When the nurse handed me my son, my firstborn, I remember distinctly looking up at her in a morphine-induced haze and thinking, She can’t possibly think I am capable of taking care of this human. As she brusquely walked away from my recovery room bed, I looked down at his face and wondered what in the actual fuck I was supposed to do now.
I knew absolutely nothing about parenting, as evidenced by my shock and horror in the aisle of Babies”R”Us when my friend explained how a breast pump worked. In the months leading up to my son’s birth, I did what I could to read up on parenting and taking care of a newborn, but I never could find the I Have No Fucking Clue About Babies book I so desperately needed.
After a painful C-section recovery and a crippling battle with postpartum depression, my first few months as a mother were jarring and bewildering. My body was unrecognizable, my hormones were out of control, and my son seemed to change the name of the game almost daily. Growth spurts, diaper rash, and sleepless nights made me wonder if I was cut out to be a mother. Motherhood was never instinctual for me, and I felt like I was learning baptism-by-fire-style all day, every day. And I was so fucking tired.
My kids are teenagers now, and when I think back on that time, I realize there are so many things I would have done differently. And though I’d never want to relive the sore nipples, the all-consuming exhaustion, and the screaming babies in the middle of the night, if I could go back in time, I’d tell my postpartum self these things.
1. That baby wipe warmer is a waste of space and money.
Buy yourself an expensive nursing bra instead.
2. The cheap diapers collect baby shit just as well as the pricey ones do.
Buy wine with the savings. Trust.
3. It’s okay to skip the shower.
If it means drinking a hot cup of coffee or enjoying a meal with both hands, do it. Ponytails (and dry shampoo) are your best friends.
4. The first time you have sex with your husband after your C-section will make you question why you married him.
Have sex anyway. It gets better.
5. Don’t bother trying to get breast milk stains out of your clothing.
It’s futile. Buy yourself new clothes because, frankly, you deserve them after feeding a human being from your body.
6. Your child will not be 18 and still using a pacifier.
If he’s 4 and still using it, it’ll be okay.
7. Same goes for potty training.
Don’t even stress. He will learn. I promise.
8. Memorize the smell of your infant’s head.
Breathe it deeply into your soul and burn the scent into your brain. It’s the smell you’ll miss the most.
9. When it’s dark and the house is still, and you are quietly sitting with your tiny baby, enjoy the silence.
Life becomes busy and chaotic in the blink of an eye. You’ll yearn for those quiet moments when all you had to do was rock your bundle to sleep.
10. It’s okay to tell your toddler that bathrooms don’t exist in public.
11. Enjoy every minute of being Santa.
The same goes for the Easter Bunny and The Tooth Fairy. There will come a time when the jig is up, and it will cut you to your core.
12. You will poop normally again.
But you’ll likely have an audience for many years.
13. No one will judge you if you throw your kids’ artwork away.
Just keep the pictures with their hands or feet drawn on them and chuck the rest. Believe me, they’ll never, ever remember.
14. The sound of your infant’s cries may grate on your nerves.
But someday, his teenage man voice will make you wonder where the years went.
15. Buy a cake for their first birthday party.
No toddler in the history of ever remembers that their mother stayed up until 2 a.m. dyeing the perfect shade of Elmo red icing. Sleep is precious. Have someone else make the cake, dammit.
16. Go out on as many dates as you can with your husband.
You’ll need that connection when your kids are gone and you are faced with awkward, empty nest silences.
17. Don’t always be the picture taker.
Hand the phone to your spouse and say, “Get one of me and the kids” as often as you can. Your kids will want to remember your smile, your hands, and your haircut when you are gone, as I learned when I lost my father.
18. It’s okay if you think your toddler is an asshole.
Toddlers are assholes.
19. Toddler tantrums are not for the weak.
Or the sober. And you will survive the sounds of epic wailing, I promise.
20. You will find your way back to your career.
It may feel awkward and rusty, but you will eventually have time to focus on the job that you once loved.
21. Be kind to yourself in some way every day.
It’ll keep you from completely losing your shit, especially on the really hard days.
22. No, you cannot return the baby.
But it’s okay if you want to send that crying poop machine back sometimes.
23. Calling your best friend from the closet is a perfectly acceptable coping mechanism.
And don’t trust another mother who says she’s never done it. She’s lying through her teeth.
24. You grew a human.
That instantly makes you badass. Never forget that.
25. If your gut tells you something is wrong with your child, fight like hell until someone listens.
A mom’s gut is more accurate than the atomic clock.
26. The first poop after a C-section will make you see God and all his angels.
Take the stool softeners, and stock up on those witch hazel pads.
27. It’s okay to tell the person who says to “sleep when your baby is sleeping” to do your laundry, cook your meals, and clean your house.
This is especially annoying if your baby doesn’t sleep.
28. Don’t take a mirror and look “down there” in the first few months.
Your vagina won’t always look like a horror show. Remember what they said about curiosity and the cat. Just don’t look.
29. You will sleep again. Sort of.
You’ll feel a little like an at-the-ready ninja with night vision goggles, but you’ll still get some sleep.
30. You will fit comfortably into jeans again.
They may not be the size you were before (meh!), but you will rock pants with a zipper eventually, and you will look damn good.
There are so many moments I’d rewrite or do differently. I’d tell myself to relax and that rigid bedtimes only serve to drive you bonkers. I’d remind myself that the years are long, the days are short, and the sound of an empty house after your kids have gone off to school is deafening. I’d also tell myself to skip the chores more often and watch Netflix during nap time instead.
Most of all, though, I would lean in, gather my new mom self into a big hug, and whisper into her unshowered, greasy hair, “You don’t suck as a mother.”
Because that’s all I really needed to hear in the beginning.