to do it, so I have to be certain the thing resonates with me before I start it.

I’ve been hearing about the Whole30 for a few months now. It’s a reset or self-experiment where for 30 days you exclude certain foods that can be commonly problematic. Then, after the 30 days are up, you introduce them one at a time and observe how they impact you. The point is to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.

Apparently, the Whole30 is a big deal and quite popular, but I didn’t know about it until recently. When I saw the announcement that the Whole30AtHome was starting on April 13, 2020, and I decided to join! I was so excited!

I told Jacob, my husband, “We’re doing the Whole30!” “What is it?” he asked. After I gave him a brief description, he said, “Oh, it’s not so different from what we usually do. Sure, let’s do it.” Not exactly the enthusiasm I was hoping for, but he was on board, so I was happy.

What am I doing on this Whole30?

The Whole30 isn’t particularly different from how we usually eat at our home, but it is a bit more strict. Basically, on the Whole30, you eat meat, fish, eggs, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and seeds. You don’t eat grains, dairy, soy, legumes, beans, added sugar, artificial sweeteners, processed foods, or alcohol. Generally, I don’t eat most of these things anyway, with the exception of sugar and artificial sweeteners, so this wasn’t such a big change for me.

Delicious side salads we made to go with our chicken for lunch.

But the Whole30 also places an emphasis on avoiding craving-inducing foods for the 30 days. This is the big deal for me… I looooooove sweet things, so I enjoy chocolate and dried fruit on a daily basis and a proper dessert once or twice a week.

This used to work fine for me until it became problematic a couple of months ago. Since I’m not sleeping properly because my baby wakes up multiple times a night, I am often tired during the day, so I end up craving sugar. The whole time I’d be thinking about when I can eat something sweet, and when I did, I just wanted more. This was quite exhausting, so I decided to cut out sugar for 30 days and see how it goes.

Another thing I’m cutting out is caffeine. Because I felt so tired, I was relying on green tea (and dark chocolate) to keep me going. You’re probably laughing right now: “Green tea? How about some coffee?” Well, coffee makes me go craaaaazy, so no coffee for me. While I absolutely adore green tea, it’s been making me feel anxious, rushed, and overall unable to relax. And then when I tried taking a nap, I couldn’t fall asleep because there was still caffeine in my system. Thus, for 30 days, I’m removing caffeine.

The combination of sugar and caffeine, albeit in small amounts, was resulting in my having energy peaks and dips. During the day, I felt like I was flying from activity to activity, which was exciting but also felt anxious. In between the peaks of energy, I had dips where I suddenly felt very tired and also cranky.

What results am I hoping for?

I have two main objectives with this Whole30: improving energy and mood. I’d like to have stable energy rather than peaks and dips. I’ll have to accept that I won’t have the excited peaks, but that also means I won’t feel super tired afterwards.

Related to these changes in energy are mood changes. During a peak, I feel excited but also a bit anxious and impatient, and then during a dip, I feel tired and cranky. I hope that by having stable energy, I’ll also have more stable moods, so I can relax and enjoy my days rather than hurrying around, feeling like I’m never doing enough.

Start the day with intention and finish it with reflection

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I needed more intentionality in my day. I was basically reacting to whatever came across my path all day long, and that’s not how I usually do things. Baby crying? Take care of him. Feeling hungry? Eat something. Toys lying scattered on the floor? Tidy up. Package delivered? Open it. Feeling tired? Sleep.

Now, I’m over-simplifying things. I had certain things scheduled such as going to the gym three times a week (ah, the good times when the gym was open…) and going for a walk with William in the stroller every afternoon. But mostly my days felt like a random sequence of events.

There’s technically nothing wrong with having a day full of random events except that it made me feel like I didn’t have a purpose and wasn’t doing anything meaningful with my time.

I felt this very clearly when William was taking a nap and I finally had an hour or so to myself. What should I do? There were so many things I wanted to do! I’d start one thing, only to remember something else and then something else. I was running around like a headless chicken, half-finishing a couple of things, only to hear my baby crying and drop everything to attend to him.

That’s when I instituted the Daily Morning Practice and the Daily Evening Practice. As you might imagine, I don’t have tons of time for these, so they’re short and sweet. I’ve kept to them every day since! These practices are so powerful and at the same time so easy, and they are exactly what I need.

Start the day with My Top 5

Every morning, while having breakfast, I take out my little notebook (it has a llama/alpaca and a sloth on the cover! It’s awesome!). I start by writing the date. That’s important in itself because sometimes I remember there was something planned for today or perhaps I recall it’s someone’s birthday. Then, I check my calendar and my tasks for today. Jacob and I often do this together because we need to coordinate things.

The notebook in which I do my morning and evening practice.

Then, I write down my Top 5. These are the main five things I’d like to do today, and they’re usually very, very simple. These days, I always include “exercise” (during this staycation, I’ve been exercising for about 30 minutes every day), “walk” (I take our baby for a walk every day–we both benefit from the fresh air and sunshine), and “take care of William.” This last one can be fifty tasks on its own and it will happen for sure every day, but I like to include it anyway. I was falling into the trap of taking for granted all the stuff I do for William, and then I was wondering why I’m not very productive on top of that. I had to remind myself that taking care of him is a big job, and the fact that I’m accomplishing it every day is already productive. That’s why I include it in my Top 5 every day.

The other 2 tasks vary day-to-day: they may be something like “write a blog post,” “do the financial review,” or “tidy up the bedroom.” I make sure they’re not impossibly big tasks; it’s really important to keep these manageable. At the same time, it’s nice to be slightly ambitious because it makes me feel energetic and inspired about the day.

Set an intention

I also set an intention for the day. It’s something that I want to remember throughout the day and let it guide my thoughts and behavior.

These days, my intention often is to “be kind.” It’s super simple, but it encompasses so much. If I’m feeling frustrated, remember that I don’t need to take it out on someone else (usually Jacob, my husband, since he’s around all the time). If someone is being not-so-nice to me, give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they’re having a hard time. If my baby is crying, that’s not a reason to get annoyed; he (probably) genuinely needs me.

Complete the day with reflection…

At the end of the day, I open up my notebook again and look at my Top 5. I check off the things I’ve completed and maybe add an extra task or two that I’ve managed to do. This shows me how much I’ve accomplished in that day even if it doesn’t feel that way (if the day was chaotic, went differently from expected, etc.).

Then, I write down a take-away message. These are one or two sentences about something I’ve learned that day or a conclusion I’ve come to. Sometimes it’s linked to the intention I set in the morning, and other times it’s completely separate.

These take-away messages can be profound (e.g., “changing my perspective changes everything”) or practical (e.g., “sleeping one hour more in the morning does wonders for my energy”).

Here is a sample entry from my notebook.

…and gratitude

I also write down five things I’m grateful for that day. I know that five sounds like a lot, but once I start thinking about things to be grateful for, many come to mind. It’s a wonderful way to reflect on and complete the day.

By taking a few minutes for these practices every day, I feel that I’m much more focused and intentional while going about my day. I still respond to the circumstances that come about, but I keep in mind what’s important and what I’d like to do that day. In the end, I don’t think it makes me much more productive, but it makes all the difference in my attitude. At the end of the day, I don’t need to be more productive to be happy; rather, I need to be content with what I’ve accomplished and be happy with what I already have.

Our family’s routine: making the most of our time in quarantine

Two weeks ago when we found out we’ll be in quarantine at home for at least a month, something clicked for me: We need a routine! As a person who loves putting together routines, I was on fire. I took different daily activities and moved them around in my head, from morning to afternoon, before lunch or after, before our walk or after… Ahhh, the fun!

Since then, I’ve seen many psychologists and other experts online recommend the importance of routines in these otherwise unpredictable and strange times. Every time I see this, I think, “Yesss!!!” Great minds think alike; routines are key.

A routine ensures you have some sense of normalcy in a time when your usual habits have been disrupted. It can be comforting to control what you can control and accept the rest which you cannot control (and that’s a lot).

By having a routine, you also make sure the things you’ve deemed important get done every day or on some regular basis. In this way, fewer things slip through your fingers and you have more choice in how your life goes.

Our daily routine

Early morning

Alas, since we have a young (almost 5-month-old) baby, we cannot stick to a very strict routine. I know, I know, it’s good for me to learn to be flexible… whatever. Instead of planning our day by the hour, I plan it in blocks of activities, as a sequence of which activities get done during which part of the day (approximately).

We wake up whenever William wakes up (usually between 7:00 and 8:00, but today it was 6:30…). We cuddle him, I nurse him, and we change his diaper and then out of his pajamas. Then, Jacob and I have breakfast, while William plays near us. Afterwards, we cuddle him a bit more and put him in bed for a nap. His morning nap usually begins between 8:00 and 9:00.

By the way, every time I put William in bed for a nap and wait for him to fall asleep, Jacob works. That’s how he manages to get stuff done. And in the afternoon and evening, he has longer uninterrupted stretches of time for work.

Late morning

While William is sleeping, Jacob and I train in our living room. We’ve decided that we’ll get ripped during this quarantine! Nope, not really, but we’ve committed to doing 30-45 minutes of exercise every day in order to get our bodies moving and stay strong. We are fortunate to have kettlebells, elastic bands, a gym ball, a pull up bar, and some other equipment at home, so we can do a pretty good workouts, although I still miss barbells and weight plates.

Usually, William wakes up towards the end of our workout. We put him on his belly for tummy time (it’s important for babies to train their back muscles), so for 10 minutes or so the whole family is exercising! Then, I nurse and change him. After that, one of us plays with him while the other one showers. I also use this time to do things around the house (laundry, kitchen, tidying, etc.). These days the weather has been nice, so Jacob has been taking him out on the grass behind our building for some sun.

William waking up from his nap.

Lunchtime

Soon, it’s time for William’s lunchtime nap, which usually starts anytime between 12:00 and 13:00. While he sleeps, we eat lunch, and I like to use this time to check and respond to email, messages, etc. The duration of this nap can vary greatly (between 40 minutes and 2 hours), so I may be able to get lots of stuff done or very few.

Around this time, I may write a blog post, read something interesting online, work on putting together our annual photo album, or do a home project. Jacob usually cooks at this time (he cooks 3 times a week now, and I help out sometimes or make an additional fancy meal or sauce).

Afternoon

When William wakes up from his nap, I nurse and change him (are you seeing a pattern here?). We play with him and let him explore the world a bit. Jacob usually works at this time, and I may be able to get something done too. Once William starts getting tired, we put him in the stroller and take him out for a walk. He takes a nap, and we get to walk (usually around 15:00 or 16:00).

We have a nice hour-long route to the park and back that we take every day. Since the weather is really pleasant these days, we chill on the grass in the park for a bit, letting William look around, and then we head back home. Sometimes I go on this walk alone with William if Jacob is busy, or I ask a friend to join us, so we can chat while keeping our 1.5-meter distance.

William in the sun in the park.

Early evening

When we get home, I nurse William and change him (is this getting a bit repetitive? hahaha), and then Jacob and I have an early dinner (around 17:30 or 18:00). We like to call family or friends around this time to catch up and be social virtually.

Around 19:00, we start William’s bedtime routine, so he can be in bed around 19:30. I feed him, we change his diaper and put him in his pajamas, and then I carry him around the room and sing him a lullaby. Then he sleeps, which means PARTY TIME!!!

Late evening

Okay, it’s not really that late. From about 20:00 until 21:30, it’s PARTY TIME–Jacob usually works, while I read, write, do administrative tasks, or something along those lines as well as have a snack. Sometimes we just talk and spend time together, and we intend to watch a movie one of these days!

At 21:30, I start getting ready for bed and am in bed by 22:00. That’s when William usually wakes up for his first feeding of the night, and after that we sleep. If I’m lucky, he wakes up twice more in the night (around 1:30 and 4:30), and then we wake up refreshed around 7:30. And if I’m unlucky, he wakes up about 4 times in the night and then around 6:30 in the morning (like last night), and then I wake up grumpy. You never know which one it will be.

Ah, it’s so nice to have a routine! Even though it’s never exactly the same and we can’t follow it to the dot, it gives structure and guides our days. We definitely get more done when we have a routine than when everything is up in the air because we know what to do during the different times of day.

How about you? Do you have a routine at this time? If so, what is it and how is it helpful? If no, why not and how does spontaneity work for you?

Habits that can help you get through these exceptional times

At 10:47 am, you wake up. Your first thought is, “I’m late for work!” and then you realize you’re not going to work. You’re working from home, which is a very flexible idea. A wave of relief washes over your body. You enjoy your bed, lazily scrolling through social media. Some time later, you get up, eat something, check the news, and get scared because of the spread of COVID-19. It feels like things got even worse overnight; that’s the feeling you get every morning.

To distract yourself from the unpleasant feeling of anxiety, you look at some funny quarantine-themed memes and maybe even some cat videos (honestly, I love both of these!). By that time, it’s already noon, so you do some work. You feel like you’re falling behind with your work, but at the same time, there isn’t any real urgency, so you slowly chug along.

At the end of the day (or maybe even throughout the day), you check the news and feel anxious again. You finish the day with a vague feeling of anxiety that stems from the state of the world and the lack of real progress in your work.

And, I’d also argue, that anxiety is compounded by the fact that you haven’t felt anchored during your day: there is no structure to give you a feeling of stability and calm in the midst of the storm. In such exceptional times when our usual habits are disrupted, some stability in our lives is even more important to calm our minds. Here are the basic habits that can help.

Get regular sleep

Set a bedtime for yourself and stick to it. If you go to bed by 11 pm every night, your body will get used to that bedtime, and you will also naturally wake up around the same time the next day. Soon you will feel rested, which will do wonders for your health, mood, and energy.

Eat good food

If you have access to good food in your local supermarket, make use of it. Eating food that works well with your body makes you feel better, gives your energy, and improves your health. If you’re into cooking, you can use the extra time at home to make delicious meals. I’m challenging myself to cook one new recipe per week! Let’s see how it goes.

You don’t have to be into cooking to eat well, though. You can buy ready-made meals from the supermarket or order from local restaurants that are open for take-away and delivery. Do whatever works for you to eat food that makes you feel good and enjoy it.

Stay hydrated

You need to drink enough water, period. You know it’s true. I’d add that in order to stay hydrated, you need to get enough electrolytes as well. Check your sodium, potassium, and magnesium intake and adjust if necessary.

Tip: If you notice that when you drink a lot of water, you pee it all out, you probably need to add electrolytes. Start by adding half a teaspoon of sea salt or Himalayan salt to a glass of water and see if that helps.

Move your body

Go for a walk. Go for a run or a bike ride. Do some stretches. Work out at home. Dance in your living room. Do some gardening. Even though gyms are closed, we can still move our bodies.

A picture of us out for a walk on a sunny afternoon.

Be social

In these times of isolation, finding ways to feel socially connected is more important than ever. There are several things I’m doing to stay connected to people at this time:

  • Family meals. We have at least one meal together as a family a day. This is easier now that we’re all at home, but, since we have a young baby, we can still end up eating at random times and not sitting together, so we have to intentionally avoid that.
  • Call someone. I make a point of calling someone every day. It may be a call to a family member (especially to my grandmas since they are staying alone in their apartments all day long) or a video call with a friend. Since we’re all at home now, it’s easy to catch up with friends even if they’re in different time zones from us.
  • Go for a walk with a friend. I’ve recently had the idea of going for walks with friends who live nearby. We walk together, keeping our 1.5-meter distance, and chat while we get our bodies moving and, in my case, my 4-month-old son naps in the stroller I’m pushing. It’s a win-win-win.
  • Join your colleagues in a virtual coffee room. I have to admit that I have yet to do this because I feel overwhelmed by the idea of socializing with multiple colleagues while also taking care of my baby. But for people with more regular circumstances, it sounds like a great idea to have some (non-)work-related banter virtually.

Have some me-time

As things get crazy and unusual, especially if you have kids at home, try to have some me-time during the day. Some people find this in the early morning before everyone else wakes up. Others find it in the middle of the day if they go for a walk, read a book, or watch a video.

My me-time is currently in the evenings after we’ve had dinner and we’ve put little William to sleep. I’m not usually an evening person, but I now thoroughly enjoy the golden hours from 7:30 to 9:30 pm when I can read, write, watch stuff, or just relax with my husband.

If I don’t have me-time for several days in a row, I start to feel overwhelmed by even the smallest things. But if I’ve had some time to myself, I am better able to face whatever comes my way (such as a hungry baby at 3 am or an overly full diaper).

Find gratitude

I know, I know, gratitude is all the rage these days. But it’s true: grateful people are happy people. I personally like to write down five things I’m grateful for every night before bed, and they need to be specific things from that day. This means that throughout the day I’m looking for these little nuggets of joy to be grateful for. This changes the lens of my perception, so I can notice the positive things instead of focusing on the negatives. (This doesn’t mean that we don’t notice negative things–of course we do! We don’t avoid the bad; rather, we actively search for the good.)

How about you? What habits are helping you to stay afloat? Share by commenting below.

Life with a baby during the COVID-19 outbreak

The world is on pause. Everyone is at home, shops are closed, streets are empty.

At the same time, life is going at full speed: news popping up everywhere, people ill, countries’ borders closed, travel plans canceled.

How about me? I’m still at home, taking care of our little one. Not much has changed, and, at the same time, so much has changed.

So much has remained the same

William, my 4-month-old son, has no idea what COVID-19 is. Life has stayed exactly the same for him. He wakes up in the morning with a smile and coos at me. Just as before, the most important things for him are to drink milk, to be cuddled and entertained, and to sleep. He clearly has his priorities straight.

Much of our daily rhythm remains unchanged. The succession of feeding, changing his diaper, playing with him, and putting him to sleep remains as stable as ever. We still go for our daily walk, sing the same songs, and have a bedtime routine at night.

So much has changed

Unfortunately, we’ve canceled all our visits from friends. Before the social distancing recommendation, we were having 3-4 visits per week, and that was a lot of fun. People enjoyed meeting William, and I enjoyed having company. However, this is irresponsible now, so we’ve canceled all visits. We try to video chat with our families and friends instead in order to avoid feeling truly socially isolated.

When we go out for a walk, we maintain a distance from other people. Luckily, the park we walk to is big, so there’s enough space for everybody. It’s wonderful to see so many children and adults enjoying the outdoors and the sunshine and so strange to have to maintain a distance from everyone. It seems like everybody feels the strangeness of the situation: we are happy to be outside and are enjoying each other’s company, but we also need to keep our distance.

One fortunate consequence is that Jacob, my husband, is home from work. He closed his chiropractic practice for the time being, which means he’s at home with William and me for the next 2.5 weeks. Woohoo! It’s a lot of fun to have him with us the whole time. We’re trying to think of it as a staycation, our little vacation at home.

Another change is that I’m currently not taking William to the supermarket or any other shop, for that matter. I know that, apparently, COVID-19 is not super dangerous for babies, but I’d still rather avoid unnecessary exposure for the little one. Because of this, Jacob buys our groceries or whatever else is necessary.

A silly consequence of the pandemic is that I haven’t gotten a haircut recently even though I would have liked to. Several of my friends have also shared their struggle with wanting to go to the hairdresser and having to wait or cut their own hair (if I attempt that, the results would be disastrous, I’m sure…). I have a feeling that once the social distancing is over, the hairdressers will be flooded with customers! Good for them.

Finally, our gym has closed. This was really sad for me but perfectly understandable. Luckily, we have a beautiful set of kettlebells at home and some other equipment, so we are able to do pretty extensive home workouts. Still, for me going to the gym is a break from home life and also deeply needed me-time, so I miss it. But it’s okay: social distancing is important right now, and at some point I’ll get back to the gym. I’ll walk in and inhale the smell of barbells, weight plates, and kettlebells. Aaaaahhh.

Fortunately, our family is healthy and doing well, continuing to live our life almost as normal. It’s odd how a pandemic can change so much, and yet so much can remain the same.

How my husband and I divide baby- and household care: 2-3 months after baby was born

For the first two months of our newborn’s life, my husband and I were sharing things like the night feedings and the cooking, while I was doing more other household chores and he was working full-time (for details, read this blog post). Around 2 months, our baby’s rhythm changed, and we adapted our routine.

Around 2 months, William started sleeping for an approximately 5-hour stretch at the beginning of the night (great!) and also started sleeping less well during his daytime naps (not so great). This meant that we needed to adapt the way we were taking care of him and of our home.

The night feedings

The late evening feeding Jacob was giving him with a bottle around 22:30 was no longer necessary. Instead, I fed him for the last time around 20:00 or 20:30, and we were in bed around 21:00. The next time he woke up was first around 01:00 and later got pushed back to 02:00 or sometimes even 03:00. The following feeding would be 3-4 hours later.

This is also our current rhythm where I take care of all the feedings. Also, William was now nursing more efficiently, so I could be back in bed within 30 minutes of his waking. This is quite nice, except that while he can fall asleep immediately after feeding, I can’t, so I often lie awake for a while. But the nice thing is that he rarely cries during the night now, so Jacob is back sleeping in the bedroom with William and me but doesn’t wake up.

The daytime activities

The other development is that William isn’t taking long naps during the day now. If I get him to sleep and leave him in his crib, he wakes within 30 minutes and is quite fussy because he hasn’t had enough sleep. A 30-minute nap is hardly enough time for me to do a lot of chores around the house or cook a meal, so instead I stay with him in the bedroom and soothe him back to sleep when he wakes up. In this way, I can help him get the rest he needs. And in the meantime, I try to take a nap, listen to an audio book or podcast, or read on my kindle.

Alternatively, William sleeps very well in the carrier at the front of my chest. All I need to do is sway gently side-to-side, and he sleeps for 1.5 hours or more (this is exactly what I’m doing while I’m typing this). But if I want him to keep sleeping, I can’t really do household stuff or cook because too much movement wakes him up.

For this reason, Jacob is doing most of the cooking (probably around 80%) at this time. I try to do what I can to help him and do other household tasks when I can. Usually, after William is fed and changed, there’s a 20-30-minute window when he’s happy playing by himself, and I can do some household stuff or some minor cooking. I’ve discovered that he likes it if I put him in his bouncy chair, so he can watch me do whatever I’m doing. In the meantime, I sing and dance, which entertains him greatly and, honestly, is fun for me too.

During the rest of the day, I go on walks with him, receive visitors at home, do errands online, read, or even watch movies sometimes! I have to say it’s quite a fun lifestyle, actually 🙂

How my husband and I divide baby- and household care: 0-2 months after baby was born

It seems like there’s no right way to divide labor in a household these days. Many of us are past the days when women take care of the kids and the house and men go to work. But when a baby is small, the mom is breastfeeding, and the dad is going to work full-time, what is a fair division of labor?

For us, the answer has been to stay flexible and adapt as our needs and our baby’s needs were changing.

The first two weeks: Crazy land

We started out sharing pretty much all baby-related tasks: we both changed diapers; we both woke up in the night; we both comforted him when he was crying; we bathed him together.

Even breastfeeding was somewhat of a shared effort since my husband would arrange all the pillows, I’d sit down, and he’d hand me William. When William started moving around or waving his arms, hitting himself in the face, Jacob would hold him in place on the pillow or let William’s little hand hold onto his finger in order to stop the crazy thrashing about.

During the first two weeks, we received help with the household and the baby from the maternity nurse and my mom. For those two weeks, Jacob did all the cooking since I was still recovering. After the first week, I started running a laundry here and there or (un)loading the dishwasher once in a while. But I didn’t have to do too much of the household stuff because my mom was still there.

From 2 weeks to 2 months

From 2 weeks on, Jacob, William, and I were on our own. This was the period when we were the most tired. I was trying to do more around the house while also taking care of the baby by myself since Jacob was at work full-time.

I don’t like taking naps, so I was trying to survive on the interrupted sleep I got during the night. While William was not one to cry for long periods during the night, he still woke up every 3-4 hours to nurse. At that time, breastfeeding took a long time, so I was usually up for 1.5 hours with him at each waking to nurse him, change his diaper, and get him back to sleep. And this was happening every 4 hours! I was exhausted.

At the same time, Jacob was trying to do his job well and serve his patients as he usually would, while also cooking all of our food and taking care of countless household chores (we still had to get done all the chores described here). He was also waking up almost every time William and I woke up, arranging pillows for the feeding, changing diapers, rocking him to sleep, etc. He was also exhausted.

Sharing night feedings

At this time, I came across the suggestion that the mom can pump a bottle of breastmilk, go to sleep, let the partner feed it to the baby, and then the partner gets to sleep. This was a lightbulb moment for me! It helped us immensely.

We had a nice evening routine: at 21:00, I pumped a bottle of breastmilk and said good night to my men. I cherished this time for myself: I brushed my teeth, combed my hair, cleaned my face, and put on hand cream. How luxurious these simple self-care acts felt! Then I hugged my pillow and enjoyed sweet, sweet sleep.

In the meantime, Jacob waited for William to wake up. Around 22:00 or 22:30, Jacob fed him the pumped breastmilk and changed his diaper. He put William in bed next to me by 23:30 and then went to sleep in the guest bedroom. It was tough to have him sleeping away from us, but in that way he could get uninterrupted sleep and wake up relatively rested at 6:30.

The next time William woke up was around 2:00 or 3:00. At that time, I fed him, and then again around 5:00 or 6:00. I usually went to bed around 21:30 and finally got up around 8:00. My sleep actually wasn’t too bad this way.

Fun during night feedings

Funny note: I listened to audio books during the night awakenings! I got rather annoyed by having to be awake for 1.5 hours twice each night, and I wondered how I could make it nicer for myself. The answer struck me: listen to fun audio books! Suddenly, those awake times weren’t so annoying anymore, and I was learning interesting things from my audio books. What’s more, I quickly got the Gold Night Owl badge on Audible 🙂

During this time, I was trying to do my fair share in the kitchen. Since William was napping quite well during the day, I was able to do quite a bit at home. Jacob and I were probably sharing our cooking duties 50-50, and it was working well.

Around 2 months, things changed, and we had to reinvent our division of labor…

All the help we got with our newborn

Caring for a newborn is hard work but not in the way I expected it to. It’s a roller coaster of numerous small, repetitive tasks, and it’s surprisingly difficult to do by oneself or even by a couple. My account of how my husband and I have been taking care of our baby would be terrible incomplete without mentioning all the people who’ve been helping us.

The first week: help from the maternity nurse

During the first two weeks, things were completely unpredictable. I pretty much had no idea what was going on. Luckily, in the Netherlands they have the wonderful system that for the first week a nurse comes to your house for about 6-8 hours a day and helps you with everything baby- and house-related. She helped me breastfeed, change diapers, take care of the house as well as of the baby. It is so, so great to have someone like that come and help in the first week after a baby is born! It is amazing.

While the nurse was at home, she helped me get a rhythm. She made sure that William fed every 3 hours (he was sleeping a lot of the time, so we may have forgotten to feed him otherwise). She reminded me to eat lunch or take a nap, which were all good ideas.

In the evenings when Jacob and I were taking care of the baby alone, it hit me how we really had no idea what we were doing, and at the same time there wasn’t so much we could get wrong. If he was crying, we’d: 1) try to feed him, 2) change his diaper, 3) cuddle him, so he falls asleep. It all felt so uncertain and strangely new but also strangely simple and repetitive. It was sometimes difficult in the evenings if he got fussy and cried for 10-15 minutes, but soon enough we figured out how to comfort him, so he could sleep.

The second week: help from my mom

Fortunately, my mom came to help out during our second week postpartum. That was very helpful because I was now able to take care of the baby a bit more but couldn’t also manage with all the housework. Jacob, my husband, was doing a lot of the housework, but he was also back to work full-time, so any help was highly appreciated.

My mom did all kinds of things such as run a laundry, load and unload the dishwasher, and cook. She also helped me take care of William, figure out how to dress him appropriately for the weather, hold him, so I can take a shower, and really everything else that he needed. It was very helpful and calming to have my mom by my side with my baby.

Recently, in William’s third month, my mom came to visit and help again. How good it is to have someone else help out with taking care of a baby! Not only was I more relaxed because I had more time to rest; I was also a better mom, wife, daughter, and friend (I believe) because I had more time to myself, so then I could be better to my close people. And also, it helps to have someone hold your baby while you’re peeing, so he doesn’t cry. (To be fair, when we’re alone at home, sometimes he just cries while I’m peeing, and it’s not the end of the world.)

On our own

From the third week on, Jacob, William, and I were left on our own. At first, I was rather scared! With Jacob at work, how was I going to take care of William for a whole day?! Luckily, once we spent a few days on our own, I realized it wasn’t that bad. We were managing pretty well – after all, the things that really had to be done were that I had to eat and go to the bathroom and he had to eat, get his diaper changed, get cuddled, and sleep. Everything else was optional.

I slowly figured out how to pee before he started crying and shower or eat while he was sleeping. I felt like a pro! We even started taking walks in the stroller when the weather was nice. Jacob, William, and I drove to appointments with the osteopath and chiropractor. On trips out of town, I breastfed in the car! Before each new activity, I felt scared about how we would manage, whether he would cry, etc. But we seemed to make it every time: even if he cried, we managed to calm him down, and things were somehow alright.

Weird note: I greatly enjoy packing William’s diaper bag. That’s something I’ve always looked forward to! Diaper bags are so cool with all their little pockets specifically created for diapers, wet wipes, towels, napkins, bottles, etc. We have a diaper bag for the stroller and a diaper backpack because I love them so much! And yes, we use them both.

Help from friends and family

Many friends have offered to help, but I haven’t quite taken them up on their offers yet. I have no problem letting other people hold or play with William when they come over, but I can’t quite imagine how friends can take care of my baby for hours on end at this stage.

My dad and my brother also came to visit several times, and that has also been helpful. It’s really convenient to have someone to hand the baby to for 15 minutes or half an hour in order to do something myself. Funny enough, the other person actually enjoys holding the baby, so it’s a win-win situation!

I’d like to thank everybody for their help. William, Jacob, and I are happy to receive so much help and love from the people around us. And if you ever feel like holding a baby for half an hour, let me know 😉

Photo: my dad and William

Photo credit: Yasen Manahov (a.k.a. my brother)

How to be productive with a newborn

Our son just turned 12 weeks! Last week, I described how I went back to the basics of time management when he was born. I also went to the very basics of task management, and it’s been super effective.

Many new tasks came up when our little boy was born: order diapers, fill out the form for his daycare, read an article on his development, etc. I started jotting these down since I didn’t want anything to slip through my fingers.

Usually, I advocate the GTD approach where tasks are sorted by context: some need to be done on the laptop or my phone, others in my sons room or in the kitchen. The logic is that when you find yourself in the specific context, you can check the respective list and see what tasks you can do there.

With my newborn, however, I found it more helpful to have one list. I’m not sure why; perhaps because my different contexts were pulled more closely together by my being home with him. I began keeping one list on my phone with the creative name ‘General Tasks.’ I’d arrange the tasks on it in terms of which I wanted to tackle next. It was very easy to open up my list whenever I got a moment and see what task I could tackle at that time. This list served as a catch-all place for the tasks that had crossed my mind at some point.

I also added tasks on the bottom of the list such as ‘Organize a photoshoot in the spring’ with a due date of April 1. These are quite far in the future still, but they will come on to my plate in due time. Since I don’t have that many tasks on the list, it doesn’t feel overwhelming to have these longer-term tasks on there too. If at any time it becomes too much, I’ll move them to my ‘Someday Tasks’ list.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the ‘Today’s Want To Do’ list, and that’s different from the ‘General Tasks’ list. The General Tasks list includes tasks that I’d like to get done sometime, in the near or far future. I’d consult the General Tasks list whenever I had time on my hands to do something. Today’s Want To Do list is really about what I hope to accomplish today.

It’s interesting how when things became more chaotic, I simplified my system. Perhaps that’s because it feels like I’m doing more task management at this point than project management (i.e., I don’t have many separate projects but rather it all more or less revolves around one project). I’m sure this will change when William becomes associated with more ‘projects’ and also when I go back to work.

But for now, simplicity works like a charm. At least one aspect of my life is not chaotic 🙂

Photo credits: Ani Manahova (a.k.a. my mom)