10 weeks in to this whole mommyhood thing, and I am as far from a parenting expert as it gets. I still feel like half my days are spent fumbling and making it up as I go along. However I do feel like I have learned some things in the last two and a half months. In no particular order:
1. Try to start the day with a shower. Okay this might seem silly or unimportant. However I have managed to shower almost every day since having Ryley (early on when my husband or family member was there to help, and now when she naps, (usually we manage at least 20 minutes of napping in the rock n’ play or crib)). I am not an obsessive shower person. I do not think it is horrible to go more than one day without showering. And yet for some reason after having a baby it has become one of my priorities. The first few weeks it felt essential just because you’re so physically spent and feel so gross (one word: pads, and another word: blow out diapers, oh and throw in spit up there too) that a shower can be the only thing that makes you feel like a somewhat functional person. And now whenever I shower in the morning I feel like I start my day with a victory. Even if the baby refuses to nap again in the crib and I don’t get all the other things done I need to that day, at least I managed to get in one thing that is entirely for me and my sanity. It might be “selfish” to take that time to shower when I could be, oh I don’t know, cleaning the windows or exercising the dogs in the yard, but I think a new mom needs to do at least one “selfish” thing every day, whether it’s a shower or a glass of wine (heck bring the wine in the shower and really make a day of it!). And honestly it’s not really selfish because neither the husband nor the baby want me to be smelly.
2. Not all babies fall asleep in the car. I feel like this is one of those truisms of parenting you always hear, that a car ride will instantly lull a baby, and that with a fussy baby all you have to do is put her in the car and she will become a sleeping angel the second the wheels start rolling. This may be true for some babies, even most babies, but it is not true for my baby. She does not care for the car. On our best trips she treats it with open disdain before eventually sleeping in fits and starts (if we time it really well and she has just eaten right before we get in the car). On our worst trips (and we drive a lot because we live in the burbs bordering on boonies, and I like the city and doing things in the city), she screams like a rabid hyena for the entirety of the drive. I play music. I roll down the window. I wedge her pacifier (the kind with the stuffed animal attached) under her car seat strap so it stays near her face. When there are two of us, I will sit in the back and physically hold her pacifier in her mouth. And yet in spit of all of this, she sometimes still screams like she is a baby POW being water-boarded. At the end of these trips, we are all frayed nerve endings in desperate need of a drink (even the baby I think, if babies were allowed such things). At times this has made me second think ever leaving our house. But instead of turning to agoraphobia (which again, is SO EASY these days thinks to Amazon Now), I have steeled myself and continued to venture out into the world, hoping desperately that she doesn’t still scream her head off during car rides when she is 17.
3. Pregnancy hormone fun does not stop at childbirth. I kind of thought I was done with all the fun hormone related things when I delivered the baby. I was wrong. That continues apparently, possibly forever. The highlights so far: menopause like night hot flashes that leave me drenched in sweat, teenage-like acne erupting all over my chin a couple of weeks ago, and recently my hair falling out in huge clumps. The fun of being a woman never stops right?
4. Those first smiles are one of the few things in life that live up to the hype. You read it in every baby book, that a baby’s first smile makes all of the hard stuff, the sleepless nights and endless diaper changes, totally worth it. Everyone who has had a baby tells you the same thing, that even the hours of crying and rocking and bouncing will be rendered suddenly unimportant the moment your baby truly smiles at you. And I hate to state the obvious, but it’s all true. Oh those smiles, when all of the sudden your baby locks her eyes on yours, looks at you with a sudden and intense concentration and intensity that you’ve never seen before, and then without any warning or provocation erupts into a smile so huge that it crinkles her eyes and lights up every inch of her little face. Of course, after that first, amazing smile there is usually a dry spell without any smiles that leaves you wondering if you hallucinated it due to sleep deprivation. You tell everyone you know about it, but can’t get the baby to replicate it again, even for your dubious husband. But eventually it comes back. And then after a few weeks it becomes a dependable event. Ryland goes on smiling sprees, happy blocks of time where all I have to do is look at her to get oodles of those big, gummy smiles. I feed on these smiles. I’m fairly convinced that someone starving on a desert island might be able to subsist on baby smiles alone. They are that good. One smile just fills up your soul to the brim with happiness. Maybe instead of negotiations and treaties to end world conflicts we should just start bringing a convoy of smiling infants to the front lines. I’m pretty sure we would have world peace almost instantaneously.
5. Having a baby will make you temporarily (I hope) hate your pets and then make you feel like a bad person for hating your pets. I love our two dogs. I really do. Before having a baby, our golden retriever George was my fur baby. We used to spend hours snuggling. I convinced my husband that it was a GREAT idea to get a puppy a year and a half ago, even though we knew we would have kids soon. My exact logic was that we should get a puppy at that point in life, because there was no way in hell we would want a puppy once we had children. Even though we already had a lovely, sweet, neurotic 4-year-old dog, I was convinced we should add a puppy to our lives and at the time tiny house, even if said puppy would grow into a 75-pound adult dog eventually. I had never had a puppy and this was fulfilling a childhood’s worth of Christmas and birthday lists where “puppy” was always #1. I was so, so dumb. Like monumentally dumb. Because the way we timed it was that our golden was just over a year old when we welcomed our baby. Do you know what’s harder than a golden retriever puppy? A golden retriever one year old. They have more energy than puppies. They are 10 times the size of puppies. And they still act like puppies! I honestly feel like I have three children, because sometimes the dogs are harder than the baby, not just George our golden but our older dog, Sandy, too. A typical morning routine goes like this: wake up with the baby and bring her out to the family room, let George out of his crate in the garage, get jumped on by George (who again, weighs nearly 80 pounds), chase George into the house to prevent George from in his exuberance accidentally trampling the baby on her play mat, separate George and Sandy who are now wrestling in their excitement and in the process knocking over furniture, feed the dogs (more wrestling and jumping and knocking over things because apparently they have never been fed before in their lives), let the dogs outside, peek out the window a few minutes later and see that George is eating our patio furniture and Sandy is tearing up the sod by the house in her frenzied efforts to get to a speck of light that was reflected there 6 months ago (for the 50th God damn time), yell at the dogs and bring them in after a furious few minutes wrestling with them to get the dirt and sod off their paws, spend the next 5 minutes trying to separate them while they again tackle each other and wrestle, spend the 5 minutes after that spraying George with a squeeze bottle of water because he will NOT STOP BARKING at Sandy, then spray Sandy with the squeeze bottle because a neighbor dared to walk by our house and now Sandy WILL NOT STOP BARKING at the window and now the baby got startled by the noise and is screaming. And then I will repeat this process over and over again all day long until I have elaborate fantasies about murdering my dogs. On that note, does anyone want a golden retriever? I kid, kind of. Honestly if it were an option to send dogs to boarding school, they both would have packed their trunks and been sent to some scenic New England institution by now. All of the things that are small nuisances before a baby become the bane of your existence post baby. Like dog hair, dog hair that coats our rug so quickly that I have to vacuum daily to keep up with it and ends up on all of the baby’s toys and pacifiers and in her mouth. Or the barking? My God the barking. George only barks at Sandy and Sandy only barks at noises or people outside, but between the two of them that means there is pretty much always some dog barking, which is not ideal when you are trying to get a baby to sleep. Or the licking the baby, which is sweet, but less sweet when you think about the fact that these creatures often eat their own poo.
I know this is temporary. I know that it shall pass and once the baby is older it will be so sweet to see the dogs interact with her (George in particular, who for all his annoying traits, is also the happiest and most loving dog in the world, to the point where he smothers you with his love). I know it is not their fault, and they have been abruptly shoved to the side in terms of their importance in our lives, and that this is not easy for them. And I remind myself of these things about 20 times a day, which is the number of times I dream of ways to get rid of them.
6. You will learn to eat faster and more disgustingly than you ever have before. This one is fairly self-explanatory, but I will say that you will never eat faster than when you have a newborn who is briefly sitting happily in her seat or asleep in the crib. I have literally unhinged my jaw to down a full dinner in like 2 minutes. There is no such thing as a leisurely meal with a newborn. And at restaurants? Forget it. If your baby is actually sitting in her car-seat not crying and you have a restaurant meal in front of you, you will eat so fast that you should probably just have whoever is with you standing by to do the Heimlich. This is one instance I should say where I am appreciative of our dogs, because typically my meals are eaten in such haste and with such wild abandon, that there is a pile of debris on the floor by the end of it.
As a side note to this, I met up with two girlfriends from nursing school the other day for lunch and we all had our babies with us (their babies are 1 and 3, so not quite so much babies). At one point I looked around and had to laugh, because I was standing up in the middle of the restaurant rocking Ryley who had had enough and was crying, my other friend was trying to feed her 1 year old who was not having the highchair, and my third friend was chasing her 3 year old around because she wanted to visit every table in the restaurant (and she’s so cute that of course everyone was thrilled to meet her). I thought back to our lunches 4 years ago where we talked uninterrupted for hours over mimosas. Times, they have a changed. And yes, we were those people I probably used to snidely groan about when I was trying to enjoy my pre-baby meal in peace and quiet. Karma is a bitch.
7. There is no such thing as a “quick errand.” I feel in some way this is the strangest thing to get used to. Sometimes I will be heading back from somewhere with the baby and remember that I need say, toothpaste, or to pick up a new pair of sandals. I’ll just stop on the way back, I think. And then I look in my rearview mirror and notice the baby and remember that there is no “stopping by” anymore. Any “stop by” is a full-blown production that requires elaborate planning, possibly with a detailed map and spreadsheets. There are just so many decisions to make. Do I bring the baby in her car-seat to run in somewhere so I don’t have to unbuckle her and really piss her off? If I do that I am immediately handicapped because the car-seat, which seemed so light when we purchased it, feels like it weighs about 100 pounds when I am lugging it around the supermarket. Do I put her in the sling? This works, but then I am faced with the whole getting her in and out of the car-seat which will guarantee some fussiness. Do I even bother bringing the diaper bag in? What if she has a blowout in the middle of the store and the diaper back is in the car? I will debate these things for a while until typically I drive right past the place I wanted to stop, go home, put on yoga pants and order whatever I needed on Amazon Now.
8. You will lie to your pediatrician. I’m sorry but unless you are textbook “perfect” parent (which according to baby forums there are plenty out there), you will probably lie to your child’s doctor. I’m not talking about important stuff here, like if your baby is having wet diapers or eating enough. I am in healthcare. Do not lie if your kid is having say, neon orange poops or spiking fevers every other day. Your doctor needs to know these things. But when it comes to the lifestyle, parental judgment type things, the stuff that is not really a doctor’s expertise versus opinion, you will probably fib a little. I certainly have. According to my doctor my baby sleeps angelically in our bedside bassinet and eats 6ish times a day. The reality is that the baby sleeps next to me (at least for now, we are working on transitioning!) and sometimes still eats 10-12 times in 24 hours. I’m not perfect. My baby is not perfect. We are still figuring things out, and right now that means doing things that are not textbook all the time. I’m not an idiot. I know what’s generally okay versus just stupid. So yeah, I do occasionally fudge things a little with the pediatrician, and I’m guessing that most parents out there will at some point do the same. Unless you are one of those perfect online forum parents that does everything perfectly. In which case, you are probably so horrified at my hippie, loosie-goosie parenting style that you have stopped reading already.
9. Don’t get so hung up on schedules. I am type A. I am a planner. And a perfectionist. I love schedules and itineraries and am never late. Needles to say it has been difficult for me to accept that at least for the first few months, scheduling a baby is near impossible. Oh but there are people out there who will tell you this not true, that you can in fact schedule an infant to within an inch of their teeny lives. There are “experts” who will swear that a baby can be as regimented as a little soldier. And you know what, some days this will be the case. Some days you can “EASY” a baby (eat, activity, sleep, you time) and they will follow this and you will feel like the most accomplished parent in all the land. You will get an entire day with this pattern and be on top of the world. But then the next day it may all fall apart. Your baby will fall asleep immediately after eating, and no amount of encouraging “activity” time is going to make your baby want to play instead of sleep, because as much as it’s hard to admit, your baby at this stage in her life is the BOSS. She is not your employee. You cannot hand your baby the itinerary for the day in the morning with strict instructions to stay on task. Newborn babies eat when they want to eat, sleep they want to sleep, and poop when they want to poop. And you can spend the first few months of a baby’s life fighting this tooth and nail (I am not immune to this, I have spent many moments stressed out because my baby didn’t have as much active alert time as I feel she should have), or you can accept that babies are as unpredictable as wild animals and go with it. Also I’ve learned that every second you spend stressing out over your 2 month old’s schedule is a second you are not enjoying your two month old. If she falls asleep after eating enjoy that nap with her in the Boppy, because a ten year old is not going to sleep in your arms. If she wants to eat more frequently than normal, go with it because she is probably in a growth spurt and needs more nutrition. Again I am by no means great at this (see Type A personality) but I try to remember that this newborn time is so short and that the more Captain Von Trapp I am about it all, the more of the good stuff (no, actually great stuff) I will miss.
10. Don’t google sleep. Just don’t. Really. This is one thing I have learned again and again and yet I KEEP DOING IT. And every time I google anything to do with sleep I get stressed out. The internet is a great place for many things. Pinterest recipes. Stalking pictures of people you barely know. Irreverent TV recaps. But it is a bad, bad place for the parent of a newborn who just wants their baby to STTN (don’t know what that acronym stands for, yeah that’s how I feel every time I read a baby message board riddled with these acronyms, I finally learned Sleep Through The Night, but am still mystified by so many of these little codes). The reason the internet is so bad is that it is full of advice, both from experts and from randoms on blogs (like me!), and this advice contradicts itself, constantly. This is just a mere sampling of this “expert” advice: a 6 week old should be able to sleep through the night, without eating, in a crib, preferably in Siberia, 6 week olds should be fed on demand and preferably in the bed with the mom or if possible put back in the womb all together for the night, 8 week olds should never be put down to sleep unless they are “drowsy but awake” or they will NEVER LEARN TO SLEEP ON THEIR OWN even when they are teenagers you will have to rock them to sleep, 8 week olds do not have the biological ability to fall asleep on their own and if you attempt this you are a monster who deserves to go to jail, babies should never be put down with pacifiers, babies should ALWAYS be put down with a pacifiers to reduce SIDS, swaddling and sound machines are essential, swaddling and sound machines are props that will one day make your life a living hell when you have to get your baby to sleep without them, a bedtime routine should be started preferably as soon as the cord is cut, bedtime routines are a waste of time and energy, babies should be put to sleep at 7pm every night even if the house is on fire, babies should be put to bed whenever they give you the signal (and if you can’t interpret signals from a newborn you are a failure at life). And on and on and on it goes like this. Forever and ever to eternity. And it will drive you crazy. Same goes for sleep books (but who are we kidding, it’s the modern world, we all read our books online). Yes there are times when some of this information can be helpful. If you are a rational, well-rested adult you could even parse through this information and take from it useful bits to use and discard the rest. But new parents are not rational, well rested adults. We cannot use our brains with such precision. We are tired and confused and just want our babies to sleep. And we will read about Suzie Q.’s baby on such and such website who STTN (again with the acronyms) at 4 weeks and takes 4 hour naps, but only because Suzie co-slept or sleep trained or cried it out or did the no cry method or fed her baby a beer every night. Any person who swears up and down that only one method of getting your baby to sleep will work is an idiot. Because babies are humans. They are individuals. Sure they have some similarities. Some tricks or methods will work on a vast majority of babies. But they will not work on ALL babies. And if you are the parent of one of these babies you will feel like a failure because a parenting “pro” told you that any baby who is rocked upside down for 45 seconds every other day will sleep through the night immediately. I cannot tell you the time I have wasted googling every possible thing about sleep. It’s just not a science. There is no magical solution for everyone. It takes time and every baby and family will develop their own routine. So just for your own sanity, stop googling. Stop reading message boards. Put the phone or computer down and instead hang out with your baby (and I will do my best to follow my own advice).
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.