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)

Time management with a newborn

Somewhere I read the following advice: “Once your baby is born, you need to set really low expectations for what you can accomplish in a day. You can expect to get two things done per day, one of which is to take a shower.” Oh, was this true for me!

It was very difficult to get used to such diminished productivity in the usual sense of the word. Of course, in fact my productivity was very high but in a very different way. I had just given birth to a tiny human, my body was recovering, I was learning to breastfeed and to take care of the little new person.

But in terms of usual productivity, I was managing to take a shower and to respond to messages on my phone. That was about it. There were days when I didn’t even manage to respond to my friends. Crazy.

I was fortunate enough to receive help during the first two weeks after my baby was born. But after I felt recovered, I wanted to figure out how to get more things done again.

The trouble was that a newborn’s rhythm is very unpredictable. I didn’t know when my little one would be hungry, sleepy, or require my care, so I couldn’t plan my days in any way.

Today’s Want To Do

I quickly came up with a system I called ‘Today’s Want To Do.’ (I called it ‘Want To Do’ because there was no guarantee I’d complete everything on my list on a given day.) I created a simple to do list and added entries on there. There were very few and simple tasks on there usually such as: Shower; Do laundry; Dry laundry; Empty dishwasher; Load dishwasher; Tidy up living room; Read book; Do recovery exercises; Go for a walk; Take a nap. (Note: These would not all get completed in a single day!)

I arranged the entries in order of importance and tackled the thing on top of the list whenever I got a few minutes. This was helpful because once my baby was asleep, I didn’t have to wonder what to tackle but could just glance at my list and get something done. This also ensured I didn’t start doing something random and later realize I forgot something more urgent.

A sample Want To Do list for a day.

Importantly, I had to be prepared to stop in the middle of the activity if my baby started crying. This was difficult! I don’t like leaving things half-done, but I had to. Once he was calm and/or sleeping again, I could pick up the activity again.

Sometimes I also had to add mealtimes to the list. Especially in the beginning when everything was chaotic, I had to make sure I ate lunch at a reasonable time because otherwise I ended up very tired and didn’t know why–until I realized it was 15:00, and I had only had breakfast so far.

I arranged the tasks in order of importance but also in temporal order, i.e., how I wanted to get things done in time. For instance, laundry would come before going out for a walk because the laundry takes time to be done. Lunch would come around noon (duh!) because if I postponed it too much, I’d end up tired, cranky, and, needless to say, hungry.

Back to Basics

This was a very basic approach: a simple to-do list organized by urgency and temporal order. Yet, that’s all I needed at that time. I tried creating a schedule of my and William’s rhythms, but apparently that’s impossible with a newborn. I tried to plan for the upcoming week (e.g., I’ll do laundry on this and this day, I’ll go for a walk on Tuesday afternoon, etc.), but that type of planning for the future didn’t work.

Instead, I had to commit to putting small, simple tasks on a list and getting to them when I had a chance. I have to say, it worked very well probably because I put all my thoughts on paper (or in an app, in my case), so I felt like I was taking care of the things I considered important or urgent or just plain necessary.

Sometimes, going back to basics is the only thing that’s necessary.

How my husband and I decided to have a baby

We asked ourselves so many questions: “Are we ready to have kids? When is the right time to have a baby?” And perhaps the most difficult of all: “How do we know when we’re ready?”

“Kids are wonderful, but they also completely change your life.” At least that’s what I’ve heard–I have no experience myself, but that’s what people say. If having kids really is such a big life change, how do we decide when the right time is?

As you may have noticed, I like planning. Ironically, having kids is one of the most difficult things to plan in life. Does this mean we shouldn’t plan for it? I don’t think so. We can still create a draft plan and then adapt from there as life happens. One of the most important benefits of creating a plan is that it forces you to clarify to yourself what you want and why.

Early conversations

For Jacob (my husband) and me, talking about kids early on was very helpful. In the beginning of our relationship, we both mentioned that we’d like to have children one day, which was good to know.

A year later, we revisited the topic and decided we didn’t want to wait too long. It was 2017 at the time, so we said we’d probably start trying in 2019. That seemed a long while away, so we were relaxed.

Needless to say, I created three different timetables to visualize how starting at different times may develop over time. If we started trying in January 2019, assuming no complications or issues arose, we could be pregnant by July 2019. That meant the baby would be born by March 2020, and after that I’d take maternity leave (probably around 6 months). Afterwards, I’d resume my PhD by September 2020 and complete it (hopefully!) by the end of 2021. I created a table with the different time periods and also put them on a blank calendar with a yearly overview.

Then I did the same for two other starting dates. If we started trying six months later, everything would get shifted by half a year. In this case, especially if things didn’t happen too quickly, I was coming quite close to the end of my PhD, and being unemployed and pregnant seemed scary to me. And if we started trying once I was close to the end of my PhD, things would get shifted by about a year and a half. While that seemed less stressful (also because it was further away in time), it felt like too long from the present moment.

Is it really time?!

Towards the summer of 2018, we started thinking about it seriously. “Are we really going to start trying for a baby in 6 months?! That’s so soon!” Having a baby had always seemed like a huge deal to me, so it felt like the Earth should stop turning or something. But life was continuing around us at its usual speed: I was in the third year of my PhD, Jacob had started his own chiropractic practice, and we had scheduled our wedding for June 2019. Was it really the right time to have a baby?

At first, I told Jacob, “I think we should wait. I don’t think this is a good time for us to have a child.” He appeared a bit disappointed but conceded that we should start trying only when I was ready.

But then I remembered something a college professor of mine said to me one day: “It’s never the perfect time to have a baby. Don’t wait for the perfect time because it will never come.”

Remembering this stopped me in my tracks. What was I waiting for? We had a roof over our heads (a wonderful apartment, in fact), we were bringing in a decent income, we loved each other, and both of us were emotionally ready to have children. What more did I need?

Would it be better if we waited until after I finished my PhD? Maybe, but then I’d be looking for other jobs, so that would be stressful too. (Also, you can never know how long it will take to complete a PhD, so that’s a risky thing to bet on.) Would it be better if we waited until Jacob had been working at his practice for longer? Maybe, but we weren’t sure if that mattered so much.

Would it be a problem if I were pregnant at our wedding? (Spoiler alert: that was indeed the case.) I thought about this one long and hard. One of the main arguments against being pregnant at your wedding is that you can’t drink alcohol, but that didn’t bother me because I don’t drink alcohol anyway. My biggest issue was whether my wedding dress would look good. I can write much more about how I resolved this, but in the end I think it worked out well. And, finally, I was concerned that people would think we got married only because I was pregnant and not because we truly loved each other. Well, I had to let that go and accept that people would think whatever they want anyway.

Let’s go ahead…

In the end, we decided that the beginning of 2019 was as good a time as any to start trying for a baby. It wasn’t ideal, but it didn’t seem like we were going to find a more perfect moment. So we started, and here I am now, writing this blog post, and our tiny son is kicking excitedly in my belly. Yes, I’m writing about you, little one.

What do you think, how would you know (or how did you know) when you are ready to have kids? Let me know by commenting below or on FacebookTwitter, or LinkedIn.