I came across an article recently, that claimed to be able to provide “the essential tips for surviving life with a newborn.” Given that I am soon expecting a newborn, and also given that the first time I had a baby, I barely survived those early months, I was sure that reading their suggestions would help me to feel calm and prepared.
Let me tell you this — thank goodness I did not read that article when I became a mother for the first time.
With suggestions like “taking your newborn on international travel is a relaxing and satisfying experience” and “rely on friends and family to provide you with regular meals” and “be sure to keep your mind active in non-baby related projects in the early weeks” and “stay engaged in your work and own personal interests,” if I had followed these guidelines, I would have been set up for nothing but guaranteed failure. And possibly a nervous breakdown.
In the new days of parenthood, I could barely get myself and my incessantly unsettled baby to the local grocery store; the idea of taking an international trip was about as likely as my child sleeping through the night.
And keeping my mind engaged in things not related to baby? During the first few months, the scope of my mental capacity was boobs, poop and sleep. Anything outside of that was just beyond the realm of my comprehension.
What would have helped me, though, would have been a list of suggestions that may actually have made me feel as though I wasn’t the only one on the brink of going bonkers, and one that may have provided some realistic guidance and reassurance during the time in my life when I was most vulnerable.
So, here’s the list that I wish I had read before my own newborn arrived… and one that I hope will help set you up for nothing but absolute success in your own parenting journey.
Cook in advance.
Very few people will bring you food, and if they do, it won’t last long. I was under a very misguided assumption that people would bring me an endless bounty of meals, snacks and fresh fruit and vegetables. I was so sure of this, I had no food prepared in the freezer or pantry. Big mistake! This time around, I’ll be cooking up huge batches of easily frozen meals and snacks. I’ve also started the habit of doing my grocery shopping online, and having it delivered to my door. Lifesaver.
If your baby doesn’t sleep, you are not a bad parent and they are not a bad baby.
Read up on safe co-sleeping practices and just pop that baby in bed with you. Also, babies often will only sleep on someone. This is normal. Invest in a baby wrap or carrier and wear that baby while they nap.
Invest in some nursing-friendly clothing.
There are great websites that specialize in breastfeeding clothing, and it’ll make being out and about in public so much easier. I tried to wear my normal clothes (which did not necessarily allow for easy access) and it just made everything so much harder for me — I wanted to feel comfortable and relaxed when I was feeding in public, not worried about how much of my boob was being exposed in the process. There are also great ideas online about how to use your everyday wardrobe in a nursing-friendly way, suss that out before baby arrives, so you can get yourself organized. Feeling confident in what you’re wearing can have an incredibly positive impact on your breastfeeding journey, and your general wellbeing.
It may seem like everyone is doing better than you. They’re not.
We’re all hot messes, we just handle it differently. You may have friends who seem to be getting dressed, showered, make-up on and having coffee dates every day, whereas you haven’t washed your hair in a month and are wearing your maternity pants with your husbands t-shirt. That’s ok. Your friend may look like she’s feeling fresh as a daisy, but I assure you, underneath it she’s feeling just as lost and unsure as you are, and is carrying her own concerns and insecurities about this strange new journey.
Learn to advocate for yourself.
Remember, you are making the decisions that are right for you, your baby, and your family. Don’t let people tell you you’re doing it “wrong.” Kindly, but firmly, put people in their place when needed. Sometimes you’ll ask for advice or suggestions, but sometimes the responses you receive will not align with what you intuitively know is best for your circumstances. Often (really often) advice will come when it wasn’t asked for. Learn to say “thank you, but we’re doing what works for us” and steer the conversation elsewhere. (Alternatively, you may find “just shut up with your bloody opinions” equally effective.)
There will be many, many days when the only thing you did was keep the baby alive.
That’s a great achievement. Take the pressure of yourself. It will get easier, but it might take a lot longer than you thought to feel like “you” again. No one is expecting you to write an award-winning novel right now, or start and finish a PhD — the only thing you need to do is get to know your baby, and get to know this new, different version of you. It all takes time, and there will be plenty of time for things outside of baby, just maybe not right now.
If you’re breastfeeding, memorize these words — “when in doubt, whip it out.”
So many of a babies problems can often be solved with a boob. Don’t be afraid to feed them, even if you only fed them 5 minutes ago. Look at alternatives to the traditional “eat/play/sleep” routines if you find that’s not working for you or your baby (it often doesn’t), and just offer other options to help soothe your baby. It’ll usually do the trick.
…of all the little, everyday moments that are consuming your life right now. And remember to have people take photos of you in the picture as well. Despite your best intentions, you won’t remember as much as you think you will, and the photos will be there to capture the memory for you. You’ll look back on these images and absolutely treasure them — even if the moment they’ve recorded felt like a hellish nightmare at the time.
If you’re struggling, reach out.
Maybe it’s your pediatrician or OBGYN, maybe it’s a group of like-minded parents on Facebook, maybe it’s a trusted friend, but if you feel like everything is getting to be way too much — find someone to talk to who supports you and supports your parenting style. You’re never alone (even when it feels like you are) and there’s always help available, but sometimes tracking down the right sort of help or support for you takes a bit of time. Keep looking, keep talking, and do your own research.
You’ll find the right people for you.