Several readers of my monthly newsletter have asked in recent times, “Where the hell have you been?” If you haven’t seen me in a while, you may not know that I’ve given birth to a new venture: a baby boy named James, born in November 2014. He’s pretty cute if I say so myself, and has so drastically altered my universe that it’s hard to even remember what life was like before he was born.
Of course, there is the love that you feel (bursting and unconditional), coupled with the fear that this engenders (what if something happens to him?). And then there is the fatigue (chronic and unending), that can make you look and act like a crazy person at times. As a first time parent, I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but nor did I imagine it would be this hard. Going to work is a doddle compared to the challenge of raising a child. Now that I’ve managed to survive the first 3 months, I thought I would share some of the learning that may have broader application beyond the newborn phase.
You think you’re in charge. That’s so cute!
My husband was an absolute trooper. Together, we read all the books, did the classes, hospital tours, endless rounds of doctor visits. We learned how to hold, swaddle and soothe a crying infant (much easier when they’re made of plastic!). We even took a class on “hypnobirthing,” that through the magic of mind control, promised us a calm, pain-free and “natural” birthing experience. But once we arrived at the hospital, that magical Unicorn quickly disappeared, replaced by modern medicine: induction, twenty-six hours of labor, followed by emergency C section. In the end, I was grateful just to make it out of there alive. A healthy baby was an added bonus. You think you’re in control, until you’re not.
Don’t listen to the odds.
Being of “advanced maternal age,” I was told that the odds of having a completely healthy baby may be stacked heavily against me. At 41, it seemed foolhardy, dangerous even. Had I listened to the “March of Dimes” guidelines, I would never have even tried. But deep down in my soul I knew that I wanted to be a mother, and all the scaremongering statistics would not deter me from that. I didn’t know if I could, I just knew that I had to try. We all have our deep desire, our impossible dream. If it’s in you, don’t deny it. And for heaven’s sake, do not listen to “the odds.” They are an abstraction. Trust your intuition. Then trust it some more.
Go Skin to Skin.
When we first took our little boy home, he was totally inconsolable. That first night was the absolute worst. He wailed like Janis Joplin, and would not stop. Then my husband remembered something they did in the hospital – skin to skin. The baby was plopped, naked and howling, onto my chest and it calmed him right down. He even slept for an hour or two. Overwhelmed by this unfamiliar world, he just needed to know we were close, and would protect him. There is no substitute for skin to skin contact in baby world. Or face to face connection in the real world. It says, “I’m here. I see you. I’m listening.” There is no electronic device that can do that for you.
Wait and See.
Like a lot of first-time parents, we tried to be as “ready” as possible, buying ahead of time all the things we thought we would need. The trouble is, you don’t know what you’re going to need or if any of it will even work. We of course bought the wrong formula, and within two weeks, he had outgrown all of the newborn clothes and diapers. Far better to wait and see what you’re going to need, before actually buying anything. This applies to other investments as well. You may think you really need it, but chances are you probably don’t.
Sometimes the thing you don’t want, is exactly what you need
Parenting in the early stages can feel a lot like being a shift worker in a factory: endless repetition of mundane tasks, until you don’t know who you are anymore. Feed, burp, sway, swaddle, wash. Now rinse and repeat. Infants are the drill sergeants of parenting boot camp, and if you let them, they will break you. Sometimes, I’d be so spent that the thought of even going outside would exhaust me. “No thanks, I’m good!” I couldn’t see that I needed saving – from myself. So welcome the friend or partner who says to you, “C’mon, you’re coming with me.” If someone says to you, “You look like you could use a break. Let’s go grab a coffee,” take the offer and for heaven’s sake, go! Get outside. Sometimes a simple change of scenery may be just what you need to regain your composure.
There is never a good time
There is never a good time to have kids, make a big decision or begin something new. The conditions will always be less than ideal. One thing this has done is increase my understanding of, and empathy for my own parents, and indeed all parents who somehow manage to cobble together a life that includes time for work, rest and play. It is the ultimate pay-it-forward endeavor – a lifetime of compromise and sacrifice for which you may or may not get thanks.
In the words of Dorothy Lessing: “Whatever you are meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”