I saw two pink lines the day after Thanksgiving. Then, I saw another two pink lines about an hour later upon my husband’s request for a second opinion. Three weeks later we saw a flashing white spec against the pitch black of an ultrasound monitor that left no doubt. In a little longer than nine months we would leave the comfort of coupledom and enter the trenches of parenthood.
We waited for our upcoming Christmas party to share the news with our unsuspecting family. I passed out envelopes with what they thought were Christmas cards and told them to wait until everyone had one to open them. When they did, they found an invitation to join my husband and me at the hospital on our due date for the arrival of our firstborn. I even included a picture of that little white spec on their invite.
That’s when it started. The advice, I mean, and I welcomed it with open arms. My experience with babies had been limited to the occasional holding of a new cousin or the newest church baby getting passed from pew to pew. Saying I was inexperienced would have been an understatement, so I was more than happy to soak up their suggestions like a sponge.
My mother-in-law passed on to me the home remedies she used with her children, like diluting a little corn syrup in water for constipation. My best girlfriend raved about the bottles she used to keep gas down, and I hung on her every word. I made mental notes while my sister-in-law shared with me the diapers that worked best for her children, paying extra close attention to the ones she said didn’t work. And when the ultrasound revealed I was having a boy, I took all the advice anyone could give on how to keep the circumcision site from sticking to the diapers so he wouldn’t be in pain.
I was so grateful to be surrounded by women who had been through what I was about to go through and who cared enough to share their experiences with me, the good and the bad. Their words of advice gave me at least some idea of what to expect and how to take care of the little blessing God had gifted me with.
When it came time to bring my baby boy home, I had a stockpile of wisdom to fall back on when I felt lost, which was often.
Ultimately, though, the one piece of advice I needed was never given to me. The one thing I desperately needed to know as new mom I found out the hard way all on my own.
Take care of yourself.
I’m not talking about the importance for me to take time to myself so I wouldn’t feel like I was losing my identity. I’m not talking about the need to ask for help when I felt emotionally overwhelmed. The advice no one gave me is simpler than even that. No one told me to take care of myself physically.
In all fairness, I did hear “sleep when the baby sleeps” more times than I can count, and I made sure to do that. But sleeping is only a small part of taking care of yourself. Friends and family, even strangers, had shared with me all kinds of ways to take care of my little one, but no one told me how to take care of myself during those first few weeks.
Not a single person warned me I’d lose my appetite because I’d be so mesmerized by my sleeping infant. I had no idea it was possible to forget to drink water throughout the day because of the euphoric and sleep-deprived state I’d be in while caring for my baby. No one told me I’d get so love drunk I’d forsake my basic needs of survival. And that’s exactly what I did.
I found myself unable to care for my son because I didn’t give my body what it needed to take care of me. I spent the first night away from my child a week after he was born because I was in the emergency room receiving fluids for dehydration. I didn’t take care of me, and so I couldn’t take care of him.
My husband’s youngest sister is three weeks from her due date. She, too, is expecting a boy, and I will be more than happy to share with her everything I’ve learned from taking care of my son. Above all, though, I’m going to make sure to give her the advice no one gave me. She needs to hear it, for her son’s sake. And her own.