After the birth of my first child, I left the hospital with an accordion folder full of papers: information on breastfeeding and information on Shaken Baby Syndrome and information on aftercare for my c-section recovery and information on SIDS. They say kids don't come with instruction manuals, but I am here to tell you that mine did, and I pored over every single line. However, even with the trove of resources provided to me, there were things I thought I had to do when I took my child home for the first time that were so not necessary, and there weren't necessarily any pamphlets or booklets telling me otherwise.
You see, in addition to all the pamphlets and informative, medical information, you have a choir of voices telling you what worked for them and what they think will work for you, and that's to say nothing of the voices and ideas in your own head and the cultural pressures our society tends to tack onto new mothers in order for them to somehow, supposedly "prove" that they're, in fact, good mothers. We don't always see the weird, misguided or downright crazy things we're doing in the moment, and we're hardly aware of all the things we don't actually know, until we live through a specific situation and feel our way around the darkness that is naivety.
Of course, every new baby, new parent, and new situation is different, so what I may consider to be unnecessary could be another mother's life-line. But, as my girl Hillary has been saying lately, "There's more that unites us than divides us." With that in mind, I would like to share with you some of the less-than-stellar ideas I had about life with a newborn, and all the things I thought I needed to do in order to facilitate it, in hopes that I can help ease your path down the winding rode that is motherhood, when and if the time comes.
"I Have To Childproof Everything"
Yes, it’s a good idea to know what needs to be be made safer in your home when you bring a newborn into it, but for the first couple of months they seriously can’t do a damn thing without you. For real, they can’t sit up let alone get to the cabinet where you keep your cleaning surprise, open the cap and take a drink. This didn't really enter my mind when I was fretting and fussing over my completely un-baby-proofed home, somewhat convinced CPS was going to make a surprise visit and take my son away because the electrical sockets weren't covered.
Look, if you can get it all done, good on ya! It can’t hurt. But there’s a lot to do to prepare for a baby, and the baby-proofing isn’t strictly speaking necessary right away. So, don’t stress too much if you don’t have child locks on all the cabinets or your stove knobs aren’t covered when you go into labor. It’s fine.
"I Have To Keep The House Immaculate For Guests"
I think it’s natural to want your house to look its best when people come over, but sometimes you just have to know when to let that crap go. For example, when you’ve had a baby cut out of your abdomen and your doctor specifically tells you, “No vacuuming, sweeping, or anything that requires a lot of reaching movements, like unloading the dishwasher,” and you go ahead and do all of those things because someone is coming over to see the baby. (Yeah, I know, I know.) I eventually realized that if someone was going to come over to visit, not only did they completely understand if there was a basket of laundry sitting in the middle of the living room or dishes in the sink, but they probably didn’t even notice because I had an adorable newborn baby that they wanted to hold.
"I'll Sleep When The Baby Sleeps"
So, this is well-meaning advice that I assumed I would easily take once I came home with my itty bitty. But, what this advice doesn't take into account is 1) there is still other stuff to do in a day, like wash the 900 onesies your baby got bodily fluids on, or shower, or make food and 2) after spending so much of your day in service to a tiny dictator, you want to feel like you, either by reading or watching something on TV or journaling or going on a message board, and that reclamation of yourself, which you only have time for when your baby is sleeping, is sometimes as valuable if not more valuable than sleeping yourself. So, sure, sleep when the baby sleeps, but only if you want to and if you don't have anything better to do.
"I Have To Bathe My Child Every Day"
Once that umbilical cord pops off (PS: it looks like cat poop that's been sitting in the litter box for too long. In fact that's what I thought it was when it fell off my son's belly button unbeknownst to me and I saw it lying on the floor) parents have the green light to wash their babies. I was under the impression this was an every day thing. It's not. For one, babies don't get too dirty. Spot cleanings of spit up or poo or whatever are entirely sufficient for every day cleanliness rituals. For another, some pediatricians recommend that you do not bathe your baby every day. My son loved bath time, so I guess it wasn't a total loss, but it did add one more thing to my day that I just didn't need to worry about.
"I Need To Check Baby's Breathing Every Two Minutes"
All told, incalculable hours have been spent staring at my children's chests making sure they rise and fall in steady rhythm. This also goes back to, "sleep when the baby sleeps" because how am I supposed to make sure my children are still breathing if I'm sleeping when they're sleeping? I'd probably be more embarrassed about this one, except I know that pretty much every other mom has done the same.
"I Have To Constantly Entertain The Baby"
Babies do not care about mental stimulation when they're newborns. Not in the same way we care, anyway. You know what's mentally stimulating to a newborn? Looking at your face. So don't worry about games or toys at this point, like I did. My misconceptions and postpartum hormones led me to several crying jags over the course of my maternity leave, because I was convinced my 2 month old was bored. I may have been projecting a bit.
"I Have To Keep All Baby Items Pristine"
With my first child, we got all our baby items new because we thought, "Well, this will go through however many kids we have." Now, I've mentioned body fluids a lot in this article already but I cannot stress how big a role they play in a child's infancy. Anyway. My little dude peed, pooped, and threw up on everything, including all those shiny new sheets, clothes, strollers, rock-n-plays, and anything else you can think of. At first, I would feverishly rush to the internet, Google, "How to get X stain out of Y," and spend the next hour fretting about it. Eventually, I realized that it really isn't worth it. You do what you can, but you don't freak out because, honestly, it's pointless. Some things can be salvaged, some things cannot, and some things are just going to be a bit "used" moving forward.
"I Have To Be Available To Everyone"
I figured, "Well, if someone is willing to make the trip to come see me I should welcome them graciously no matter how I'm feeling." This is kind-hearted and misguided, as so many kind-hearted things are. Fortunately I had wonderful, non-pushy friends and family members who didn't invade my space or overwhelm me, but so many people I know who adopted this policy wound up having legit breakdowns because they couldn't have a minute to themselves, because similarly kind-hearted people wanted to come over to "help." Repeat after me: you can say "no" to would-be guests. Suggest a time that works for you or let them know that you're laying low for a bit, but you really appreciate their offer to visit. This is important recovery and bonding time for you: don't sacrifice that by filling your hours with hordes of aunties and college friends who want to barge in to smell the top of your baby's head.
"I Have To Make Sure Everything Stays The Same For Child #1"
Okay, so a couple years passed after my son came along before I went and got knocked up again. About 9 months after my son's second birthday, almost to the day, my daughter was born. I was ecstatic, to be sure, but also tremendously worried because I'd gotten very used to one child, whom I loved, and he was used to a certain level of attention (aka all the attention). I was determined that having a new baby wouldn't change his life whatsoever. Ha.
"I Have To Always Have My Shit Together"
Even if you've been there before and the precious newborn you just brought home isn't your first, bringing a baby home puts you through the damn wringer every. single. time. Don't worry, it's not just you. Whether it's your first or your fourteenth: you're never 100% ready for what these little bundles of joy and sleeplessness have in store for you. But perhaps you can look back at my mistakes listed above and avoid a few pitfalls of your own.
Good luck out there, kids.