After spending 70 days with this new little person, here are the things I've learned along the way. Are they universal? Maybe. Maybe not. Hopefully, they can help anyone coming up the new path of parenthood behind me.
1. I need to have a shower every day
After having my daughter, Ryley, a daily shower has become an absolute priority in a way it never was before. The first few weeks it felt essential because I felt so physically spent and disgusting thanks to my own bodily fluids post-labor as well as the baby’s.
A shower was the only thing that made me feel like a somewhat functional human not covered in spit-up and poop. And now whenever I shower in the morning during the baby’s first nap, I feel like I start my day with a victory. Even if she goes off the rails and refuses to nap again in the crib, at least I managed to fit in one thing entirely for me. 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. And if you really want to multi-task bring the glass (or bottle) of wine into the shower with you.
2. My baby doesn’t like 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 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. On our worst, she screams like a rabid hyena for the entirety of the drive. I play music. I roll down the window. I wedge her pacifier 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 despite all of this, she still screams like a baby POW being water-boarded. At the end of most of our drives, we are all frayed nerve endings in desperate need of a drink (even the baby I think, if babies were allowed such things).
3. My pregnancy hormones didn’t let up after I gave birth
I naively thought I was done with all of the fun hormone-related things when I delivered the baby. I was wrong.
Apparently, that continues, possibly forever. The highlights so far: menopause like night hot flashes that leave me drenched in sweat, teenage-like acne that has erupted all over my chin, and my formerly luscious pregnancy hair now falling out in huge clumps that clog up our shower and wrap themselves around the baby’s fingers. If pregnancy didn’t teach me this already, being a woman is just a non-stop party.
4. Baby Smiles 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. And I hate to state the obvious, but it’s true.
Oh those smiles, when all of a 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. I’m fairly convinced that someone starving on a desert island might be able to subsist on baby smiles alone. They are that good.
5. I hate my pets right now
Before having a baby, our dogs George and Sandy were my fur babies. Those days ended abruptly the moment our human baby came home.
A typical morning goes like this: wake up with the baby, let the dogs out of their crate, chase the dogs into the house to prevent them from in their exuberance accidentally trampling the baby on her play mat, separate the dogs who are now wrestling and in the process about to trample the baby, feed the dogs, 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 (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 five minutes 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 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. I know this is temporary. I know that it shall pass and once the baby is older it will be sweet to see the dogs interact with her. 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 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.
Related: How Becoming A Mother Made Me Hate My Dog
6. I am learning to eat faster and more disgustingly than I ever have before
You will never eat a meal faster than when you have a newborn who is briefly sitting happily in her bouncy seat or asleep in the crib. I have literally unhinged my jaw to down a full dinner in like two minutes. There is simply no such thing as a leisurely meal with a newborn.
And at restaurants? Forget it. If my baby is actually sitting calmly in her car seat and I have a restaurant meal in front of me, I will eat so fast that I should probably just have whoever is with me standing by to do the Heimlich. This is one instance where I appreciate having dogs because my meals are eaten with such haste and wild abandon that there is typically a small mountain of debris on the floor by the end of it.
7. There is no such thing as a “quick errand” for us
Sometimes I will be heading home with the baby in the car 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, ideally 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? Do I put her in the sling and face the struggle of getting her in and out of the car seat which is about as easy as getting a surly monkey in and out of a car seat.
I will debate these things for a while until I drive right past the place I wanted to stop, go home, put on yoga pants and order whatever I needed on Amazon.
8. I lie to my pediatrician
I’m sorry but unless you are a textbook “perfect” parent, 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. Do not lie if your kid is having 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, you will probably fib a little. I certainly have. According to my doctor, my baby sleeps angelically in our bedside bassinet and eats 6-ish times a day. The reality is that the baby sleeps next to me in our bed 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. So 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.
9. I can’t get hung up on schedules
I am a planner and a perfectionist. I love schedules and itineraries and am never late. Needless to say, it has been difficult for me to accept that at least for the first few months, scheduling a baby is nearly impossible.
There are people out there who will tell you this is 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 some days a newborn’s habits will fall into some kind of loose “schedule”, and you will feel like the most accomplished parent in all the land. But then the next day it will likely all fall apart.
As much as it’s hard to admit, at this stage in her life your baby is not your employee. She is the BOSS. You cannot hand her an itinerary for the day with strict instructions to stay on task. If you did she would literally and figuratively crap all over it. Newborn babies eat when they want to eat, sleep they want to sleep, and cry when they want to cry. And you can spend the first few months of a baby’s life fighting this tooth and nail, or you can accept that babies are as unpredictable as wild animals and go with it.
10. I cannot google sleep
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 immediately fill with stress. The internet is a bad, scary place for the parent of a newborn who wants their baby to sleep because it is full of advice that contradicts itself constantly.
This is just a mere sampling of “expert” advice available online: six week olds should be able to sleep through the night without eating, in a crib, preferably in Siberia, six week olds should be fed on demand, preferably in the bed with the mom, or if possible put back in the womb all together for the night, eight 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 and even when they are teenagers you will have to rock them to sleep, eight 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 pacifiers to reduce the risk of 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 in the hospital 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. And it will drive you crazy. I have wasted so much time googling every possible thing about baby sleep, but ultimately it’s just not a science, despite what the “pros” will shout from every corner of cyberspace.
At a certain point, you have to tune everyone out and just do what works.
Wish me luck on the next 10 weeks!
Related: What I Can Promise to Parents of Newborns