The “interweb” is full of advice and checklists for mothers-to-be who are feeling overwhelmed by the newness of the 18-years-long task they begin with having their first baby. The sheer amount of preparation that goes into feeling like you are both mentally ready, and armed with “stuff” This is still to say nothing of the prettily-packaged briefings from veteran mothers intended to provide hope and to help quell the rising waters of overwhelm.
(spoiler alert: you won’t be 100% ready, no matter how hard you’ve tried—but that makes it fun!).
In my experience, all of this first baby advice and preparation was kind of cookie-cutter or completely contradictory, and I read a lot of the same things—over and over again. I could have used a few very specific nuggets, grounded in someone’s actual current reality or recently passed experience to inform my decisions about things that went beyond what I packed in my hospital bag, or at least to help color my expectations a little bit more vibrantly. Here are a few of my own nuggets:
I went into having my first-born rather arrogantly, being under the impression that because I’d likely take an epidural if one was offered, the whole birthing process would be smooth sailing. My few concerns about “what’s it going to be like?”, asked were met mostly with statements of encouragement, but very little about the actual pain involved. There was a lot of, “you’ll be fine—this is what your body is designed to do. See ya’ on the other side!” The good news is, you will be fine. Your body is designed for giving birth. But having an epidural does not necessarily “just some pressure” make. It hurts like all get-out. Because your baby is trying to, well…get out—through a very small space. I pondered for months afterwards, how it is that women sign up to have more than one baby if it’s the horror show that I felt like I barely lived through, the first time. But we do! And in further good news, my second one just slid right out—comparatively speaking. But I felt like if had I known to expect the worst—epidural or no epidural—I would have been a little better mentally prepared for battle.
The “Fish and Relatives” Adage Applies to This, too
You may have a relative, on either side of the family tree, that wants to come and “help” throughout the time you are having your first baby and for some time afterwards. It sounds great, in theory; and it is, in many ways. But I would suggest that unless the relative is someone who is already very, very, close to you—it may be more of a struggle to have a relative set up for an extended stay than the actual “help” is worth, for a number of reasons. Firstly, I feel like it is common for there to be an “entertainer” and an “entertainee” dynamic at play, whenever there is a houseguest scenario. As much as your relative may insist they are there to be used, most of us still feel an underlying responsibility and desire to spend time with, and entertain our guests. Your milk just came in and you’re trying to navigate around your own house with two bowling-balls of pain hanging from your chest while your baby is still learning to nurse and you’re hosing down your crotch every time you go to the bathroom? Just as importantly (you will feel)—what do we have that can be made into lunch for everyone that’s in the house right now, and what does [insert relative’s name here] like to watch on TV, because there they are—sitting on your couch with you. See? Okay, so they’re there to help. But everyone does things differently when it comes to household management. You’ll be hunting for things that have had their spot for years, and you’ll have to make peace with things being done “wrong”, because to your helper—you’re the one who’s been doing it wrong all of these years, and they are helping you finally get it right. No time to ponder or stew about it—your new baby is hungry and/or wet and/or something needs to be washed. Even if you are going to go back to how everything was before, when you are finished being “helped”. Thirdly, your bonding time with your new baby is reduced. It’s definitely good to have the flexibility that another loving adult’s hands offer, to get something done or to get some rest. But it comes at a cost. Paid maternity leave being what it is in this country, your time with your new baby may already be rather limited. Magic can be found in diaper changes, feedings, and the quiet of simply being in each other’s (and only each other’s) presence. Be ready to share all of those first moments with your child with what will feel like a houseful. I would suggest limiting the help to just a few days, if possible. Or, if you can set aside more time to host eager relatives a few months in, and if you feel like you can handle things sufficiently between your partner and yourself, do it. You will never have those first precious (and self-conscious, messy, blissfully exhausting) weeks back.
Granola Bars are Your Go-To
Your house may be full of “easy-to-fix” meals of soups and stews and sandwiches, but stock up on oat-based breakfast or energy bars, too! If you are breastfeeding, you want to keep your tank full, and what’s better than “easy” to fix? Something you don’t have to fix at all to continue to support the important work your body is doing. I once read that oats can help boost milk production, too.
Babies Exist In a Much Smaller Space Than You Think You Need to Provide for Them…
For my first go-’round, I spent time cleaning out an entire bedroom that we’d been using for storage, with the intent to use it as Baby’s nursery. It got used as such…6 months into having had said Baby! Being a high-altitude family, our newborn son was put on oxygen at 2 weeks old and wasn’t able to come off of it until he was 5 months old. We didn’t want him sleeping so far away from us, with his tank and tubes. So we set up a corner of our bedroom with a bassinet and a changing pad, and kept a stack of diapers and clothes nearby. That was all the space he really needed, because the rest of the time he was spending snuggled up in a baby chair in the living room or in someone’s arms! “Keeping” a baby in a dresser drawer in the olden-days doesn’t seem so outlandish to me, anymore. Point being—don’t panic if you don’t have a nursery set-up worthy of a Pottery Barn catalogue, especially at the beginning.
…Partly Because, They Are So, So Small
I didn’t realize how quickly I had forgotten just how little my son was in his first many weeks, until my daughter was born 3 years later. The commentary I had mostly heard at that point from my comrades-in-parenting who’d already had more than one child was about how huge the first one suddenly looks in comparison to the new baby. My second-born (a daughter) was even larger than my first-born (a son), and I was struck again by how miniscule everything is. Her fingernails were my personal favorite, followed closely by her spindly newborn legs, and teeny-tiny, perfectly crafted-in-miniature ears. My breath was as much taken away by how I could have forgotten having witnessed such a wonder; such a display of mortal beauty. My son had been there in all of his itty-bitty perfection for my unlimited amazement, until he’d so quickly grown. Try and remember this fleeting exhibition of human wonder. You will miss it when life has carried you both away and on to bigger (literally) and—not necessarily better, but different things. No matter what—enjoy this time, because it does go so quickly. You will be okay. Follow your instincts. All of these adages and clichés that you will hear also apply because they are time-tested and true. Just be ready to have a few of your own pearls of wisdom (that are maybe a teench more specific) to add to this list for other moms-to-be, once you are in the throes of nitty-gritty, beautiful new motherhood.