It seemed like a good idea in theory, this having babies thing, right? A dimple-cheeked bundle swathed in cuddly rompers and you getting to join the Bugaboo-bumper car game in the grocery store. Your partner would gaze at you (adoringly, of course) while you nursed, in a scene straight out of some Renaissance Pieta painting; and then you would push your (adorably) sleeping baby through the streets in the pram, in order to walk off that wee leftover baby poochy bit that’s still preventing your size 4s from zipping.
1. Here’s the first tip: disregard all tips and advice. New parenthood equals survival mode. Do what works. If that means you live entirely on mac-and-cheese, go for it. If it means all you want is spicy doritos, make someone hightail it to the store and get it for you now. There’s a reason the first three months of a newborn’s life are called the fourth trimester. You have needs and they should be met immediately. Logic and “appropriate” have absolutely nothing to do with it.
2. There is no such thing as “sleep training” a little baby and particularly not a newborn. Other parents will (smugly) announce that their little baby was sleeping through the night from birth and shake their heads pityingly at you, who obviously gave birth to some lower life form. Here’s a thought for those smug parents: fuck ’em. If their kid is sleeping through the night now, fine, but you know what? That’s gonna change, because…
3 …nothing stays the same with a new baby. You think you’ve figured out the rhythm, you think there’s a sleep pattern, a feeding pattern, a crying pattern. And there is. For about a week. But then that little squiblet grows, or gets a shot, or you enter the dark of moon, and everything goes straight to hell. You’re back at the beginning again. Try not to let this constant cycle of change make you cry, because…
4. … new parenthood is designed to teach you an important lesson that you should carry forward into the rest of your parenting life: you may think you’re in control, you may want to be in control, but you have given birth to another person. This person will, eventually, achieve autonomy and independence and language. All of these things are a mixed blessing.
5. Get outside. Even if you’re in the middle of winter (or the middle of summer or it’s raining or it’s snowing or it’s that you don’t want to leave the couch), get the hell outside. Breathe some fresh air, look at the sky. Maybe even without the baby. Walk around the block, down the street, across the field, wherever the hell you live. If you have to take the baby with you, take the baby with you, but better if you can find someone who will watch the baby so that you can be vertical on your own, without being attached to this new life you’ve spawned.
6. The new life you’ve spawned will be okay if you are not there twenty-four hours a day. Seriously. Would you want you hovering over your face every waking minute? No. You would not. You look like hell, your hair is unwashed and because you’ve been living on mac-and-cheese and doritos, your breath is pretty atrocious too. You can leave the baby unwatched, in a car seat, in a crib, in another room, for the length of time it takes to shower, for example. You do not need to lug the child into the bathroom while you shower; you do not need to have the child in the room when you take that first post-partum poop. If you must, bring the baby monitor into the bathroom with you. But everyone will be happier if you can remember that the physical attachment part happened in utero, and now the cord has been cut. Separating also means…
7. … let other people help you. Other people can hold babies without dropping them; other people have even been known to change diapers. (Okay, not my own father, but that was a different era, so he gets a pass. Sort of. I’ve worked it out with my therapist, so it’s all good). You are allowed to ask for help, you are allowed to cry, you are allowed to say “this sucks shit and I’m bored and tired and fat and my ass hurts.” Being a new mom is not like being in the military: there are no gold stars for bravery; there is no oak leaf cluster for being stoic. Stoic is for the ancient Greeks. And lok what happened to them. Met any ancient Greeks recently? Exactly.
8. But by the same token, remember that, in fact, there have been other babies in the history of the world. Yours may be the most beautiful, adorable genius that’s ever puked milk down a shoulder, but that notwithstanding, other children exist in the world–and have rolled over, spat up, smiled, farted, sneezed, and been generally “amazing ohmigod let me just show you this twenty-five minute video of her sleeping and then look, wait for it, she twitches! Isn’t that just the cuuuuuuutest thing ever??” Resist the temptation to tell everyone everything that your little darling has done. Save it for your mom, or maybe for twitter, where you can’t see people roll their eyes and hit delete.
9. If your baby is seriously ill, god forbid, or has to spend time in the NICU, god double forbid, find some comfort in the fact that the bond between parent and child can–and has–moved mountains. You will be able to withstand just about any amount of pain if it means getting your child well.
10. Don’t be surprised by how much you love that little blob of human flesh. All the books, all your friends with kids, will say “everything changes” once you have kids, and you probably nodded and said “yeah, yeah, sure, it changes, I can’t go out drinking until all hours any more, whatever.” What they don’t say is that when you look at this baby, your entire world view shifts from somewhere in the front of your brain, where intellect resides, into somewhere deep in the reptilian brain, where instinct lives. Suddenly you–your shoe collection, your thoughts about a new car, a new iphone, a promotion–don’t matter. Your happiness will now be directly correlated to the happiness of that mewling blob. As a parent you will now be always wrong and always right, frequently simultaneously (I read that somewhere on Mom-101, can’t remember exactly where, but I can’t take credit for those words of wisdom). This contradiction is just another manifestation of the dizziness you’ll feel the first time you look into the eyes of this… .being… and feel your world shift on its axis. The dizziness doesn’t every fully leave you, either. You’ll be going along just fine and one day, when the baby is a little older, maybe ten or eight or something, you’ll look at the kid out of the corner of your eye and whammo, the love you feel will almost flatten you. That whammo? That’s parenthood.
Double-dipping again today because when it’s List Day followed by Lovelinks Day, well, one column will have to serve for both! So click over to The Good Life for other tips for new moms and click over here for lovelinks #28 (for virgins!)