All of you soon-to-be new moms, listen up! I have something to tell you that can revolutionize your life as a new mom! I have the key to making your first weeks as a mother the most blissful you will ever experience!
Are you ready for this great wisdom?
Me too. Let me know if you figure out what it is.
In the meantime, I’m going to be that obnoxious person that gives you unsolicited advice based on her previous experience.
There are so many approaches, methods and techniques to parenting out there today. I’m pretty sure none of them really matter, though.
Sure, there are great systems developed by experts that make your child act better in public or whatever, but the bottom line is nothing can really make that bringing-home-baby transition any easier. Even for those that find parenting skills come to them naturally, like instinctual knowledge, transitioning to having this new little person in your life takes some adjustment.
Let me share some stuff with you that may or may not be helpful. Everyone is different, and every child is different. What I experienced won’t be what you experience, nor what I experience a second time with my son.
Now that we’re clear as mud, let’s get started.
Manage your expectations
I know I have heard this with many things in life, like starting a new job, buying a house, but never before has this been so important. Everything you think will happen, everything you think will be your new-mommy life, throw it out the window. Now.
It’s nice to visualize and think about the cuddling and the bonding and on and on happy moments that will (hopefully) motivate you while you push that bowling ball out of your hooha or sign another form and another check for a crazy amount as you pursue adoption, but there is a lot more to parenting a new-to-you kid than all that. I know you know this, but I’m just reminding you.
Everyone always talks about the sleep deprivation–we get it. We all know we will be tired. The parts people don’t mention is the everything in between (except for breastfeeding struggles, because that is a hugely popular topic as well).
The stuff in between is that I didn’t even feel like I was living in reality. There is this hazy period of time that happened where I was doing everything that needed to be done, but I wasn’t really involved. I know that sounds like I’m coocoo for coacoa puffs, but stick with me.
I was mostly intimidated by this wrinkly thing I was calling my daughter. I spent a lot of time changing diapers and washing bottles and trying to get milk stains out of almost everything. I knew she and I were connected, and that no one else could take care of her better than me, but it just didn’t feel real for a little while.
Until it felt real, which happened in little snippets of time every once in a while. These moments had the potential to make me want to vomit because I suddenly understood I was completely responsible for a little life.
There was a whole array of things that didn’t meet my expectations. Not that reality was worse or even better, but it was just different.
For example, shortly after arriving home, Eva (my daughter) managed to projectile poop in the middle of a diaper change. ZERO warning was offered. My joy and glee in the moment was so immense and so inappropriate, especially since I had to figure out how to get poop off of my mother’s couch, but she had plastered her father with some of the nastiest smelling/looking stuff I have ever seen to this day. I never thought I could take so much satisfaction out of something so terribly disgusting, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have been nearly so funny if it had been me. But this was part of my new life. Unexpected, not great, not terrible, and definitely unique.
By the way, the amount of gross that came out of her in the first week was of epic proportions and had me asking her pediatrician if she might possibly be broken. I wasn’t sure whether it was good news or bad news to hear that no, she was not broken and that yes, this was normal.
It’s OK to break the rules a little
Within a week of coming home, you will want to give that baby a bath. A REAL bath, not a sponge bath. The nurse/doctor will tell you not to immerse the baby in water until the cord stump has fallen off (so that everything clots up nice and neatly and a belly button can properly form). I wonder what they actually did with their child/children, though. I know for Eva, we only made it a week before she had a full immersion bath, cord stump and all.
The part that the nurse/doctor fails to mention when instructing you to keep the cord stump dry is that no matter how many sponge baths you give that cute, adorable bundle of baby, she will start to smell like rotten milk in about a week. She wasn’t even a puker and she still smelled like rotten milk.
There is only so much stink baby lotion can cover up.
Now, I will say that the cord stump wasn’t fully immersed for more than a moment here or there, but it still happened.
I let her sleep on her Boppy pillow. It was the only way she would nap some days, and I let her do it for her sake and my sanity.
Now, let me say that she was within my view at all times while sleeping on her pillow, but I still did it.
Ugh, and there it is. My need to justify such parenting decisions as a bath and Boppy pillow sleeping brings me to my next point.
Prepare to feel guilt like you have never felt it ever before
Mommy guilt is a term that we hear thrown about frequently. I think someone (me) should copyright the term because they (I) would become a millionaire, surely.
There is a reason we hear about mommy guilt all the time–it’s a real thing.
You’re going to feel guilty for that sigh of relief that escapes when the baby FINALLY stops crying long enough for you to hear yourself think.
You’re going to feel guilty when you take those extra two minutes pooping just because it is the only moments you get to yourself (wait until that baby is big enough to open doors, ha!).
You’re going to feel guilty when you realize you haven’t worn anything but pajama bottoms and various sloppy shirts for going on three days straight now. Depending on how neurotic/sleep deprived you are at that moment, you might also begin to panic that your significant other might be looking for greener pastures.
Wait for it–the baby will cry again and you will be saved from imagining a terrible place where you are suddenly a single parent, which will trigger more guilt when you realize that your significant other is right there next to you in the trenches.
You’re going to feel guilty when you gleefully get out of the house without the baby for the first time.
If you are going to the world of outside employment, then prepare yourself now to feel guilty every time you shower and dress for work. Be prepared to feel guilty every time you walk out the door, leaving that baby with the sitter. Be prepared to feel guilty and anxious every time that baby gets the sniffles and you can’t be the one to watch her every breath, move, hiccup and snort as she recovers.
Don’t get me started on the guilt that accompanies stay/work-at-home-moms, too. I have a word count limit I’m trying to work with here.
Take the advice with a smile and a thank you
As many women know (I know all my infertility sisters out there hear this especially), there is always someone who has something to say about reproduction, pregnancy, labor, birth and parenting. Sometimes, this person manages to give advice on every single one of those subjects. Most of the time, you just want to scream or knock a tooth out by the end of the unsolicited advice. But, not all unsolicited advice is bad.
I learned very early in my daughter’s life that I shouldn’t complain/mention anything about her other than she is “good” unless I was prepared to hear twelve different ways to fix the problem. The result of this lesson was I never had the chance to vent to anyone, ever, about anything. I didn’t want to hear the advice. I didn’t want to hear how Sue Z. Que approached a similar situation sixteen years ago with her twin girls.
The problem wasn’t really the advice giver, because the intent was always one of helpfulness. Every woman that gave me advice was trying to share her hard-learned knowledge. Every advice giver was trying to share a moment with me to remind me that I wasn’t the only struggling parent the world had ever seen, that I wasn’t alone.
I was the problem. I had an inferiority complex. I was also very skeptical. Any piece of advice from a mother that hadn’t parented her newborn in the last five years was, in my mind, obsolete. My inferiority complex also demanded that every piece of advice was a sign of my failure as a parent. Every piece of advice was confirmation that I was doing it wrong.
If I needed advice, then surely that meant I wasn’t a good mother. I didn’t have the mother instinct, obviously.
I have come to realize, instead, that I was ignoring some very good and practical tips from other moms that have stood in my shoes. Even those who have children I find to be awful and obnoxious can be sources of helpful lessons in what not to do or how to loosen up on your own parenting skills.
It’s okay to ask for help
I know you know this one, too, but I feel like I should say it again. It is okay to ask for help.
There is probably a flock of family and friends who are just waiting for you to pick up the phone to call on them for help, a break, advice or some sympathy. Those people want to be a part of your new life.
There is something about bringing a new life into your little world. I don’t know what that something is exactly, but it prompts an emotional reaction in everyone–truly, everyone, even that gnarled old man you call uncle that hasn’t smiled since his favorite team won in 1963. Emotions vary, but they are still there.
For example, even when my daughter wasn’t old enough for solids, I found myself on the receiving end of envelopes that contained two $1.00 bills with a quickly scrawled note stating that the money was candy money intended for my daughter. My godmother lived to far to visit regularly, but she was determined to let us know she was thinking about us.
I have no doubt that there is someone in your life that is chomping at the bit to be able to help in some way. Take them up on their eager willingness! If nothing else, maybe you can guide those intentions to something more useful than candy money for a 3 month old baby.
It doesn’t mean you failed. It doesn’t mean you aren’t a good mom.
I would like to think it means that you are a smart mom that recognizes her assets and uses them appropriately.
Don’t keep track of whose turn it is
Don’t argue over whose turn it is to change/feed/bathe the baby. It won’t do you or the baby any good. Do it together, if you can.
The thing that has worked for us the most is recognizing each other’s needs and communicating. If I have reached the point that a break is needed but the parenting thing just keeps going, I will tap my husband and say something along the lines of “tag”. He knows exactly what that means, too.
If Eva wakes me up at 6:30 am on Saturday and my husband stirs easily, he gets up with her. If she tries to wake him up on Sunday at 8:00 am and he doesn’t budge, I will signal her to leave him be and get up with her instead. He doesn’t sleep late, usually, so on those rare occasions when he is still soundly asleep after 7:30 am, I know he really needs this extra sleep. We both need to sleep, and neither of us feels robbed this way.
If I am still desperately in need of a bit more sleep (which happens frequently these days), then we make time for a nap. The goal is to work together, though. I don’t need him adding to my list of tasks, just as he doesn’t need it from me, either. The laundry, grocery shopping, cooking/preparing lunches for the week are all tasks we complete together, even with Eva. That girl can hang clothes like no other six-year old I know.
All of this brings me to my last point.
Learn to say no
Once you figure out what schedule works for you, treat it as sacred. You and your significant other will find a rhythm that works for the two of you that results in both of you being able to bond and sleep. I promise! It will happen!
These days, our weekends are sacred to us. We need them for family time and to regenerate our brains and bodies before the week begins again. We try not to schedule more than one activity per weekend. If we were overbooked, there would be no time to sleep in or take that nap.
When Eva was a baby, though, I remember all the invitations for this or that and you can bring the baby offerings. The problem was that to get Eva to sleep through the night, I really had to make sure to stick to a schedule with her daytime naps and her nightly bedtime. If she ended up overly tired, the results were torturous for all of us. She would fight sleep unlike any child I have ever seen. She also wouldn’t stay asleep all night either, which never made sense to me because I knew she was tired.
The result was me saying no a lot. I felt so guilty, especially since I was the only mother in my group of friends. But, in the end, I knew I was doing what was the absolutely best thing I could do, not just for my daughter but for me, too. I invited people to come to us more often as a result, and I also quickly learned who was really interested in continuing a friendship once things became slightly less convenient.
The part that surprised me the most was that I didn’t feel like I was missing out. I reveled in my time with my daughter. We made our own fun. My priorities had shifted, and I didn’t need the companionship from friends as much anymore.
All of this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take a night off every once in a while, though.
Remember those people that are just itching to help? This would be a good time to call them.