I had an easy pregnancy then, startlingly difficult birth, and post-natal health. I had undiagnosed preeclampsia that wasn’t discovered until 2 weeks after my due date. By that time, I was getting ill and my expectations for birth were shattered. I was on a clock to preserve my health and the baby’s health. The process took a toll on my body and I was a mess for weeks afterward. Beyond the usual pain, I was trying to heal from other, unexpected complications. To keep my mind together, I wanted to feel productive. I needed to get stuff done.

I remember setting small goals in my head and meditating on them each day. First, I just wanted to be able to take care of myself and my baby. It may sound silly if you never had a difficult pregnancy but, it was a huge milestone for me. I remember telling myself, and those close to me, that I was going to find one thing that was “better” than the previous day. Sometimes it was things like, “peeing is less painful” or “I was less tired.”

But, it was always something. After about a week, I got to the point where I could pick up and care for my son without support. After three weeks, I could be the sole caregiver during the night. Previously, I had planned to do all the night care. But, my muscle spasms and pain made me wake my husband to bring him to me.

…when you go from not being able to get off the couch and pick up your baby to actually walking around, that is a big deal.

At four weeks, I was ready to actually move around for more than a few steps a day. Next, I wanted to be able to take care of my home and manage my life. Again, when you go from not being able to get off the couch and pick up your baby to actually walking around, that is a big deal.

I still couldn’t lift much weight; the baby’s car seat felt so heavy. Things like vacuuming, carrying laundry, and picking up groceries were labored tasks compared to before. My stitches would rip, my diastasis recti would bulge and I would have to stop and catch my breath.

I got really creative about ways to do tasks while sitting down or with support. And all the while, I was baby-wearing (he was nearly 10 lbs at this stage).

After that, I wanted to get back to my freelance work. While I had started answering emails and doing minimal client support at four weeks, I was afraid to take on any new projects.

Setting Priorities

It was kind of mind-blowing. I hadn’t expected to be so physically weak six weeks after giving birth. I still couldn’t lift much and I would tire quickly. (You can’t imagine what my bloodwork looked like during this time.)

But, I strapped my son to me each day and went through that same list of priorities.

  1. Take care of myself and my son
  2. Take care of the house and errands
  3. Run my business

Little by little, I accepted new projects. At first, I picked ones without a firm deadline. Then, I moved to things with really clear project specifications. I was comfortable estimating the time for those activities and knew I could squeeze them in while my son was sleeping.

Month after month, I figured out how to work around childcare and free time to eventually build my workload back up to my desired level. It felt like I had my life back. Below are some of the key items that I tracked in my planner to help me get stuff done as a mom.

Need to Do

People debate what “mom brain” actually means. There is some evidence it may be from shifting hormones. It’s likely that emotional labor plays a role. In general, it feels like a distracted buzzing. There is always a nagging feeling that you are forgetting something.

That something is your kid. The baby weighs on your mind constantly, even when they are in someone else’s care.

Anytime I could pause the “mothering” I looked at my list. This helped direct my mind toward the most important thing.

I decided to embrace this feeling of distraction as a part of my love for my son. For all time, I would feel a weight of caring about him. And I just needed to accept that situation and find a way to manage it.

Phone Calls: I struggled to remember who needed to be called back during the day. I would get messages in all forms, email, text, and other alerts. But, I really couldn’t call anyone back while my son was awake. So, I would make a list each night of the people I needed to call back on the following day. Then, as soon as my son fell asleep, I would hop on the phone.

Anything with math: Try calculating anything with a babbling baby. It’s impossible. I would make a list spreadsheets, invoices or budgets that required attention. I saved these for mornings when I had a fresh mind, preferably when someone else might be caring for my son.

Writing Assignments: From replying to emails to actually doing my freelance writing, I knew I couldn’t work on writing assignments when my son was fussy. I learned to do this while wearing him, especially during the first year. As he aged out of the baby carrier, I used these lists to plan how much childcare I needed. It could estimate a week in advance and plan around that time frame.

Like to Do

In addition to the things I needed to do to run my life, I had some things that I liked to do if I had the time.

Design Work: I love making the little designs that I post on this blog and my Instagram. For example, this year I decided I wanted to release one wallpaper each month. It’s hard to squeeze those things into your schedule and my planner helped me look for available times.

Showering Alone: Even now that my son is a toddler, it can be hard to find time alone. From the beginning, showering daily was a must. But, it required putting him down crying (fast shower), bringing him in the bathroom with me (stressful shower), or finding a time when someone else could watch him. It was small thing that made me feel like a human.

Style my Hair: When I looked in the mirror, I knew I looked sick. I had dark circles under my eyes and a sickly pale complexion. For about 6 months, my family was seriously worried about my recovery time. I just looked ill. Styling my hair made me feel less like a bag lady. However, washing, blow-drying and styling your hair with a child is an impossible task. I planned it around times that someone else could watch him, or if he was sleeping.

Read New Things: I love reading, especially long-form. Although I scan the headlines every day, I enjoy digging into new material too. Going to the library with my son was easy. They have great places for him to play. Remembering to actually read books before the due date took little, scheduled prompts.

In general, I found that my list helped me focus on what I needed or wanted to do. Anytime I could pause the “mothering” I looked at my list. This helped direct my mind toward the most important thing. Then, I could make the most of my spare moments.

Get Stuff Done as a Mom

What most surprised me was how this process helped me manage my mental health. At first, I was so upset that I was sick. I felt so strong, empowered, and healthy during my pregnancy. after giving birth, I was shocked when I wasn’t able to take care of myself. I never experienced post-partum depression symptoms. Yet, I felt the hormonal fluctuations. However, I was privileged to have a lot of support and, I suppose, lucky with the way my body chemistry handled those intense changes.

I made the most of my spare moments.

I can’t say that this process would help with any post-partum depression because that should really be evaluated by a medical doctor. For anyone who is just trying to adjust to life with a child, I hope you found my story helpful. I’d like to hear about your experiences. How did you make the shift from child-free to getting stuff done with a kid? Join the conversation on my Instagram.