Advice for New Moms: What I Wish I Had Thought About
There’s a lot we worry about (needlessly) before becoming parents. But on the flip side, there’s a lot that we had no idea was stuff we had to worry about. Or we knew, but we didn’t KNOW deep in our souls. And it's not like worrying is productive, exactly, but it would have been good for us to stop and consider some of these challenges, before we were waist-deep in them.
Here, in no particular order, are stories from experienced moms on what never occurred to them before their children were born. Warning: Some of these are funny, but some stories are very sad.
With my first, I was unprepared for all the feelings of oh-God-what-have-we-done-we-ruined-our-lives. I wasn't cavalier going into the whole parenting thing; I wasn't someone who expected it to be easy. But at the same time that I loved my daughter a terrifyingly huge amount, I also really wasn't sure if our lives would ever be happy again. I remember a childless friend coming to visit when the baby was about 3 weeks old; my friend put her hand on mine and said, "You must be so filled with joy." And there was no way I could say, "Holy crap, no! I mean, yes, I love this baby a ton. But also get me out of here!"
I totally believed that "the hard part" would be when my daughter was a baby and that by the time she became a teenager, I would totally have this parenting thing down.
HAHAHAHA. Ha. Ha.
How much breastfeeding would hurt. And yes, we had lactation consultants absolutely yelling at me that everything looked fine with latch, etc., and that it shouldn't hurt. Well, it does hurt, even if everything is otherwise perfect. Like toe-curling, worst pain in the world hurting. And that giving a baby a bottle filled with formula to save your own sanity won't destroy your kid.
I wasn't prepared for the constant guilt and worry that I'm screwing everything up and failing everyone in my life. Every decision carries so much weight and has far-reaching, and sometimes unexpected, repercussions.
Wish I had considered the possibility that something could go wrong. Both my sons are on the autism spectrum and I was just totally shocked. It took me years to recover from that! I just took for granted that I would have typically developing children.
I had a glorious 10 years of selfish time before children. I was not prepared for the resentment I would feel about the loss of my time ownership.
I had no idea how much it would bring my own sense of mortality to light. Roller coasters became far less appealing. Taking a rowboat on even a placid lake means life preservers at my feet. I started counting rows between my seat and the airplane emergency exit like you're supposed to (but never do). I buckle seatbelts in NYC cabs now. Who does that?!
I didn't know about "screaming until they puke in the car seat." I thought babies slept in the car. BOY HOWDY WAS I WRONG ABOUT THAT. I also was not prepared for projectile spit-up or poop coming up the back and out the neck of the onesie. I just... I had no idea.
I didn't worry about wearing sunscreen (on my face) every single day. Before I had my first son, I wasn't really outside that much. But after he was born, I felt I needed to give him as much outdoor play as possible. Since we lived in a small apartment in Brooklyn, I hit the playground daily for years. I was in the sun nonstop.
I ended up with skin cancer and a lot of wrinkles in a short amount of time.
I never thought to worry about anything going wrong with the birth, so I didn't plan to have a preemie the second time around. I was spoiled by my first delivery, which had been textbook perfection. It never occurred to me that I'd have anything but a repeat performance. But Ben came a month early and spent the first 12 days of his life in the NICU. You can't really prepare for what that experience is like, even if you have warning, which I didn't.
No one told me how absolutely awful the first six weeks are. I was completely shell-shocked.
On the subject of teens, nothing on Earth can prepare you for the first time your kid is supposed to be home, they don't answer their phone and you realize you have no clue where they are.
My first child was stillborn. I distinctly remember cruising past a chapter in a pregnancy and birth book about stillbirth. The first paragraph was basically "You're not going to read this because no one wants to think about it." They were right. I didn't read it. The hospital staff were wonderful and kind, but I do wish I'd taken a really hard hour to think about what I'd want if it happened to me.
How I would NOT change. Everyone told me that your life will change so completely, the child becomes so important to you that everything else dwarfs in comparison. I was shocked to learn that all my other needs and passions didn't go away — they still demanded to be recognized and nurtured. I wasn't prepared for that truth.
Never ever, ever getting a break. I was SHOCKED after going back to work that a weekend meant nothing. I struggled through my workdays exhausted only to be woken up at 5 a.m. on Saturdays like clockwork. I never experienced something so all-consuming. Mentally and physically.
I wish I had known how helpful it would have been to be a rich person.
I didn't know that parenting my own child would trigger difficult memories of my childhood abuse. I strongly recommend that anyone who dealt with severe physical and/or emotional punishment as a child start therapy before having kids if possible, and if not, right away after having kids in order to mitigate the flashbacks and other PTSD symptoms that can occur.
I wish I'd understood the isolation better. I wish I'd insulated myself from it more. Going from going to school every day to going to work every day to going nowhere at all was difficult. And I'm an introvert who loves to be away from people almost all of the time. But it was too sharp a contrast for me and I've tried to prepare other new parents ever since.
I really underestimated the exhaustion. I kept thinking, "I've been in college, I've pulled all-nighters, I've had early-morning jobs!" But there's no preparing. I don't even know what I could've done differently, but it was like the time Southern Californian me took a light jacket to Boston in February because "how cold can it really be?"