Here’s what I’ve learned: Having a baby is like getting a tattoo on your face, because there’s no reversing it, and there’s no way you can really know what living with it will be like. I certainly didn’t want this to be true; I, like many expectant families, attempted to prepare myself by reading a mountain of baby books and parenting manuals. Yet despite my best efforts, I found I was still surprised when a few eventualities came my way during those first months as a Mom. This is what I wish I could’ve told myself when I was suddenly, shockingly, responsible for a new little person.
You will spend a lot of time on the couch at first.
New babies are like the ultimate lap dog; they want to sit with you pretty much all the time. If they’re not snuggled into your neck snoozing, they’ll be staring at the wonder that is this strange human face looming over them. If you’re breastfeeding, this phenomenon will be amplified as you become acquainted with your newborn’s unparalleled ability to eat, and eat, and eat and eat, sometimes for hours or longer, to jumpstart their own growth and development (this is known as “cluster feeding”, which is worth a moment of your time Googling if you haven’t already). What to do? Just go with it. Read a fun breezy book, flip through a magazine, or settle in with some binge-worthy TV. This quiet time is a gift.
The best help will come from other parents of young children…
If someone in your life has recently had a child, count yourself lucky in advance. These lovely people will be the ones who drop off dinner or hold the baby while you shower. They might even throw in a load of laundry or, as one mama friend of mine discovered, wash and vacuum your car. They’ll be the ones who know just what new parents need.
…And you should prepare yourself to ask for and accept their help.
Oh how I wish I’d known how much help was out there, and how silly it was not to take advantage of it. But I, just like you, was used to holding down a job and paying my taxes and cooking my own meals and generally functioning as a citizen. Having a baby, though? That really is a lot to handle at first, and only now can I see how willing my friends and family were to pitch in. It’s a big adjustment for most of us, but give yourself permission to remake your ideology on this right now. Learn to ask help.
Don’t do chores while baby is sleeping.
Save this time for yourself, if you can. Whether you take a nap or call a friend or eat a proper meal, it’s these little spaces that might ultimately save your sanity. But what about those dishes and those crumbs on the floor, you ask? Deal with them while baby is awake. Tuck that sweet little soul into a swing or wrap them up in a carrier, and do your thing around the house for a bit. They’ll enjoy watching!
Equal division of labor between you and your partner may be impossible.
Not one of the baby books told me that my feminist modern-minded husband wouldn’t be able to do half the work. It wasn’t for a lack of trying; he made sure to take over whenever possible and to take up slack in our household. But once he went back to work, it quickly became clear that having him up every 2-3 hours at night simply wasn’t plausible. Your situation at home will be different than mine (different than everyone’s, really) but you’ll most certainly need to be fluid about the baby workload, especially if you’re breastfeeding or if your partner is needed back at their job.
There’ll always be judgment.
Raising humans is tricky, and there will always be someone who is certain you’re doing it wrong. Ignore them. You are the perfect parent for your baby.
Everything is going to be okay.
If I could go back in time, this is what I would whisper to myself most emphatically: Everything is going to work out just fine, really. REALLY. Even if you’re in a fog of confusion, even if you’re scared out of your wits, even if your baby is crying and you don’t know what to do. Even if you haven’t slept. Even if you haven’t quite fallen in love with your baby yet. Even if you aren’t the parent you thought you were going to be. Everything is going to be okay, and your child is going to thrive.
Shelley DeWees is a three-time Willow client who spends her days chasing her toddler son and eighteen-month-old daughter around her home in South St Paul. She’s currently expecting her third baby, another boy, and loves reading books and going to workout classes.