When my husband and I announced our pregnancy, family and friends continuously raved about what a wonderful, exciting and fun journey we were about to embark upon. This was the natural next step in our lives and we were ready. As late 30-somethings, we were late to the game as most of our friends were married and working on their third kid. We moved into a bigger apartment when I was 8 months pregnant. I pictured bringing home an adorable, smiley baby who cooed all of the time, similar to a diaper commercial.
The truth, however, is that 85% of those first few weeks is pure survival.
I knew we’d be tired and occasionally frustrated, but I figured that since everyone always talked about how they “fell immediately in love” with their babies, the same would happen for us. We’d be so overcome with our bundle of joy that nothing else would matter. Maybe there were pockets of this mystical love at the hospital where 24 hour medical care was provided and you can push a button and have someone come take the baby away so you can sleep. And they bring you three meals per day on a tray and take that away too when it’s done and people come to visit and you’re not expected to shower or look nice or offer them anything to eat. The lactation consultant stops by several times a day to give pointers on how to get the baby to nurse.
But then the hospital stay is over and you arrive home with this helpless, squirmy little human and are expected to keep it alive. Your body feels like it just went through a professional boxing match. Walking for more than a few minutes leaves you winded and uncomfortable. Everybody tells you to rest, particularly when the baby is sleeping, but there is way too much to do. Time flies by each day and you didn’t even get a chance to change your clothes. The only thing that merits an outfit change is if you get pooped on as even spit-up eventually becomes “the norm” on any item of clothing. You wonder how anybody else in the history of the world survived raising a baby and are amazed that despite being a generally put-together person for many years, how completely unprepared you feel for taking care of this child. You may have read the books, talked to your friends or babysat occasionally, but nobody ever revealed the universe shifting impact this little cherub would have on your life.
Here are 12 truths I’ve learned as a new mom:
1. Breastfeeding is hard.
I used to picture it as this blissful moment between mom and baby where you sit in a rocking chair, whip out your boob and the baby just attaches to it and eats. Simple. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. At least not for me. There are many tricks to try, but you have to be lucky that your boobs produce enough milk and that you don’t get a clogged milk duct or any of the myriad of ailments that hinder breastfeeding. Sometimes the baby cries and Cries and CRIES and doesn’t latch on. It’s frustrating and hard. When the baby is a few days old and it feels like you haven’t slept in months, and it’s 3 AM and you’ve already gotten up twice to feed her since you went to sleep, it’s REALLY HARD. Especially if your milk hasn’t come in yet and the baby is wailing in hunger and your limbs don’t want to move and your downstairs region is sore as hell and the hemorrhoids are still raging. You’ve been transformed from a normal human being into a 24/7 cow pumping milk station. If a new, tiny stranger isn’t trying to suck something out of your boob, a pump is. For the first several weeks after getting home from the hospital, you’re either nursing that baby or pumping to feed the baby. And that’s if breastfeeding goes well. Breastfeeding moms deserve trophies or goody bags or big stuffed animals like you get at an amusement park when you win a game. So do moms who attempt breast-feeding. Actually, all new parents, male or female, deserve a prize on a regular basis. Being a new parent is hard work and it doesn’t end.
2. It takes 3 hours to leave the apartment — and you’ll never travel lightly again.
The day after we got home from the hospital, we had to take the baby to her first pediatrician appointment. The doctor’s office was 2 blocks away. It was also an exceptionally cold day. We spent 30 minutes layering up our baby girl in clothing, then another 15 removing layers when she started to overheat. The diaper bag was loaded with every possible thing we could possibly need on that 2 block walk. As we were about to leave, we realized that there were no diapers in the diaper bag. Then the baby pooped and had to be changed along with her outfit that had been stained. We searched frantically for the document the hospital had given us listing her height and weight and that we needed to bring with us to the pediatrician. During that time, the baby started crying frantically and needed to be nursed. When she finally settled down, we couldn’t figure out how to attach the bassinet to the stroller frame. By the time we actually got to the doctor’s office, we were all in need of medical attention. Eventually, we’ll trust that for almost any destination we’d go with a newborn, there’s probably a store nearby that carry diapers and formula and is open at 2 AM. Eventually, we may travel without a 3-month supply.
3. Home is a topless beach with no beach.
While my boobs were once used only recreationally, they magically became the feeding source (temporarily) for another human being. Walking around my apartment topless became a hobby and I stopped noticing whether I was wearing clothes or not. It’s easier to be constantly half naked than to have to dress and undress every 2 hours to nurse. I was topless so often that I had to leave a post-it note on the front door to remind myself to put a shirt on before taking the trash out or walking the dog. I felt like a modern hippie and stopped caring if all of Manhattan could see into our living room windows wondering if we were filming a National Geographic show.
4. Everything is worth crying over.
Whether it’s watching a life insurance commercial, looking at old family photos or reading a generic “let’s catch up” email from an old friend — everything makes me cry. My birthday fell two weeks after our baby’s birth. My husband took me out for dinner and gave me a couple of birthday cards (one from him, another from the baby and a third from our dog). I think that I cried for the entire meal. The server must have thought that he just broke up with me. Or that someone died. Thinking about anything harmful happening to my husband, baby or dog can set the waterworks off for an entire afternoon. Don’t mess with a hormonal new mother. It’s not worth telling us not to cry. That would just hinder the hormonal rebalancing. Let us get it out and don’t make fun of us later when we’re feeling better.
5. Being alone feels really strange.
The first time I left the apartment by myself while my mother babysat, I felt like my left arm was missing or my two front teeth had fallen out. I resisted the constant urge to call my mother and see if the baby was still alive and if I should come back. Surely there was nobody else in the world capable of taking care of my baby, right? I didn’t know what to do with myself and ended up walking the same 3 block radius over and over. My brain wasn’t properly functioning since I wasn’t feeding a baby, changing her diaper or having a rambling conversation with an infant about our plans for that day.
6. Maternity leave is the greatest concept on earth.
I don’t know how any new parent manages without it. I felt myself becoming kinder and more appreciative of each moment despite the lack of sleep. To have a break from the commuting, meetings, the constant sense of urgency and attention to detail – it’s a chance to regroup and I’ve never felt more alive. Even though I’ve replaced my regular alarm clock with a baby alarm clock and business casual for casually spit up on, I’ve never been happier or more efficient with my time than on maternity leave.
7. People are still people and life goes on.
During those rare alone moments at the 24 hour pharmacy shopping for gripe water, diapers or wipes, I’ve been asked everything from, “When are you due?” to “Did you look into applying to nursery schools yet?” Nobody means to be insulting or scary, but the hormones supersede all opportunities to be rational. When walking down the street or going to a restaurant, I’m amazed at how everyone’s life has somehow managed to go on like all is normal in the world. Don’t they know that I had a baby? Will I ever feel like myself again? While I’ve cocooned myself at home completely consumed with my new life with a new baby, friends are still having weddings, showers, birthday parties and attending fundraisers. What seemed, pre-baby, like it would be a “nice break” for an afternoon or a weekend away becomes a cause for stress and a Herculean effort to attend. Eventually, I’ll be able to attend these things, but it won’t ever be as easy as it used to and forget last minute plans.
8. Getting dressed is a mind-numbing exercise.
Maternity clothes are too big. Regular clothes don’t fit yet. Body curves have reorganized themselves in the strangest ways. Making an investment in clothes that actually fit seems like a waste of money since the extra weight is hopefully temporary. It usually requires five different shirt and pant try-ons before selecting something. Then the baby spits up on it and the quest to find something remotely flattering begins again.
9. Two hands are never enough.
One is always on the baby, the other is being used to feed that baby. Or burp the baby. Or check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest or shop online at 3 AM for diapers. If you can plan in advance, you’ll already have the television on the channel you want to watch before starting to feed the baby. It’s very tricky to eat while holding a baby and if you do, there will always be crumbs on their little head. When writing thank you cards, a task that never ends, the stamps are never with the envelopes and the addresses are on the computer which can’t be opened because you’re holding the baby and once you finally have the actual thank you cards, addresses, stamps and envelopes nearby, the pen is somewhere else, just out of reach. The best way to get anything done is to put the baby down or to hand her off to someone.
10. The word “poop” is used in every other sentence.
Whether describing its color, consistency, frequency or checking to see if the baby has a dirty diaper, you’re no longer the sophisticated, eloquent person you may have been. It’s impossible to use the word “poop” and still sound like an educated, intellectual adult. I sometimes catch my husband using the word “poo” and that’s where I draw the line. Calling it “poo” sounds lazy, like he can’t be bothered to finish the word or he’s trying to make it sound childish or cute. Either way is irritating, especially on no sleep and with hormones swimming through me. There is no cute word for crap.
11. Sleep is a valuable commodity.
We knew that once this baby entered our lives, it would be rare to put a 4-hour pocket of sleep together. What I didn’t know was what I was willing to do for sleep. I recently agreed to let my husband buy an overly priced new television that I had protested for the previous two years in exchange for letting me take a 1-hour nap every day. This sleep allows me to finish sentences, cry less and has given me hope that at some point in my life, I will feel like a normal human being again. There isn’t a television in the world that I wouldn’t buy to get some rest.
12. Sometimes, it’s just survival and sometimes you’re too tired to be an amazing parent.
Just when we think the sleeping has a pattern, the eating has a rhythm and we’ve cracked the code on parenthood, things change and we’re back to square one. We rarely feel confident that we know what we’re doing. Sometimes we hope the baby will nap, because we just want to get through one episode of Orange Is The New Black without soothing her. Sometimes we let her “cry it out” because we’re almost done with the season finale of Game of Thrones and not because it’s what a baby book advises. I already spend way too much time on my iPhone when the baby is awake and yes, I’m constantly worried that she’s only going to draw me as a stick figure holding an iPhone in her future Kindergarten family sketches. This still isn’t enough to make me put the phone down and yes, I feel guilty about it. Will my baby resent my devotion to checking Facebook and Instagram on a regular basis?
Somewhere around the 3-month mark, something shifts. It’s definitely not easier, it’s just less impossible. That whole falling in love thing does happen. Sometimes it’s immediate. Other times, it’s over late night feedings or the first time the baby looks up at your sleep deprived, unwashed face and gives the cutest, unrestricted grin you’ve ever seen. She’s mocking you, of course. Your whole life has changed and there’s nothing you can do about it but grin back and plan your next nap.