Preparing to bring my baby home for the first time was a little overwhelming. Between the recommendations of my friends and family, the adorable products lining store aisle after store aisle, and the advertisements on TV, it seemed like I was constantly being weighed down by expectations of what I just had to do and buy for my newborn. While all of the products and recommendations were great, there are definitely things you don't need to do for a newborn. Advice is great and products can be helpful but, honestly, so much of the unsolicited advice and material goods are unnecessary.
What even the most well-intentioned of people don't realize is that, by bombarding a new mom with everything she should do and should buy, and by telling her how she should feel, they're actually placing unnecessary pressure on a woman that's got more than enough on her plate already (i.e. pregnancy, labor and delivery and postpartum life). We need to be offering women support, rather than instruction, unless instruction is explicitly asked for, in which case, instruct away.
All of the information and advice flying around while I was pregnant for the first time made me nervous. When people told me that I just had to have a wipe warmer or a diaper pale and that I needed to savor every second and breastfeed exclusively and sleep when the baby sleeps, they actually caused me to stress about things that really don't merit a new mother's anxiety. Although I appreciated people sharing their tips to make parenthood easier, I was admittedly resentful that they weren't even giving me a chance to find my own way and allowing me time and space to figure out how I wanted to parent my child.
There are lots of things you can do to prepare for a newborn, but there's definitely some things that are choices rather than requirements, and I found out (in my own time) that the following 12 choices should be left up to a mother's own discretion.
"Breast is best" they told me, and like any mother, I wanted what was best for my baby. So, I put forth my best effort to breastfeed my newborn. Not only did I struggle to breastfeed, but I also struggled with postpartum depression. The longer I put off seeking medical help for my PPD, the worse it got, and it made me struggle even more with breastfeeding. Once I finally reach my limit, I went to the doctor and was promptly put on medication for my postpartum depression. Though I told my doctor I was concerned about not being able to breastfeed because of the medication, she told me that my baby needed his mother to feel happy and stable more than he needed my breast milk. Turns out, breast isn't always best. Not for everyone. The very first day I chose to stop breastfeeding and was able to give my son a bottle (and even allowed someone else to feed him) I felt an immediate weight lifted.
The hospital photographer must have come into my room three or four times after I delivered my son, to ask if I wanted to have pictures taken of my baby. While, yes, this sounded nice and I do love the pictures of newborn babies all balled up in soft blankets, I was also on unpaid leave and needed every spare penny we had. Some of our family members were disappointed that we didn't take pictures, which made me feel momentarily worse about not being able to in the first place. I've got plenty of pictures of my boys now, and I don't lose any sleep at night over not having their pictures taken as newborns.
Having a baby is an exciting event and everyone wants to be a part of it. It was great to be surrounded by loving and supportive people that wanted to be a part of my baby's life, but I felt like my husband and I didn't really get a lot of one-on-one time with our son. We learned our lesson though, and when our second son was born, we didn't allow anyone to come see him until we had enough time, by ourselves, with him first. Some people weren't too happy about it, but I still don't regret our decision.
Of course I love my children, but that doesn't mean it was love at first sight. As I've already mentioned, with my first son I dealt with a very scary case of postpartum depression, and people telling me how happy I must be and constantly asking about how in love I was made me feel like the worst mother on the planet. Sometimes, it takes some time for us to figure out our roles as mothers, and the exact amount time is different for everyone.
No. No, no, no, no, no this was such a ridiculous expectation that I still can't even believe I ever held myself to. For some people, this might be possible and easy, and that's great, but for me it was difficult, and the fact that I even had the baby weight on my radar makes me sad. #ProTip new moms: it's not like the movies. You're not going to walk out of the hospital looking like your pre-baby self. No, chances are, you'll walk out looking like your six months pregnant and, guess what? That is normal.
I haven't been pregnant in 17 months, but I still rock my maternity jeans with no shame because they are the best invention of all time.
Taking care of a newborn requires around the clock care. I was lucky enough to be physically able to do this with my firstborn, but that doesn't mean that I didn't deserve a break or a nap or a shower or, oh I don't know, five minutes to take care of my own needs. Becoming a mother does require a person to be selfless, but definitely not all of the time. Selflessness is a great and beautiful quality to have, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't be allowed to take some time for ourselves, too. In fact, self-care is arguably one of the most important aspects of maintaining your ability to be a good mother.
Sure, germs are a big deal when you've got a newborn to keep healthy, but that doesn't mean that your entire house needs to be spotless and in pristine condition every single day. Since I wasn't completely confident I knew what I was ding when we brought our baby home, I felt like one of the only things I had complete control over was keeping our house clean. Having a clean house is, obviously, a great thing for a new baby, but the extent to which I took my scrubbing and bleaching and washing bordered on psychotic. My husband finally made me realize the error of my ways when he left dirty clothes in the laundry and used dishes in the sink (a very uncharacteristic move for him, as he's an avid clean-freak). When he noticed my confused stares he said, "What? Dirty dishes aren't going to contaminate our baby. Neither is unfolded laundry."
There's so much pressure on new parents to savor every second with their newborns. We're constantly reminded how precious those moments are, and made to feel that we're missing something monumental if we're gone from their sides for even a few minutes. I was not immune to this feeling, so every time my baby was awake, I was by his side talking to him and rubbing his little belly, telling him stories that he definitely didn't understand and informing him of how perfect he was. This was obviously an okay thing to do, except for when my sleep deprivation began to catch up to me. Eventually, I crashed (like most moms do) and took family members up on one of their many offers to watch my newborn while I slept.
Or as Tina Fey says, "Why not cry when the baby cries?" Newborn babies have weird sleep patterns and they spend the majority of their day sleeping, even though it's sporadically. I tried to sleep when my baby was sleeping on occasion, but it never really panned out the way I hoped it would. A 30 minute nap when you're completely sleep deprived is a monumental tease to a mom that really just needs a good night's rest.
I dressed my son like an adorable old man for his first doctor's appointment, but quickly realized what a giant waste of my time it was. If you've weathered any well-child visits, you know that your child is going to be stripped down to his or her diaper, poked, prodded, and examined in the buff, so cute outfits are merely obstacles for nurses and physicians. Plus, what's the point in dressing them up like a doll if you're staying home and they're going to either spit up or defecate in their pretty little clothes, anyway?
I think a lot of women are guilty of trying to seem like they've got their shit completely together after they have kids. We try to keep up appearances while also caring for a newborn and a family, and we slap on a smile no matter how stressed or exhausted we may be because we can't have anyone believing that we're anything less than superhuman. Striving to be a wonderful mother and partner are obviously wonderful ambitions, but we all need to understand that it's okay to feel sad or stressed or so exhausted that you can't think straight, much less prepare a meal for your family when you've got a newborn, and it's okay to ask for help. Accepting support doesn't make us any less amazing.