Aw, that title sounds like I’m going to get all sentimental and sweet, doesn’t it? ‘Fraid not.
This week my parents paid a visit to my cousin, her husband, and their 18 day-old son. My dad recounted for me that the new parents are tired, really tired, that special kind of first-time-parent tired. Remember that tired? It comes not just from being up every two to three hours dealing with a crying/hungry/poopy/generally-confused-and-disgruntled baby but also from being unable to sleep when the baby isn’t any of those things. It’s the tired that comes from lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, ears straining for every little sound and your mind chattering away. “I need to sleep. I am so tired. Even an hour of sleep would help. How long has the baby been asleep? He won’t sleep much longer. I should be asleep. Why can’t I sleep? What was that noise? Is it the baby? Is he waking up? Can my husband get him this time, he won’t be hungry yet. But my husband can’t calm him the way I can. Oh god. I just want to sleep. Ok, he’s quiet. Really quiet. Is it ok for him to be so quiet? I should check and see if he’s ok. But I’m so tired. I don’t want to move. But what if something’s wrong and I don’t check and the headline reads Mother Neglects Baby Because She’s Too Tired To Lift Her Incompetent Head Off The Pillow? I just want to sleep but he’s going to be up any minute. Is he up? He’s up.” (insert sound of new mommy quietly weeping.)
I’m two years past that tired now, which doesn’t really qualify me to say anything of value on the subject of parenting a newborn but I’m well rested and have my very own blog so I’m going to write a list of five things I learned during the newborn phase, things that may defy Conventional Wisdom, and dedicate them to my cousin and her gorgeous new son.
1. Conventional Wisdom: Sleep when the baby sleeps. My Wisdom: Don’t kid yourself. You’re wired from giving birth, stressed about breastfeeding, terrified of doing everything wrong, and on high alert for every snurfle and sigh from your baby. You would need a professional hypnotist to come into your house and put you in a trance before you could wind down enough to get any quality sleep. Trying to force your eyes closed in this state will just stress you out more. So, don’t even try. Send your husband out to get you a copy of People Magazine and next time the baby sleeps, go into a quiet room and read up on the latest about Heidi Montag’s plastic surgery addiction. It’s mildly relaxing and better than staring into space wishing you were asleep. Also, the magazine uses small words so you’ll actually be able to read it with your scrambled brain.
3. Conventional Wisdom: These moments are precious and you should revel in every one of them. My Wisdom: These moments are precious but disorienting, scary, exhausting, potentially socially isolating, and very, very stressful You should revel when you can but cut yourself a lot of slack when you can’t. Your whole life changed the moment they put your baby in your arms. The life you led before? Is over. You can’t just run out for coffee, you can’t go to a last minute happy hour, you can’t have an uninterrupted phone call, you might leave the shower with shampoo still in your hair because the baby needs you right now. You became a mother in the blink of an eye and nothing really prepares you for that change. It’s bigger than you knew it would be and wonderful, yes, but your old life was pretty great too and you might need to mourn it. And that mourning is ok. You can look at your baby and think “I love you so much but I’d really like to put on non-spit-upped-on clothes and go out with my girlfriends and not be acutely aware of the time as measured by the increasing pressure in my boobs.”. And you can think that without guilt! It’s ok. We all thought it. It doesn’t make you a bad mom. Also, making your baby’s finger bleed when you cut his nails doesn’t make you a bad mom, either.
4: Conventional Wisdom: Giving your baby a bottle will cause breastfeeding problems. My Wisdom: If breastfeeding is going ok after a few weeks, give the bottle a whirl and see how it goes. Because husbands? Can give babies bottles. While mommies sleep (or read People Magazine). What worked for us was me pumping enough milk for the midnight feeding at around 9pm. I then went to bed and was off the clock until the 3am feeding (all times approximate because babies can’t tell time). The Great Guy I Married would watch tv on the couch, give C. a bottle, swaddle him and let him drift off in his lap. He called it their Guy Time and I think he actually looked forward to it. I looked forward to it too because I was able to get some rest. Dome babies reject bottles, some moms can’t pump enough to make it work and have to use formula, some moms would rather do all the feedings. Whatever works, works. But don’t be afraid to try something that might help you rest just because someone, somewhere, who doesn’t live in your house and isn’t a parent to your child said it’s a bad idea. Their Bad Idea may be the Best Idea You Ever Had.
5. Conventional Wisdom: Find a group of mothers. You need the comraderie and support. My Wisdom: Find a group of mothers. You need the comraderie and support. My friend L. walked into a new mom’s group when her first was a newborn and burst into tears and they took care of her. My sister walked into a new mom’s group when her son was a newborn already in tears and they took care of her. I walked into a new mom’s group when my son was a newborn and wanted to run away because being home alone with one screaming baby was bad enough, being crammed into a tiny room with a lot of women in sweatpants and their screaming babies was going to drive me over the edge. By t
he end of the meeting, however, I was ready to weep with joy at finding a whole room full of other women in sweatpants who totally got what I was going through. I went to that group every single week until my maternity leave ended and, from the support I got from other mothers, learned that my son and I were doing great and we were a pretty good team. I went to lunch with those women after group meetings and learned that babies and lunch at a place like Cosi really can go together. I rode the metro with my son for the first time to get to one of those meetings and learned that babies and trains really can go together. Basically, I learned that my new life with my new baby had a whole lot going for it and he and I were going to be just fine. And I am friends with the amazing, smart, funny, compassionate mothers I met there to this day. Going to a mom’s group was the best parenting choice I ever made, no question about it. Because everyone needs a mommy, even another mommy.