People have, comparatively recently, talked about the first few months of infancy as a “fourth trimester”. I first read about it in book written by Dr. Harvey Karp, and I believe he was the first one to coin the phrase. He argued that human baby brains are way too big (especially in comparison with the channel through which they usually come out) and that babies are “evicted” from their cosy bubble several months before they’re really developmentally ready. It’s certainly true that in comparison to the offspring of all other mammals, human infants are the most utterly useless. This is why, Karp argues, using swaddling, rocking, white noise and so on – essentially mimicking the conditions of the womb – are crucial for making a newborn infant feel comfortable and safe, giving them time to finish cooking before they are finally ready to come out fully-formed as a human baby.
And yeah, that made sense. While I remember the birth as vividly as if it had only happened last week, the following three months are a blur. Our baby had been born a month early, and even though she was a decent weight for a preemie, she was still small. Initially, we were making sure to wake up to feed her every three hours at night – I still have the “feeding time 🍼✨” alarm on my phone even though I haven’t used it for months – but while she eventually got better at sleeping longer and longer at night, the daytime was a struggle.
I had chosen to breastfeed, and an unfortunate combination of circumstances meant that I was horrendously insecure about whether or not I was producing enough milk. I mean, horrendously so. I think I cried at my parents via FaceTime every day during weeks 4 and 5. With the baby’s near-constant feeding (every hour or 90 minutes) and refusal to nap anywhere that wasn’t on me, week five was hands down the worst time for me, no doubt about it. Other people – no names mentioned – were not entirely helpful about making me any less insecure either, so it was a huge surprise when, 6 weeks after her birth, the health visitor who came to our house weighed her at 4680g. Almost 1.8kg heavier than her birth weight, in six weeks! Exactly 1.95kg heavier than she’d been when we left hospital five weeks before! I couldn’t believe it. My confidence got a huge boost. It made such a massive difference.
After that, although there were of course other not-insignificant challenges (including some of my mental health issues), the next couple of months rolled on, and eventually, we reached 100 days.
There is a ritual in Japan called okuizome wherein the baby is offered their first foods on their hundredth day of life. It’s a traditional event that usually happens with the whole family present, and if done “properly” the dishes for boy babies and girl babies are specific colours, and so on. We, however, didn’t involve my husband’s parents at all (and mine were still in England), and we went to a hotel where we could have a whole traditional-style tatami room to ourselves (with a mini futon in the corner for baby naps). One member of staff brought all of the food in to us, and we could safely practice social distancing without any stress. It was my first time “out” since the baby had been born and I was hugely nervous, but everything went smoothly and I was eventually able to relax. Even better, the baby went to sleep after her adventures pretending to eat food, so my husband and I could enjoy our own fancy lunch in peace! Delicious.
After that, we went to do omiyamairi. This first shrine visit honestly usually happens earlier on in a baby’s life, but since we were under a State of Emergency during the beginning of her life it’s not really a surprise that we decided to hold off on that one for a bit. We went back to the same shrine we’d gone to for inu no hi and as fate would have it we were the only people in the entire inner shrine at that time! This meant that the priest was literally only blessing our baby, so we felt very lucky. When he rang the suzu over her head her eyes popped wide open and I was worried that she’d cry, but she was very good! I am not super religious, but it was important to me that we did this, so I was very happy.
As we left the inner shrine, the priest and miko gave us a bag which contained some rock candy (for longevity and wisdom), a dog with a little bamboo basket to wear on its head (to symbolise smiles/happiness, and to keep away both bugs and evil), an amulet to keep near the baby’s bed, and two wooden talismans to put in the family shrine (one of which is from Ise Jingu). On the whole, it was a wonderful day.
And just like that, the fourth trimester was over! Finally, little by little, things started getting easier.