I have been a mom for six weeks now. I love my little Ryley more than I could have ever imagined. She is the best thing I have ever done, and I still feel that way on the days where literally all she does is either eat, cry, or poop (sometimes all three simultaneously). But you didn’t come here to hear about all that mushy stuff. This is about what those first few weeks are really like, the things I’ve learned, and the moments that have made the most indelible impressions.
1. Anything you said you would NEVER do as a parent, you will probably do as a parent. I’ll be honest. I was a little big for my britches, and thought I knew more or less what it would be like to be a mom. I’ve been around babies most of my life, from babysitting to being a nanny to working as a pediatric nurse. I’m an aunt to three awesome little kiddos and have seen them grow up. I thought I knew the basics pretty well, and was sure there were things I would or wouldn’t do with my own kids. Now I know what a dumb dumb I was. Because quite honestly, you do what works. In my head I had idyllic visions of the first night at home with baby. I would swaddle her perfectly and then place her, sleeping peacefully, in the bassinet next to the bed. Yeah no. Ryley fights out of her swaddle like a particularly feisty mental patient would a straight jacket. Every time we have attempted to put her in the bassinet she screams like a wildebeest. And so the first few nights she slept in the Rock N’Play. And then when she stopped sleeping longer than 10 minutes straight in the Rock N’Play (and the fact that its creakiness drove my poor, light sleeping husband bonkers) she slept on me, and then beside me. And that is more or less what we do now. She naps during the day in the Rock N’Play and then every night we try to put her down in her pac and play in a swaddle. This has lasted anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. At this point she comes in the bed, because the alternative is that no one sleeps. We are safe about it (yes, yes I know, co-sleeping is never 100% safe, trust me I have said those exact words, and I ate those exact big words big time). I do not want to co-sleep forever or even for particularly long, but at this point, when there are nights when the baby eats every two hours on cue, and when she is too young to be “trained” to do anything, much less sleep, it just works. And it works well. I sleep. She sleeps. There are fewer tears on everyone’s parts. I’m pretty confident in assuming at some point in the near future we will be able to transition her into her crib, and she will not need to co-sleep with me in college.
I am sure there will be many more of these things to come, that I vowed to never do as a parent, only to be proven totally and utterly wrong.
2. You will be a milk machine. I knew breastfeeding was time consuming. I knew it was a commitment, but I don’t think I quite grasped how completely it takes over your life in the early stages. For the first 30 years of my life, I have pretty much been in charge of my body parts (minus when I was a baby and wet and soiled myself, but you get what I mean). I kind of assumed that for the rest of my life this would be the case. But after having a baby, my boobs staged a coup. They are now absolutely the bosses of me. And they don’t just run my life. They run our household. They are actually going to be filing taxes this year independently. You think I’m exaggerating? You clearly have never breastfed. In the hospital they said I would need to breastfeed every 2-3 hours. And that sounded like a lot but doable. Because I would have 2-3 hours between feeds right? Right? Um no. That 2-3 hours is between the start of one feed to the start of the next. And babies, they are not the fastest eaters. My baby is glacially slow when it comes to eating. She is like a little old lady daintily picking at a salad with little bird bites. There is no since of urgency. Sometimes she takes an entire hour to feed. So that then leaves one hour when a little person is not physically attached to your person. And that’s six weeks later. The first couple of weeks Ryley liked to “cluster feed.” Basically this is the equivalent of standing in front of your fridge and trying one snack and then another a few minutes later, and then maybe another a little after that. She would be off the boob for like 15 minutes before vocally demanding her next fix.
The only option is just to totally surrender and let your boobs (and baby) run the show. Really survival at this point is joint venture between the two of them and you are a pesky third wheel. Sure this makes it difficult to do a lot of things that last longer than an hour (the first time I left the house without the baby I went to Kroger and I seriously felt like a contest on supermarket sweeps because of the giant timer in my head counting down the minutes until the baby would want to eat again, who knows what I bought, I was flying down aisles throwing things into my cart with reckless abandon). But the upside is you can be a total sloth without judgment or guilt. Binge watching Netflix or Hulu shows is no longer something you do furtively, knowing the whole time you should be doing something productive. When you are breastfeeding you are sustaining a life. It cannot get more productive than that. So if you want to watch the entire series of Real Housewives of NYC then go for it and go for it without any shame.
3. You quickly learn what baby gear you wasted money on and what is so essential you are tempted to cart it with you every time you leave the house. For me the biggest waste of money was the bassinet. Ryley hates it. And I don’t really blame her. It is hard and plastic and completely lacking in the cozy factor, like something a Soviet era Russian baby would sleep on. And I know that this is safe and to prevent SIDS, but the crib mattress isn’t anywhere near as harsh. For some reason the bassinet was made to be as uncomfortable as humanly possible. So we are currently using it to hang clothes on. Also could have gone without buying approximately 50 newborn onesies. Ryley was 8 pounds at birth, and the newborn onesies fit her for a couple of weeks. I literally bought short and long sleeved versions of this size in every color of the rainbow. And like two 3 month ones, which is the size she actually needs. Now I know that what you really need for a newborn are like 10 one piece outfits with footies and the sleeves that you can fold over their hands (to prevent them from scratching the crap out of themselves with their razor-like fingernails). There is no point in buying a newborn “day outfits” as I thought I needed. Maybe like one for the first trip out of the house when you want to impress everyone. Otherwise it’s all about the outfit that works for day and night (much like my own outfits the first few weeks, which I also could both sleep and lounge in).
In the essential category are the Rock N’Play, a cheap little Fisher Price bouncy seat, those Wubba pacifiers with stuffed animals attached (helps to anchor them and keep them in the baby’s mouth), Baby K’Tan sling (we use this so much more than a stroller right now, because it soothes her instantly and it’s easier to maneuver on walks, plus you can wear your baby all sorts of places, like breweries!).
5. It has become SO easy to be a shut in. The first few weeks with a baby are not a time when you’re out a lot. We actually have ventured out a good bit, thanks to nice spring weather, and the fact that my husband had a full month off. But now that it’s just the baby and me most days, our trips are a little limited. And yet, it’s hard to stay in all the time and not run out of food and toilet paper and all that good stuff. Enter a dazzling array of services that deliver these things STRAIGHT TO YOUR DOOR. It really is a good era to have a baby. I can’t imagine having one decades ago when you had no choice but to venture out for sustenance. These days you can go months without leaving your house and not starve or run out of toilet paper even. Not that I recommend not leaving your house for months, but you get the idea. We have done some Amazon Now action (Isn’t this the greatest invention since sliced bread? You can order ICE CREAM to be delivered, enough said) and also signed up for Blue Apron (their recipes are sometimes a little more complex in the steps department than I’d like, but so far have all been really, really tasty). Oh and we get our dog food delivered monthly. And I have been hitting up Target online big time (one day delivery and free shipping). And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are a whole host of other services that will bring almost anything you could need to your door. It is a lazy person/misanthrope’s world these days, and I am loving it right now.
5. The first time you go somewhere with your baby by yourself you feel like you should get a medal of some kind. So yes, I have been getting Fresca and Cliff bars delivered to my door the past few weeks, but now that Ryley is almost six weeks old I realized I do need to get used to leaving the house with her without backup. Yesterday was my first trip out (not counting to my parents’ house and the Chick-Fil- A drive through). We went to Whole Foods. I wore her in the sling and wore Birkenstocks (without thinking about the full picture) and felt like such a Whole Foods customer cliché that I almost went home out of sheer embarrassment, but I soldiered on. And it went well. Like I said we could not have been more of their target demo so no one even batted an eye at a baby in a sling in the cheese aisle. Elated by my success I got cocky and stopped by the Chick-Fil-A drive through for a Coke Zero. Ryley may love her sling but she does not love the carseat. She started screaming the moment we stopped to order and screamed the remainder of the time we were in the very long line. And I felt like a jerk for making my daughter cry because I needed a Coke Zero fix (if I had ordered food too it would have been another matter, because Chick-Fil-A food is worth any sacrifice). Despite that bump, today I ventured out to Target. And even though Ryley cried most of the way there and back, she did great inside the store (again in her sling, in her carseat would be a different matter). It’s really not that big a deal to leave the house with a baby and I have done it as a nanny, but the first time you do it with your own child you really feel like there should be a ticker tape parade and balloons awaiting your return.
6. You will never have more manic episodes of productivity than when your baby naps (not on you) or has quiet awake time on the playmat. It is seriously like a starting pistol goes off the second I put Ryley down in the Rock N’Play. The hardest thing is the first moment when you have to choose what to do with this rare time you do not have a baby attached to your boob or in your arms. Usually I end up freaking out so much that I try to do like five things at once, and then realize a few minutes later that I cannot simultaneously empty the dishwasher and pay the bills. I have gotten more done in these 10-20 minute periods than I used to get done in an entire day.
7. Mom guilt is for real. I was raised a Catholic and like all children who grew up in Catholic schools I have serious struggles with guilt. But even the crushing guilt of Catholicism can’t compare to mama guilt. And the thing about the guilt associated with motherhood, particularly at the newborn stage, is that it is often completely irrational. Because really there’s not a lot you can do at this point to feel guilty for. It’s not like I’m missing ballet recitals or picking her up late from school. And yet still I have had moments of just soul crushing guilt over things as inoffensive as going out to Kroger by myself (the NERVE of me right?) or finishing my shower and washing the soap out of my hair even though I hear that she has woken up in the other room. There have been a couple of times when we’ve been out and she’s gone 3-4 hours without eating (happily mind you, usually in her sling), and yet I felt terrible when I finally feed her because clearly she’s on the brink of starvation (I mentioned this mom guilt is irrational right?). And don’t even get me started on car rides. Usually she falls asleep as soon as the car moves, but there have been a couple of times when she has stayed awake and screamed the entire drive like we were waterboarding her. And even though I know she is safe and secure in that carseat and that she’s just being a baby and babies cry at stupid shit, I still feel waves of guilt and shame. This mom guilt thing is a doozy, and I know it will only get more intense when I actually make mistakes and have real reasons to feel guilty. But like any good Catholic I will get through it with the help of lots of wine.
8. Buy a sling. I actually learned this years ago when I nannied for my at the time 3 month old niece and the only place she was truly happy was in a sling (with the Black Eyed Peas “I’ve Got a Feeling” playing). So I ordered a sling for Ryley before she was born (Baby K’Tan, see bullet point #3 on essential baby items). It really is a lifesaver. Ryley doesn’t spend quite as much time in hers as my niece did, but it has without fail gotten her to quiet down on those rare super fussy occasions when nothing else has worked. It is also the main way we take her out. Carseats are heavy and strollers are bulky. The sling is just a nice, unobtrusive way to bring a baby with you to say, a brewery, and not have to hire a Sherpa to get you, your husband, your baby, and your stuff inside the place. Plus it’s always fun to watch people do double takes when they realize that you aren’t just wearing a particularly bulgy scarf, but that there is a little person in there peeking out. I’m not going to go into all of the scientific reasons why “baby wearing” is good for mom and baby. I just know that my daughter quiets instantly in her sling and that as an added bonus I have my arms free to actually do stuff (like at this exact moment I am typing away with baby in the sling). Another added bonus is that you can eat with your baby in a sling (just not like soup, because that’s a burn hazard). Definitely a purchase that more than returns its investment.
9. As soon as you have a day where you feel like you’ve gotten into a routine, the next day everything will fall to pieces. Newborns cannot be scheduled. Let me repeat this. Newborns cannot be scheduled. If you are like me, an anal retentive type A personality, this can be difficult to accept. There are books out there that will tell you that a newborn can in fact be scheduled. This is a lie. Sure you can try, but this will be like trying to schedule a hamster, silly and ultimately futile. Just go with it. Some days Ryley will take a 90 minute nap. Sometimes she will have days where she only sleep 15-30 minutes at a time, but does this like 10 times. Some nights she goes 3-4 hours without eating (this is only now, at six weeks, beginning to happen). Some nights she wakes up every 1.5-2 hours. Sometimes she poops five times a day. Sometimes once. There is no rhyme or reason to a baby’s life people. They are like college students, or drunks. I sometimes get frustrated, but then I try to remember that eventually she will get on a schedule, and right now it’s all about getting her to adjust to life outside the uterus. If you spent ten months underwater in the dark, getting all of your food and oxygen through a tube in your belly button, you might need a little time to adjust too.
Addendum to this lesson: It’s important to get your baby used to some loose routine, but don’t be so obsessed with trying to do this that you miss out on those perfect moments that only exist in this weird, magical newborn time. I really want Ryley to be able to sleep in something versus only on people. I don’t want her to only be able to sleep in someone’s arms. And so I’m usually pretty big on putting her down in the Rock and Play or Pac and Play when she falls asleep. But sometimes when I am about to put her down so that I can clean or make a phone call or do something else adult and productive, I stop and remind myself that this stage will pass. In what will probably feel like a second, she will be too big to sleep on my chest, and I will be left to miss that feeling of her little body pressing into mine, the weight and warmth of her. So in these moments, I let her sleep on me. I breathe in her little baby smell and try to imprint these times deeply into my soul and memory. Maybe it will mean that she will take longer to get into a routine, but if getting into a routine sooner means that I will have fewer of those perfect moments with her asleep on my chest, then screw it. She will have the rest of her life to be on a routine.
10. Try not to think ahead all the time. This is the HARDEST thing to do. And it’s what we do in life in general, baby or not. You always want to think ahead to the next thing in life, whether it’s a vacation or a holiday or a job promotion. With a baby it’s so hard to not flip the pages of the baby book and look forward to smiles and laughs and walking. It’s hard not to play the “Life will be so much easier when…” game. And I’ve found myself doing it a lot, thinking “I can’t wait for her to sleep through the night. I can’t wait for her to be more interactive.” But babies change so quickly, that you really have to enjoy the present and soak in whatever stage you are in. Sure she will be more interactive in a couple of months and that will be fantastic, but she won’t be the same sweet, floppy little newborn she is now. I know I will miss this stage when that times come. So I’m trying really hard to just embrace every day, to not wish away this newborn time by constantly looking ahead. I’m trying to soak in the little reflexes that will vanish soon (I don’t know what use the startle reflex truly has other than being really amusing to watch), the way she grips my finger, the baby hiccups, the silly, surprised expressions she makes when she is trying to focus her eyes, the “milk” or “angel” smiles she makes while sleeping. I know these things will fade, and soon, and so instead of waiting for what comes next, sometimes I try to stop, look around, and take in all of the texture and detail and color of right now. Because right now is pretty darn wonderful.
I'm a thirty-something mom of two, wife, pediatric RN, and writer with a passion for all the big and little things in life.