It occurs to me as I prepare for our second daughter that my expectations of this experience are radically different. For me, the most difficult part of being a new mom was realizing that reality was nowhere near my expectations. This time around, I look forward to our new daughter with fewer questions about the unknown–which means I am both more excited about all the wonderful parts of having a newborn, and more braced against the difficulties that same little bundle of joy will bring.
Things I wish I’d known the first time I had a baby…
1) How much I’d need my mother.*
Claire was born three states away from our family, and at the time I really thought I would appreciate having my mother’s help but that I could certainly get by without her for a few weeks until her Christmas break began.
And then, there I was, weeping in the bathtub just 24 hours after we’d come home from the hospital, overwhelmed by how exhausted I was and how needy my new daughter was. My husband wisely handed me the phone and told me to call my mom. I choked back tears while I asked her in my smallest voice “Do you think you could come a little earlier?”
Mom swept in to Denver about 24 hours later and immediately set to work getting Claire to nurse, helping me give Claire a bath, and shooing me back to bed as often as possible. She kept the laundry going, put food on the table, and managed my sleep schedule while I obsessed over Claire’s eating and sleeping schedules.
This time, she’s already on duty watching Claire at our house, so I know she’ll be there the minute I come home!
2) How fleeting the newborn stage is.
This time, I am really looking forward to all the squeaky noises and jerky little stretches distinctive to newborns. I had no idea these things wouldn’t last for more than a few weeks until my mom (see number 1!) arrived. She positively swooned over all the little infant quirks that I barely noticed in my tired fog. I was so glad my mom was there to soak all of that in during Claire’s first few weeks and appreciate it as only an experienced mom could.
3) How natural it all was.
Even though I knew I wanted an epidural, I was still terrified of the birthing process. Somehow I’d thought it wise to prepare myself for labor by collecting a bunch of horror stories about the worst-case scenarios of birthing experiences and learning to nurse a baby. Turns out, all of it happened quite naturally even though the pain was about as bad as I’d feared (again, I had the epidural and I loved every second of it!) Nursing took a few days to establish, but it was never painful for me.
Within a week (although at the time it was a very, very long week!), with the help of the nurses and my mom, I had slipped pretty naturally into the role of mother.
4) How to get a baby to “sleep like a baby.”
I still don’t know how to do this.
But this time I realize the books are all pretty much worthless on this front so my expectations are a bit more generous. Sure, I’ll still follow the “eat, wake, sleep” method and probably will chart every waking and sleeping moment of my new daughter’s life, but I’ll do it with the perspective that things will all get a little easier to predict in a few weeks. I’ll try not to feel like a failure if my baby doesn’t follow the book’s predictions. (This is one of my husband’s jobs.)
5) How much I needed to baby myself.
I had no idea what time of day or night it was for at least a week after Claire was born. I didn’t know if it was time to wake up or go back to sleep. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d brushed my teeth or taken a shower. Fortunately, I had two people* looking after ME (after all, I was the one who went through the physical trauma!) and assuring me it was okay to sleep or take a long bath or eat a meal.
This time around, I fully intend to take advantage of the situation and enjoy my convalescence.
6) How few things a baby needs.
There is far too much emphasis on registering for and collecting baby supplies. With Claire, I had this panicked feeling that I needed every possible tool or gadget for every eventuality fully stocked in my house before our baby was born. Turns out, the stores were still there (and my mother was MORE than willing to take a trip to Target to buy some cute and tiny little infant accessory) and a lot of the stuff I had, I could have lived without!
This time I have more stuff, admittedly, but I realize how very minimal a newborn’s needs are. I look forward most of all to nursing my little girl, than wrapping her in that cute little newborn swaddle blanket and just holding her. The rest is just details.
7) How much I’d need my husband.*
I put this last because this is the most important lesson I learned. Paul has the more difficult job of taking care of me while I pour all of my energy into our new baby AND of learning to become a new parent himself. He was vigilant about paying attention to how I was feeling and gently helping me to lower my expectations of motherhood when I started getting too high-strung. When both Claire and I were crying in different rooms one night, he came to me first, rightly knowing that Claire could wait for a moment while he hugged me.
I felt like I needed to apologize any time I asked him to do anything for Claire, as if I was the only parent responsible for getting my hands dirty in this process, but Paul eagerly wanted to learn everything there was to know about our little girl and knew he was equally responsible for diaper changing and all the other chores a newborn requires.
This time, I will be grateful for his help and unapologetic for my need of it. He enjoyed our little girl as much as I did and I learned to love him in a whole new way as I watched him tend to our daughter and to me.