Real Talk: A lot’s about to change and fast.
You’re pregnant with your first child and counting down the days before their arrival. You can’t help but click on any and all articles about those early days of parenthood. You want to be prepared. You want to minimize surprises. No one wants to be blindsided, especially with a baby. Those articles you’re reading might be helpful but one glaring truth remains: there were some big omissions I noticed too late (i.e. after I had my baby). Have no fear. Compiled below are the top five things I would have liked to know and you’ll be glad you heard from me before your newborn arrives.
1) Breast milk will get everywhere
If you’re using formula, you can substitute the headline, but I’m certain the same truth holds up. Between my breasts having some quite literal growing pains in the early weeks and months following childbirth, and the need for pumping between feeds, breast milk had taken over my life. It will take over yours too. Plan for it, don’t be surprised by it, embrace it.
Also, embrace the white splotches and blotches all over the place. Seriously, just the other day, I stared at my tile wondering what could possibly be the cause of the faint but definitely creamy dried splatter trailing down the hall. Didn’t take long to remember a week or so before, I had to run upstairs mid-pump session to get my baby because he woke up from his ten minute nap. Where else have I found remnants of my liquid gold? The inside of my overnight duffle bag (no idea how it got there). In the fridge. Around the fridge. All over my clothes. The bathroom mirror. Kitchen countertop. A cutting board. Our mattress and bed frame. The nightstand. My cell phone. The steering wheel. You get the idea right?
And, if you’re like me, and cleaning takes a backseat during this time of constant learning, little sleep, and bonding, you’ll get used to these spots, splats, and splotches becoming permanent fixtures in your home. At least for an unforeseeable length of time.
2) TV will become your (new) best friend
Maybe you already know each other. You spend time together at the end of the night after a long day’s work, or you enjoy binge watching five seasons of your favorite show in one weekend together. Your television or cell phone, iPad, computer screen is not necessarily something new to you.
What will be new is your dependence on it and the frequency of your get-togethers after your baby arrives.
I don’t know why this was such a shock to me, but I distinctly remember, within the first week or two of motherhood getting really upset. NO ONE TOLD ME that I wouldn’t have the use of my free hands anymore. Before I had my baby, I remember thinking I would spend my maternity leave reading lots of books, sleeping when the baby slept, and knitting, or writing, or drawing, or painting. I would have so much free time, I told myself.
Expectation soon met reality. Holding my cell phone with one hand was sometimes virtually impossible with a newborn. My story of postpartum mommydom included breastfeeding challenges to include nipple shields, SNS tubes, pumping between feeds, and all the other stuff you have to do with a baby too. So, most of my days involved holding a baby with one hand and eating with the other, or holding a syringe in my mouth, squeezing my boob with one hand and cradling my newborn as he attempted to latch with the other. My life revolved around the two hour required feedings, feedings that averaged a half hour a piece, and his naps meant it was time for me to pump. Whatever version of motherhood you may be blessed with, you will probably sit for an inordinate amount of time doing some combo of any of the above. You will need to turn to something for company, and that something will be your TV because your baby is really a pretty boring, albeit very cute and squishy, blob right now.
Stock up on some shows and movies you’re excited to watch because that will be your life. 24 hours of the day. Okay, maybe minus the two hours you get to sleep. I’m serious. During this time, I had Netflix and Hulu and ABC apps downloaded to my phone even, because night feedings and night pumping meant that I had to stay awake and focused on very little sleep in the dark next to my peacefully sleeping husband. You need some real exciting entertainment for that to even be remotely possible.
3) You should learn how to go to the restroom one-handed
Picture this: you’re in the middle of a grocery run with your baby in tow when your bladder starts sending you distress signals. You head over to the restroom and are reminded that your cart and all the unpurchased items are not allowed inside. You grab your baby, head to the nearest stall, lock the door, and what happens next is a not-so-fun game of Choose Your Own Adventure.
Don’t believe me? Try unbuttoning your bottoms, shimmying them down, doing your business, hoisting them back up, and re-buttoning gracefully one-handed all while holding your baby with the other arm. Not so easy, huh?
Until more businesses take this issue seriously and install these in their restroom stalls, you’re going to find yourself in this predicament more often than you realize. Changing tables aren’t safe enough to step that far away from your baby, and even though there are times that your stroller comes in clutch with the baby-holding assist, you can’t always rely on your handy dandy baby carrier on wheels. One day you will need to purchase more items than a stroller can carry, or you’ll just be running in for a quick trip and don’t want to lug around that heavy stroller, or you forgot it, or your child is going through an anti-stroller phase. You might even be in for a total treat and have a child who has decided to be stuck to you 24/7 even at home and won’t let you put them down even for a potty break. Rest assured, it will happen to you. Your time will come, it will come many times, and when it does, you’ll think back to this very moment and at least acknowledge that someone out there warned you.
Public Service Announcement: One possible solution is to wear your baby whenever possible in a baby carrier, ring sling or wrap. While the challenges outlined above won’t be completely absolved, you are granted the freedom of two working hands which makes a huge difference!
4) Your living room is really boring
Don’t take this statement personal, so is mine. So is anyone’s once you spend multiple days in a row, hours on end in that same small space. If you have your baby in the middle of the summertime heatwave, or live somewhere that has Snow Days and give birth in the winter, then you could literally be stuck inside your home and have no choice. Even in your unique situation, there is a good chance you have more than one room in the house. Staring at the same walls, the same furniture, the same decor, looking out the same windows, will start to get to you.
For your sake, and for your baby’s sake, rotate rooms throughout the day. Spend your first couple hours in the bedroom, move to the living room, spend some time in your kitchen, the patio, your guest room, the office, the nursery. Use the space you have and hang in each corner. Changing the scenery will work wonders for your mental state.
When you feel up to it, get outside, explore your neighborhood, drive around, and breathe in some fresh air at least once or twice in the day. You have to be intentional about it. If you’re not, you may find yourself realizing it’s been a couple days since you’ve ventured outdoors (I see you; checking the mail doesn’t count).
5) Making your bed every morning might be all you accomplish in a day
It goes without saying that caring for a human being is an accomplishment in and of itself, but in case you’re striving to get more done every 24 hour cycle, it’s time to face a hard truth. Here it goes: You can’t do it all, so don’t even try. I don’t care who you are or how wonderful you are because I thought I was a pretty close at making doing it all look easy. I prided myself on cooking all meals at home, working long hours, keeping my house clean, and still had a social life. Any semblance of that changed real quick after giving birth. Don’t get me wrong, things are still pretty tidy, and I found a way to still cook here and there after a few weeks to recover, but gone is the unnecessary burden of a do it all lifestyle.
Almost a year in and I’m finally coming to a sense of acceptance over what I can do and can’t. I can be present for my baby but I can’t if I insist on having laundry, dishes, and everything clean each day. So, I choose baby more times than not. I’ve learned to have some non-negotables that help me feel accomplished no matter what I get done or don’t get done in the day: make the bed and brush my teeth. I do this right after I put down my son for his nap (because I can’t control how long he will sleep, but I can count on at least 20 minutes even on a bad day). Sometimes I even shower, get work done, make a phone call too. But I don’t count on those things and that helps set my mind at ease and shape my perspective.
There are advocates who swear making the bed each day is the key to success. But, honestly, if it isn’t important to you, choose two things that are and stick with them, no matter what, each day.