Lately, I feel like I have been encountering quite a few people who have recently become parents, or are about to become parents, or even some who are newly pregnant (obviously, I am talking about Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds- we are like totally BFFs). I look at their happy, innocent faces, and I am overcome. Overcome with worry for them. Because as wondrous and amazing as it is to bring new life into the world, it can also be shockingly difficult. At least, it was for me. And there were a lot of things I felt woefully unprepared for, despite having read “What to Expect While You’re Expecting” cover-to-cover several times over the course of my pregnancy. So today, I am presenting a post containing information I wish I’d had before Charlotte was born.
The first topic that needs to be addressed is sleep. When I was pregnant, people would jokingly tell me, “You better sleep now, because once the baby comes, you won’t be getting much! Hahahahaha!” Perhaps some people were sincere with this advice, but I didn’t really take it seriously- it seemed like such a sitcom-y, stereotypical thing to say to a pregnant woman, and I just didn’t fully comprehend how little sleep I would get. I mean, I had seen all the sitcoms- sure, Rachel was pretty tired when Emma was born, but within a couple days, the baby was sleeping and so was she. All would be fine. The phrase “slept like a baby” had to come from somewhere, right? NO. NONONONONONONO. It is NOT fine. If you only take away one thing from this post, take this: the amount of sleep deprivation you will experience with a newborn baby will be extreme. You will need to feed that baby about every three hours. And not three hours from when the baby finished eating the last time. Three hours from when the baby STARTED feeding. And babies, especially brand-new babies, can take a LONG time to eat. They start and stop. They fall asleep and you have to wake them up to keep going. They poop all over themselves and you and you have to stop to clean everything up and start again. A feed can take up to an hour (or longer) in those first days. Which leaves you with a whopping two hours to feed yourself, clean yourself, go to the bathroom, and maybe, if you’re lucky, sleep. Eventually, feeding yourself and basic personal hygiene will fall to the bottom of the list of priorities because all you will care about is getting as much sleep as you can before you need to feed the baby again. This felt like torture to me after Charlotte was born. Honestly. TORTURE. I couldn’t believe that no one seriously warned me how difficult the lack of sleep would be to deal with. And maybe someone did try to seriously warn me and I just didn’t listen. DO NOT make the same mistake I made. Sleep and rest as much as you can before the baby comes. And if your baby is already here and you find yourself stunned by how little sleep you are getting, well, I’m sorry I didn’t write this sooner for you. At least you know that you are not alone. You will just have to make your peace with the sleep deprivation like I did. And it DOES get better- as the baby grows, he or she will start to sleep longer stretches, and you will be amazed and how energized you feel after getting four or five consecutive hours of sleep. But your sleep will never be the same as it was before you had a baby. I’m sorry, but that is the reality.
The next issue that requires discussion is planning. The amount of planning to go anywhere with your baby, even to the grocery store, is not to be believed. Certainly, I didn’t believe it until Charlotte was born. That spontaneous, footloose and fancy-free life you are leading sans kids flies out the window once baby comes along. Even if you don’t consider yourself a particularly spontaneous person, you will notice a stark difference in the way you considered your plans to do anything before the baby was born and after baby was born. So if your baby has not yet arrived, revel in this time where you can pop out to the grocery store/movies/coffee shop on the spur-of-the-moment. Once that baby comes along, there will be a lot more to consider. Do I bring baby with me? When was the last time baby ate? What are the chances baby will want to eat while I am out? How many diapers should I bring? How many changes of clothes should I bring? Should I bring a change of clothes for myself? And on, and on, and on. Again, if your baby is already here, take heart- it does get easier as they get older, and you are able to better handle the little hiccups that occur while you are out. But going out anywhere will never be the same again. That’s the reality.
Up next is the issue of priorities. This one mainly applies to expectant parents. Right now, you are probably getting the nursery ready and sorting out tiny little baby clothes. If you are having a girl, you may be dreaming about all the adorable little outfits she will wear (baby girl clothes are so cute. Not having had any boys, and with very few boys in our branch of the family, I can’t really speak to the cuteness factor of baby boy clothes). I was once just like you. I stressed about getting Charlotte’s room ready. I debated about which shade of pink was exactly right for her room. I sorted through clothes, holding them up to my belly, and fantasized about dressing her in them. But then she surprised us and arrived four weeks early and we had nothing ready. The room hadn’t been painted yet, the crib and dresser and change table weren’t set up. Her clothes were washed but still sitting in a laundry basket. My hospital bag wasn’t packed. We had to stop on the way to the hospital to buy diapers and cream and other baby essentials- that’s how unprepared we were. And guess what- it didn’t matter. Once she arrived, I realized just how unimportant all of that was. The only thing that mattered was that she was here and she was healthy and I was healthy and we were all okay. I also very quickly realized that as sweet as all those pink outfits were, they were also incredibly impractical. Babies poop, puke, and pee all over all their clothes, usually several times a day. I soon began choosing Charlotte’s clothes based on how well they washed up and how much it would matter if they got stained with poop. Plain white onesies or sleepers were really the best- fairly easy to get her in and out of, and they can be bleached in the laundry.
One last thing to remember: breastfeeding, should you choose to go that route, is hard. It is harder than the books and prenatal classes make it out to be. It takes time to get comfortable with it. If you struggle with it, it does not make you a bad parent. If you choose to formula feed your baby, that does not make you a bad parent, either. And all forms of feeding in the beginning are hard. The baby will fall asleep just as easily at the bottle as they do at the breast and you will worry about whether or not they are getting enough. It’s hard, it’s a struggle, and you are not alone.
No matter how your experience is with your first baby, remember that it is just that: YOUR experience. It will not be the same as your mother’s or your sister’s or your friend’s or mine. The first year of Charlotte’s life was one of the hardest of my life. Some of that was because of other things that were going on in my life at that time (trying to make it through my last year of school, and my mother dying) and some of it was because of how difficult it was to adjust to this huge, permanent change in my life. It’s okay to struggle. It’s okay to have bad days. Having a baby doesn’t just magically mean that you will always be happy, no matter what. Feeling unhappy from time to time doesn’t make you a bad parent. It makes you human. That being said, if you feel unhappy a lot after the baby is born, or if you are struggling, really struggling to take care of your baby or yourself- get help. Postpartum depression is serious but treatable, and nothing to be ashamed of. There are obviously a lot of great things about having a baby- that feeling you get when your itty bitty baby is sleeping on your chest, or when they smile for the first time, and watching them grow and learn and form personalities- it’s incredible. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and my purpose today was to illustrate that and to try to normalize those things that are hard about having a baby, especially your first baby. And of course, just when you think you have this parenting gig all figured out, baby number two may come along and throw a wrench into everything you thought you knew.
So, for all the seasoned parents out there, what sorts of advice would you add to this list? And please share this with any expectant parents you know whom you think may benefit from these pearls of wisdom. And tell them to throw “What to Expect While You’re Expecting” in the garbage.