To be perfectly fair, I might not have listened anyway.
Looking back, there’s a lot that goes on after having your first child that I was completely unprepared for. I had no idea and, as I sat back and watched it unfold, I wondered why no one told me. In the interest of fairness to expecting parents though, I feel compelled to jot down a few things that no one tells you:
[Quick disclaimer though – this post may make it seem like I have it all figured out, check we’re all good on that, but I don’t…. I’m still learning. But that’s part of the fun of parenting right? Just when you think you have them all figured out, they go and throw you a curve ball.]
About the baby:
- Newborns are really hard. Seriously. Have you ever had something that needed you for everything? Literally everything? It’s exhausting and monotonous and the worst part is, you can’t really prepare yourself for it. Yeah, sure, I knew a newborn would need to eat all the time and would wake up to eat around the clock. But it’s one thing to know that and quite another to do that.
- The evenings will most likely be the worst part of your day. Pre-baby, evenings were about relaxing or taking care of a small chore or two. You could ease out of the stress of the day and wind down until bedtime, when you would slip between your sheets and head off to dreamland for seven hours or so. With a newborn though, there’s no “easing out of the stress of the day” because your day isn’t over and it will never be “over” in the way that it used to be. Evening is just a time to gear up towards night and the crap shoot of newborn sleep. The feeling of dread that washed over me around 6:30 or 7pm every evening took a long time to fade.
- If you’re anything like me, having a newborn will feel a lot like pregnancy – always wishing you (now your baby) was just a little further along. When the dumpling was just days old, I remember telling Luffy that I was looking forward to him being past the newborn phase and on to more exciting things like sitting and crawling.
- Your baby might not be very cute (cue gasp!). Why is it that newborns look alarmingly similar to old men? Is it the grumpy appearance or the lack of hair? Perhaps the wrinkles? Not sure. All I can tell you is that when I look back at early pictures of the dumpling, he doesn’t look like himself to me. He looks like a newborn.
- You know that phrase I love you but I don’t really like you right now? That might be very applicable to your relationship with you newborn. Oh sure, I loved the dumpling, but there were times (numerous times) when I didn’t really like him all that much. That’s what happens when something takes-takes-takes but never gives.
Honestly, the realest piece of advice I have, that no one seems to mention, is that you just might not like having a newborn. And that’s ok. Apparently, it’s common parent knowledge that every age and stage comes with things you like and things you don’t. There will be ages you adore and stages that you can’t wait for them to outgrow. And that’s ok. Not liking the newborn stage does not mean that you’re a terrible parent and doomed to a horrible relationship with your child – which is how it feels when you’re looking down at a screaming six-week-old at 3 in the morning. Like I said, newborns are hard. You’re sleep deprived, you’re adjusting to a radically different life, you’re recovering from child-birth, you feel social pressure from a million different places, all while being needed around the clock. There are women (and men!) out there who do like the newborn stage, but you don’t have to be one of them. And that’s ok.
About your body:
So we’ve all heard that you won’t sleep. And that it could feel like your vagina’s going to fall out the bottom. And that you will still look six-months pregnant for a while. And that you could bleed for what feels like forever. But there are other things…
- Your hormones will plummet a few days after birth and you will not feel like yourself AT ALL. I don’t consider myself a hormonal person. I never really had mood swings, either during my periods or during pregnancy. The only mood swings I really experienced were during my fertility treatment days. So when I heard about a hormone crash, I didn’t really think it applied to me… Whooo boy, was I wrong. I found myself anxious, so very very anxious. Just the sound of the baby crying would send me into a doom spiral. I could hardly sleep because I was worried that the baby would cry and then the baby would cry and I’d be like I KNEW IT. It was bad. The dumpling felt like a ticking time bomb to me, always counting down. Just know that it evens out and, eventually, it will go away completely.
- All that hormonal craziness I mentioned above, it can take a long time to go away and you will blame lots things on it for a while. My hair is still (five months post-partum) shedding at an alarming rate and every weird thing that my body does I’m like I dunno, maybe it’s the hormones???
- You haven’t had to worry about birth control for a very long time and you will suddenly be quite concerned with birth control. How effective is it? What’s the failure rate? What’s the real, non-laboratory-setting failure rate? What do you MEAN there’s still a 0.5% chance of conception??? All of these become very important questions. Even if you struggled with infertility because wouldn’t that just be my luck.
- Your stomach will feel weird. Beyond the saggier skin that needs some time to shrink back, your stomach will feel oddly sensitive and yet not sensitive. My theory on this is that while you were pregnant, the nerve endings got farther apart right? Because your belly expanded but you didn’t get any new nerve endings. The expansion happened relatively slowly so you got used to the sensory input from the belly. And now it (the belly) is gone. So the skin shrinks back and the nerve endings get closer together again except this change happens more abruptly (and without all of the other aches and pains of pregnancy to distract you). I’m not really sure. All I know is that when I touch my stomach, it still feels supremely odd.
The last piece about this, which sort of wraps up everything: I wasn’t prepared for how needed I would become. (This is partly due to my choices, as I chose to breastfeed for as long as possible, so this particular item might not be the same for others.) When I was pregnant, Luffy and I talked about how we would do this together. Parenting is a team sport – and it is! – it’s just not really an equal 50/50 split. At least not in the beginning. When you’re the only one who can feed the baby (and that baby eats every 2-3 hours, around the clock), there’s a lot resting on your shoulders. Some women thrive on this (probably the same ones who really like the newborn phase). It was certainly a shock to me. Before the dumpling arrived, I’d say I was needed. I like to take care of Luffy and Jas – make sure they are attended to. But I could always tell Luffy to fend for himself if I didn’t feel like cooking that day and, let’s be honest, Jas is a cat so she doesn’t need much. When it comes to a newborn though, there’s no shirking your responsibilities for a day. No sick days. No procrastinating. No oh, I’ll do that later. Even now, there’s still so much resting on me. We nurse twice a night typically. I pump four times a day, for at least twenty minutes each time. I’m still struggling with this needed-ness, if we’re being honest.
So all of these things that don’t get mentioned, is it to keep up the illusion that parenting a newborn is wonderful? Perhaps. Could it be that, while most things felt so looming and insurmountable at the time, they pass relatively quickly? Possible.
I think though, it’s because all of the trials and tribulations quickly become worth it. The round-the-clock nursing won’t feel so terrible when your baby starts pausing to smile up at you before continuing to nurse. The first time he laughs. The first time she rolls and looks at you with surprise. The look of awe or disgust she gives you when she tries a new food. The adorable quirks he picks up along the way (the dumpling learned – from someone or somewhere???? – how to
blow bubbles it’s apparently called a lip trill and it’s so freaking adorable).
It sounds trite, I know it does, especially when you’re knee-deep in newborn territory, but it’s true. It will be worth it, but it may just not be Day One. And that’s ok.