Last month I wrote a post about what I learned throughout my pregnancy. If you didn’t read it, shameless plug: you should! Here’s the synopsis: So much of pregnancy is unpredictable and terrifying but so is parenting and, well, life, so consider it good practice for all that lies ahead.
Speaking of, there is SO much that happens in the first few weeks of parenting! You will be peed/pooped/spit up on dozens of times. You will make countless mistakes and you will be so tired; so, so tired that you will look back on first-trimester fatigue as a breeze! You will forget to respond to text messages from dear, well-intentioned friends; you won’t remember if you ate breakfast or the last time you showered; you will cry yourself to sleep at least once (and probably, many more times) but you will also experience an entirely new type of love, bond and ultimately, happiness.
So, here’s what I’ve learned, less than one month into parenting. I’m sure some seasoned parents may read this and think “HA, HA, HA! HOW NAÏVE?!” And they are probably right but all of this is so freshly true and deeply honest that I can’t help but share it.
1. People Are Still Afraid of You
Doctors are still too nervous to prescribe you most medications. Waiters worry your baby will scare away other, more desirable, customers; you know, the kind (maybe you were one once?!) who drink more than one glass of wine at a meal. Strangers see you furiously speed-walking your stroller to the pediatrician and dodge you and your baby – life is exhausting enough, they don’t need what you have!
2. You Do Need Help
We didn’t hire a baby nurse [insert dramatic gasp]. But my husband did take paternity leave and my mother came and lived with us for a couple of weeks. Even if you’re nursing, like I was and still am, it’s helpful to have the extra hands, company, and comedic relief. Having the secondary caretaker around early and often also helps acclimate everyone to the new routine and shared responsibilities.
If you can’t have an extra set of hands in your home, join moms’ groups and get out of the house at least once a day. It’s good for you and it’s good for the baby. Fellow new moms share a sisterhood-like bond and help you understand that no matter bizarre your baby’s condition, you are not alone. Your four-week-old daughter has some of the worst acne you’ve seen since the ‘before’ in Proactive commercials?! Puh-lease, sit next to me and my son and we’ll make you look like bare minerals ad.
An added bonus of these moms’ groups is you’ll probably have some seasoned sisters in the bunch who can give you tips on the best and worst local spots for tots, as well as practical advice on what’s next.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Call Your Doctor
Extra hands and familiar faces can work wonders for new parents but you also shouldn’t be afraid to ask for professional help. If something seems wrong with you or your baby, call your doctor. He is probably fine but why risk it and lose sleep worrying yourself? After all, at this point, you need all the ZZZs you can get!
4. Your Body Will Not Look the Same
Sorry if you thought you would leave the hospital glowing like Kate Middleton but most of us still look pregnant for quite some time. And if you’re lucky enough to have your pre-pregnancy clothes fit you immediately, even new moms with resilient bodies still look exhausted.
And not to go all Eeyore (yes, get used to referencing Winnie the Pooh and all other children’s literature) on you but I’m not sure your body will ever be the same. It’s not just the weight – plenty of women are actually skinnier than ever months after giving birth. Certain things about you, physically and emotionally, are irrevocably changed by childbearing.
5. You Will Lose all Modesty
Maybe it’s the hospital room door being wide open during the last hour of delivery? Or perhaps it’s the fact that your son has peed on you no fewer than a three dozen times in the past two weeks days? Whatever it is, your sense of embarrassment and personal boundaries will be lowered, if not entirely removed. Think of it as your baby’s way of disarming you for a lifetime of testing the limit.
6. Trust Your Instincts
If you enter a Mommy and Me yoga class and the baby next to you is hacking up a lung, leave. Don’t glare at the mother and give yourself an ulcer worrying – just quietly pack up and go. You’ll prevent your baby from getting sick and you’ll save yourself a few gray hairs. Besides, who has time for highlights with a newborn?!
If you wake up in the middle of the night and your baby’s health is deeply concerning you, call medical help. People have been raising kids forever and their instincts predate YouTube videos and new mom forums (though there is certainly some value in those as well).
7. Make Time for Yourself
“You know you’re a parent when a shower feels like a vacation,” my doctor greeted me as I emerged in a towel, 24 hours after delivery.
Whether it’s a 10-minute shower, a 45-minute spin class, or a three-minute meditation, allowing yourself a brief separation and relief is important. You’ll come back rejuvenated and better-equipped to soothe your baby.
8. You Will Have Newfound Gratitude for Your Parents (or Whoever Raised You)
I’m sure they made mistakes don’t get me wrong. But, even just a few weeks in, so has every parent. And somehow your parents managed to keep you alive and you turned out at least 98% normal, right?! We’ll let that other 2% slide, besides it gives you character! So, call them and say thank you. Bonus: They may even offer to babysit.
9. You Can’t Control Your schedule, or Anything, the Way You Did Before
Have a lunch date at 1 p.m.? Your baby will surely have an unforeseen out-of-the-diaper poop explosion at 12:55 p.m. Plan to go to bed early? He won’t fall asleep until after midnight. The point here is: you have to release control and accept the unpredictability of it all. And trust me, I get it: the struggle is real, especially for planners like myself but giving in will empower you to stop feeling guilty and disappointed when your newborn fails to meet your schedule. The upside here? There will also be pockets of unexpected time where your baby is asleep and learning to better leverage these moments will improve your quality of life (see number seven).
10. Don’t Believe the Doom and Gloom of New Parenthood
In my final weeks of pregnancy, people spoke of new parenthood as if it were a potent flu. “It’s really bad for six weeks, but you’ll get through it.” Or, “Sleep in the beginning because at six weeks, he could get colic and it’s all downhill from there…”
Okay, yes: I am exhausted to a degree I’ve never felt before but I’m also so, so happy.
I need to take a momentary pause to clarify that I am not speaking of postpartum depression, which is a real illness and should be taken seriously – but of the conventional sleep deprivation and challenges that come with new parenthood.
11. And Really, People Don’t Talk Enough About Just How Great It Is
And I’m not done here because I really do believe people don’t talk enough about how great being a parent is. People love to share the war wounds of exhaustion and malaise to win credibility on the streets of parenthood but they under-sell the profound moments of sheer bliss.
I realize I could be typing this and inviting some sort of jinx where my son will suddenly develop the worst case of colic on record, where I won’t sleep for more than 45 minutes at a time for two years and perhaps I will come to regret this candor as naïve. I fully accept that self-inflicted risk, but honestly, I think, down the line, when I am better-rested and my baby is capable of self-soothing, I’ll long for the sleepless nights of cuddling with a newborn.
Of course, all of this is optimism falls under the assumption that happiness is like the weather. It comes and goes. You do not wake up to a screaming baby at 3:25 a.m. and think “I AM ECSTATIC TO BE AWAKE RIGHT NOW!!” But somehow, moments later, when the baby is calm and you are both about to doze off to sleep, you will kiss him goodnight (for the seventh time) and smile at the sweet resolution. You may even whisper “thank you” as your heart fills with gratitude at discovering an entirely new type of unconditional love.