The 4th Trimester = “New Normal”

New Normal: The current state of being after some dramatic change has transpired. What replaces the expected, usual, typical state after an event occurs. The new normal encourages one to deal with current situations rather than lamenting what could have been. ~ Urban Dictionary

What a great definition! It covers all that is real and true for new parents. “The current state of being after some dramatic change has transpired” – what could be more dramatic than giving birth? No matter if it was fast and furious, or long and tiring, drug and intervention free, or including lots of interventions and even surgery – birth is by its very nature dramatic and everything changes after the baby is born. And yes, the new normal of parenting does force encourage you to deal with your current situation rather than lamenting what could have been – but come on.

For every new family, there needs to be a period of adjustment and in birth circles it’s more commonly called, “The 4th Trimester.”

Pregnancy is broken up into three chunks of time, or trimesters. This allows for discussion of what a person can expect to feel emotionally and physically in smaller bite sized chunks while they’re still pregnant and getting ready to give birth. And there’s tons of information out there on the subject of birth, but not as much information available about what the first three months postpartum will be like.

In my opinion, it takes a family at the very least three months with each baby, no matter how many times you’ve done this before, to settle into your new normal. Let’s be clear, I’m talking about a fairly straight-forward pregnancy and birth, with a baby that’s a great eater and an (at least) average sleeper. (Any circumstances or challenges above and beyond this, means settling into anything resembling your new normal will obviously take much longer.)

That doesn’t mean that at three months, it’s all rainbows and unicorns! It’s just that you’ve gotten through three months (or 12 weeks, or 90 days, or 131,487 minutes, or 7,889,220 seconds, depending on how you want to count it) and this adds up to a ton of experience taking care of a newborn. You start to feel like you have an idea about the rhythm of what the day will be like for all of you by about three months. It doesn’t mean there wont’t be any more surprises, it’s just that they won’t be coming at you second by second. You’ll get a chance, at this point, to catch your breath before the next big switch up occurs.

It’s both fortunate and unfortunate that at this three month mark your newborn really turns into a different little creature.

It’s fortunate, because if they were incredibly fussy and colicky, they kind of settle down around three months old – they’ve gotten most of what was ailing them out of their system. It’s like a light switch gets turned on or off at this point, and the squishy cuteness of baby blob turns into a whole new and exciting little person. They start to really track you as you walk around the room, they start making noises (other than shrill cries!) and they really start to smile with intention, directly at you, because you are the center of their universe! You finally get a little payback for all of the hard work you’ve been putting into this whole parenting thing.

It’s unfortunate, because at this crucial time when our babies actually start acting like babies, instead of newborns, so many of today’s parents have to leave their baby to go back to work. Many of them have to return to work much earlier than 12 weeks. Most partners only get to be home for the first week or two.

Why do we have this so backwards? Take a look at this map of the world and tell me how it’s possible that the US (sharing the distinction with Suriname and Papua New Guinea) is the only developed country where there is no required paid parental leave after the birth of a new baby!

“The minimum required paid maternity leave in the U.S. is zero weeks. The U.S. has the fewest maternity leaves protections or benefits of any country.”

Moving from couple to family, or individual to parent, is one of life’s biggest transitions! Not allowing for adequate time off to adjust to this new normal is just not right.

I joke in my classes, that should in my campaign for President of the United States, this would the only issue I would run on – everyone gets a year off of paid parental leave! I’ve taught thousands of couples over the years, so not enough really to swing a national election, but I think my ticket might have a chance! There isn’t a new parent out there that wouldn’t like to have more (paid) time off to adjust to their new life as a family.

It’s so important that we include partners in this movement! I think they often get the shaft in this regard. It’s assumed that the person who gave birth will be staying home with the baby for whatever amount of time the couple can afford. Some new parents may be able to make the decision that they’re only going back to work part-time or maybe not at all after this – but what about their partners? Partners are going through their own personal journeys of transition and transformation too, and it’s unfair that we don’t recognize their period of adjustment as being equal to that of the birthing person.

Recognizing the 4th Trimester as the necessary adjustment period before couples realize their new normal is really helpful for new families.

But that three month waiting period is essential to adjusting to life whenever a new baby comes into the picture. Each member of the family has to reassign themselves into their new role every time a baby comes into the picture.

But if I had it my way, as your POTUS, you’d still have nine MORE months to get used to your new normal, instead of jumping back into everything way too soon. You’d have the necessary time to not only adjust, but to actually enjoy this period of adjustment as well.

I don’t know, I think it might work: “Extend The New Normal! Vote for Barb Buckner Suárez!” What do you think?

How much time do you think is absolutely necessary to realize your new normal? How much time did you take off before returning to work? Was it enough? Do you have any (better) campaign slogans for me?


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