One of the benefits of being the last visitors to Baby Town is having the opportunity to observe your friends and their parenting styles. Over the years, we saw couple after couple stumble their way through the transition to life with a new baby. Whether we knew it at the time or not, we learned a lot just by watching them. We smugly told ourselves we’d be far more prepared for parenthood if we ever got the chance. After all, we were older. Wiser. We’d seen what worked and what didn’t for our friends. Now that Oden has ruled our lives for almost three months, I’m embarrassed to think back to how naïve and even judgmental we were. Having a baby is like being thrown to the wolves, no matter how many books you read or how old mature you are or how long you worked at a preschool or many people tell you, “You’re SO good with kids!” You might be called the Baby Whisperer, but then you have your own baby and all bets are off. Wise words for any parent-to-be: Never say never. What do I mean? Read on.
Before Oden arrived, I said I’d never:
Fill my house with baby gear. I intended to keep a minimalist approach to the STUFF. Who needs all of that extra, rainbow-colored, plastic baby gear littering the house? Keep it simple, I said. And then we had to go through 5 different baby carrier options to find the one that Oden likes. Our big old baby grew out of the newborn clothes within weeks and I scrambled to purchase more clothes that fit him. He also got too big for the sink insert for bath time and we had to graduate to a hammock thing and then a toddler-sized tub. I waited a month before breaking down and going to Walmart (where I never go, on principle) and buying a baby swing. After all, we already had a Pack n’ Play and a vibrating bouncy chair (both of which Oden denied). The swing takes up a huge corner of the kitchen and plays semi-obnoxious “soothing” lullabies…and it’s been an absolute lifesaver. Oden loves it and it’s given us the opportunity to do miraculous things like eat dinner together. Hallelujah! Sure, people have babies all the time without all of these additional items, but it turns out the STUFF can make life a lot easier.
Drive a baby around the neighborhood to get him to go to sleep. When Amanda told me she did this to get Isabella to go to sleep at night, I was appalled. They packed up the kid every evening to drive around in the car?! There had to be another way to get a kid to sleep! And then Oden had a day where he boycotted sleep. His cries brought tears to my own new Mama eyes. We packed him into the car seat to run an errand and were shocked and relieved to see his little eyes droop and close almost immediately. Since then, we’ve been known to take a drive for a little relief or make a few extra laps around the neighborhood to get Oden’s nap started. And I humbly text Amanda each time to say, “Guess what we’re doing?”
Let a baby stay asleep in the car seat. Ha! It takes just one failed attempt to transfer your blissfully sleeping baby out of the car seat and into a crib to realize that sometimes it’s better to just leave him alone for a bit. Why poke the bear?!
Adjust our noise level to accommodate the baby. I wanted our kid to be able to sleep anywhere- to be comfortable in any environment, loud or not. And then I realized how frustrating and exhausting it can be when a baby won’t easily go down for a nap or his sleep gets interrupted. Now, we employ a sound machine near the baby’s nap zone (‘summer night’ is our favorite) and a white noise machine at night. Once Oden is asleep, we silently moonwalk out of the room faster than you can say, “Mr. Sandman.” We tiptoe around the house like members of a bomb squad trying to avoid detonating an active explosive device. The friendly honk of the UPS driver’s van or Cholula’s protective bark at the cat next door are the worst sounds ever. We’ve perfected a sign language/lip reading hybrid to communicate. Do NOT wake up that baby.
Give up on breastfeeding before at least 6 months. I knew enough to realize that breastfeeding wasn’t easy for everyone. But I had high hopes that if I just tried hard enough, I would succeed at nourishing my baby as my body was intended. I knew it could be quite inconvenient but I was ready to tackle the challenge. I certainly didn’t want to feed MY baby man-made formula. I didn’t even take the breast pump out of the box until after we got home from the hospital and it became clear that Oden wasn’t a rock star latcher. Our pediatrician informed us that Oden was dehydrated (aka under-nourished). We did everything to make breastfeeding work: hired a lactation specialist, consulted with our doula, clipped Oden’s tied tongue. I pumped every 2-3 hours after each attempt at breastfeed Oden, used a supplemental nursing system to feed him a combination of breast milk and formula through a hose, drank water non-stop, baked lactation cookies, and took fenugreek and other milk-boosting supplements including placenta capsules. My milk supply continued to dwindle. There was no way I could make it to six months. One morning, when Oden was just six weeks old, the yield from my pumping attempt was less than one teaspoon of milk. I packed away the breast pump with a heavy heart and wished I could write a thank you note to the inventor of baby formula. Without it, Oden would literally starve.
Use disposable diapers. I’d read a horrible statistic about how long it takes one generic disposable diaper to decompose in a landfill. (Spoiler alert: They basically don’t.) I researched cloth diaper options and was absolutely committed to finding the right eco-friendly option for us. I inherited some fabulous gDiapers (a responsible cloth/disposable combo) and purchased a healthy supply of the inserts. Then the breastfeeding chaos took over and became priority, and we temporarily used the same tiny disposable diapers that the hospital did. By the time we figured out how to nourish our baby, he’d outgrown the dozens of gDiapers I’d lovingly tucked into the drawers of the changing table… as well as the batch in the next size up that were stashed in the closet. We still may invest in the NEXT size and make the change at some point, but until then, I’ve come to terms with trying to use the most biodegradable disposable diapers I can find.
Wear yoga pants all the time and (gasp!) out in public. Pregnancy does a number on one’s body. I only gained about 35 pounds with Oden and lost most of it almost immediately after giving birth, but my body is still finding its previous shape. Throw in a still-tender C-section scar and 95% of my pre-pregnancy pants don’t fit properly or are uncomfortable. In those first weeks of new mommyhood, it’s far less about how stylish you look and all about what you can throw on quickly and be comfortable. Elastic is my friend for now, and I’m ok with that. I love the chance to blow-dry my hair and put on makeup and locate something cute to wear (yay summer dresses!), but on a regular basis, it’s just me and the baby… and Oden certainly doesn’t care what I’m wearing!
Bring a baby to a nice restaurant. I used to roll my eyes at those couples who toted a giant car seat into a restaurant at night. Shouldn’t that infant be in bed? What a pain for those people. Can’t they just get a babysitter? Well, now we’re that couple. We’re not at the babysitter phase yet and Oden likes sleeping in his car seat. If he makes a peep, we remove him from the public area so he doesn’t disturb anyone’s meal. For new parents like us, going out to eat feels like a minor miracle and that taste of “normal” life is worth every rolled eye in the room…and more often than not, people comment on how adorable Oden is!
Speak in “baby talk.” Newsflash: Babies like baby talk. And you’ll do anything in your power to keep your baby happy, even if that means singing the same song about the stinky skunk 100 times in a row or hopping aboard the Toot Toot Train when your baby has gas (chugga chugga chugga chugga). As Oden gets older, we’ll talk to him like the little human that he is. I’m confident that the cutesie voices we use with him now aren’t impeding his development at all. It only takes one magical smile from Oden to have me babbling gibberish like a crazy person.
Neglect my marriage. Listen. Marriage is already hard. John and I have always prided ourselves on strong communication, even through really trying times (like three years of fertility treatments and heartbreaking loss). A new baby consumes you, and it’s all hands on deck. Not only did John and I feel like ships passing in the night during the first weeks, but in our exhausted desperation, we stopped being each other’s source of loving support. We caught ourselves taking it out on each other instead of remembering we’re both on Team Oden, together. Luckily, we’ve talked about it, worked to remedy the breakdown, and things are much easier all around!
Hire help. I’m lucky that I don’t have the pressure of a full-time job to factor in to this new motherhood haze. I simply can’t imagine dropping off my tiny, helpless son at daycare all day long; it would be heart-wrenching for me. And yet, the rock star working moms of the world do it every day. When John leaves for work to support this family, my job is to maintain the household and care for our son. Doing that is so much harder to do alone than I thought it would be. No one thing is especially difficult, but there is no break. When John suggested that we hire a nanny for a few hours each week, I resisted. Hard. After all, I didn’t work outside of our home. Hired help seemed unnecessary and indulgent. When Oden was 2 months old, we brought a super sweet woman in to give me a breather on Thursday afternoons. Such a game-changer! I can feel comfortable with the fact that I’m doing my best to raise Oden for the majority of the week, but have a few hours to myself to hit the reset button. I might do errands, meet a friend for adult conversation, spoil myself with a pedicure, or take an exercise class. Last week, Cholula and I went on a long hike, just the two of us, like the old days. It felt like a vacation and I came home rejuvenated. In truth, the short time away actually makes me a better mother to Oden.
If I had just one piece of advice to offer new parents, it’s to ignore what everyone else says to do and find what works best for you and your family. There are plenty of parents who’d scoff at this list of things I said I’d never do because they didn’t do them. There are also plenty of parents who are laughing along at these lessons learned because they’ve been there. Switching gears from child-free to parenthood is tricky and that means something different for everyone- you just won’t know what it’s like for you until you’re neck-deep in it. I’ve learned to have a little bit more empathy for those parents I might have shaken my head at in the past. We’re still finding our way with Oden, and that’s ok. Someone told me, “If you’re worried about being a good parent, it means you’re a good parent.” As a new mom, I may worry about a lot of things, but I never worry about him being loved enough.
One year ago: Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon with Spicy Lemon-Herb Pesto