When I was pregnant with my first baby, I diligently signed up for all my prenatal classes well in advance. I wrote them down in my calendar and set reminders on my phone. I wanted to feel as prepared and knowledgeable about birth as I possibly could. I watched birthing documentaries and read up on birth stories like it was nobody’s business. What To Expect When You’re Expecting had become my new Bible. I attended all my birthing classes and had my final newborn care class scheduled in my planner a couple weeks shy of my due date. Then, the day before my newborn-care class, the one that was supposed to prepare me for all the unexpected trivia and knowledge needed to care for a brand-new baby, I found myself lying in a hospital bed holding my tiny son. I'd given birth a full 24 hours before I was supposed to take a class to figure out what to do after I gave birth. And so, on my recovery day, I found myself trying to figure out a way to sneak downstairs to the room where the newborn-care class was being held. I was already drowning in questions, and we hadn’t even left the hospital. I had no idea how to take care of a newborn.
The instructor from the class, who was also a lactation consultant, came to my recovery room to make sure everything was going well with breastfeeding. I told her I wasn’t sure. I didn’t know what was right and wrong with breastfeeding. I didn’t know what was right and wrong at all. Everything was so new. There was so much I didn’t know.
I desperately asked for a Readers' Digest version of the class she'd just taught because I was so overwhelmed by the amount of information I simply didn’t know. I was hoping for another how-to booklet that could teach me how to be a mother, because as amazing and transformative as birthing a human was, it didn’t suddenly endow me with the knowledge on how to clean an umbilical cord or change diapers in a way that meant my baby wouldn’t pee out the side of them. Instead, she simply told me I wasn’t missing anything at all.
Over the next few days, I obsessed over missing my newborn-care class. Every time I'd feel uncertain of my decisions, or wasn’t sure where to turn for the right information, I wondered if maybe it was something I was supposed to learn in class.
She insisted that the information they gave me before leaving the hospital would have everything I needed, but mostly, it would come down to intuition.
I wanted to scream. I didn’t feel like I had any sort of motherly intuition. I felt calm and confident going into birth, and then my whole birth plan fell apart. A couple days earlier, I'd planned on having an unmedicated birth, certain that doing so meant I'd leave the hospital feeling strong and ready for motherhood. But I'd undergone more medical interventions than I even knew were possible over during my labor, and I still felt foggy from the drugs. I couldn’t even stand. How was I supposed to find my motherly intuition when I couldn’t remember the last time I had Percocet unless it was written on the wall in front of me?
Over the next few days, I obsessed over missing my newborn-care class. Every time I'd feel uncertain of my decisions, or wasn’t sure where to turn for the right information, I wondered if maybe it was something I was supposed to learn in class. Maybe if I'd just signed up for an earlier class I wouldn’t feel so clueless.
Then, during our first check-up, I found out my son had jaundice so bad that he needed to be hospitalized. He was also severely dehydrated because he hadn’t been getting enough breast milk. The doctor asked if the baby had been lethargic, and then questioned mr about how much he'd been eating, and I didn’t even know how to answer. How much do newborns sleep? How could I tell how much milk was coming out? How was I supposed to know what was normal?
The truth is, the more information I had, the less prepared I felt.
After a week in the hospital, we were finally released home again, and I felt more overwhelmed than ever. I constantly second-guessed my “intuition,” and instead relied on whatever information I could glean from the pamphlets we got from the hospital and answers I found on the internet. In the first month, I felt sure my newborn had developed thrush, that my milk supply was low, and so I constantly woke up in the middle night to make sure he was still breathing, startling him awake if I wasn’t entirely convinced he was alive.
The truth is, the more information I had, the less prepared I felt. The basics that were probably covered in the newborn-care class I never attended were likely things I would've had to figure out through trial and error anyway. You can learn a million ways to soothe a baby, but none of them might work for yours. You can’t really learn what it’s like to wrangle a baby into a diaper by practicing on a doll. You can be told all day long that you need to practice self-care, but sometimes you need to crash and burn before you feel convinced. Sometimes I still wish I had the chance to go to my newborn-care class, but now I know that motherhood is where you really learn how to take care of a newborn — and anything else is a shoddy dress rehearsal for the real thing.