Now, before we jump into this post I just want to throw out a disclaimer. This is mine and my husband’s personal experience of becoming parents for the first time. We’re approaching our son’s first birthday (YAY) and the impending birth of our daughter (Lord help us!) all within a few months. PLEASE read this with some dry humor, common sense and the understanding that YOUR own experience may differ greatly.
How would you like to be sitting on a beach, toes in the sand, hot sun warming you through with your favourite cold drink in your hand? You hear the ocean waves gently slapping the shore but other than that it’s quiet. Serene. Blissful. Calm. Then, imagine that within mere seconds as a flock of angry seagulls craps all over you and into your drink, a tsunami sucks all the water waaaay out into the ocean and before you even have chance to wipe the bird crap out of your eyes……
Parenthood. (Also I’m totally just being dramatic)
Ok, let’s get serious for a few hot seconds. Parenthood is getting a really bad rep lately or so it would seem, am I right? I think it’s beautiful that we’ve created a really strong community for moms (and dads) struggling through postpartum because let’s be real, there are some struggles. What I think probably isn’t so great is if all people walk away with is, “PARENTING IS HELL ALL THE TIME!” You know what, sometimes it is hell, lets be honest. (like when your baby is waking up every 45 minutes through the night for a month, literally. Or when you develop mastitis for the THIRD TIME in 12 weeks.) But it isn’t hell all the time, it’s so much more and I want to share with you the ups and downs of parenthood, as a woman closing in on her FIRST YEAR as a new mama!
I would be the first to share very openly about my struggle through extreme postpartum anxiety or PPA. I was diagnosed around 8 weeks PP and after trying antidepressants, I found that all natural supplements, sleep training my son and eventually acquiring more sleep made a huge difference. You can read more about that here! At 5-6 months pp I found out I was pregnant, again. Yes. That means my children will be 13.5 months apart. Please, insert guffaw here. Or if you feel pity for me, ok, please send chocolate! Just don’t be like the person that said, “Why are you so surprised, you weren’t really preventing it were you?” First of all WOW ASSUMPTIONS. Let’s get one thing clear here people-surprises happen all the time, regardless of prevention. Someone in my own family had a vasectomy and they still conceived 8 years later-yeah so don’t go gloating over your vasectomy either.
Moving on. Let’s talk about some very specific things relating to parenthood, especially first time parenthood and along the way I’ll try to give some helpful hints or tips.
- Labour and delivery! So you’ve read every book right? You’ve talked to countless other mamas about their birth plans, you’ve researched what, when where why and how. I applaud that because I did the same thing and it helped me go with the flow, when things went a little wonky. Nothing ever goes the way you think it will, with labour and delivery. I should know! I started out at our midwifery clinic in the birthing suite and when I had my water broken at 9.5 cm, I had to be transferred to the hospital because there was meconium. By “transfer” I had to walk across the street while in HARD labour to the hospital because the clinic was out of wheelchairs that day. All that to say-be prepared for anything to happen when birthing time comes because anything can happen. In all seriousness, my husband and I talked about this so many times before our son was born and even now as we prepare for a home birth with our daughter. We don’t want to be traumatized by the mindset of, “I just didn’t expect that to happen.” Birth has way too many variables! Nothing is set in stone, except that it is painful and incredible.
The First Week! Apart from the pain of labour and delivery which is quite shocking regardless of how it happens, that first week or so with a newborn is a gong show. Unless you’ve hired a night nanny (hey I don’t judge, do it if you need to!) there is absolutely no way around the insanity of the first week. You.Cannot.Escape.It. You will be amazed at how well you function on literally zero sleep. Dads, if you think you will be getting some shuteye-think again. You’ll be up just as much PLUS taking care of mama! My husband tried sleeping in the other room and he was so anxious about us that when he finally came back to our bed a few nights later, he relaxed. We all did! We needed to be together. My advice would be to limit visitors to little or none. Have tons of food stocked up (freezer meals are great) and just snuggle in together as family, enjoying this CRAZY, sleepless ride.
Postpartum Recovery. This is something that should be given so much more respect, time and patience than it is currently given in today’s society. It makes me ill to think that in the US, women barely get maternity leave. I can’t even fathom having to leave my baby at a few weeks old, let alone feel physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to WORK a job outside the home after just having birthed that baby! Did you know there is such a thing as the fourth trimester? YES. It’s the time necessary for a woman to heal and recover from something as HUGE as birth. For this new mama to learn to feed her new baby, this takes time. It’s the time necessary for a family to adjust to all the newness that a baby brings, to bond, to eat, sleep and nourish their bodies. It’s NOT the time for everyone to put their expectations on this new little family, to demand to see the baby, or to stop by for long visits. A word of encouragement and advice to the family members and close friends of people expecting a new baby: Support them by asking them what they need. Don’t assume you know what they need. Don’t take it personally when they want to be left alone that first week or so, so they can bond as a family. Don’t put heavy expectation on them to be at events, family gatherings, or anything like that for the first couple months, at least! Let’s just all take a deep breath, shall we? WHEW!
Sleep. Look I know I’ve already talked about the lack of sleep you will face in the first week as new parent. But, really that is just the beginning and while it does get better in some ways, sleep is not a battle you will ever win in the game of parenthood, my friends. I struggled with extreme postpartum anxiety, partially brought on my postpartum insomnia which resulted in lack of sleep. It was debilitating, I’m not going to lie.
I’ve never experienced anything like the lack of sleep that parenthood brings. That being said, when my son was old enough, around 3-4 months, I started a very basic daytime routine with him. We had already been doing a solid nighttime routine since he was a month old. Routines were a game changer in our home!
Yes, I sleep trained my son. Yes, I let him cry it out. And yes, it all resulted in a happier baby, happier mama and happier dadda who all get decent amounts of sleep! It is what we had to do to survive as a family. You will have to figure out what you have to do, in order to survive as a family. If you are interested in some sleep training tips/tricks, you can read more about those here!
Time. Once baby makes their grand appearance, be prepared to relinquish all the time you had to do whatever it was you wanted to do. That sounds bleak but it’s the truth. Babies are the most time-consuming creatures you will ever encounter. I think one of the most difficult adjustments as a parent (besides lack of sleep) is not being able to do what you want, when you want. The reality is this-now you have someone who is completely dependent on you to survive! Here is an honest admission-I’ve given my son a bottle while I’ve sat on the toilet. He was hungry and I had to really GO! You know-I never knew how selfish I was until I became a mom. I’m really grateful to be a stay at home mom but I’m also very aware of how I still fight the urge to serve myself, over my son. Note-self-care is really important and it is something you need to discuss with your husband/partner, whatever that self care looks like for YOU, personally. Don’t face burnout because you aren’t letting other people help you. You are important as a parent and you need to logically find time to take care of yourself so you can take care of your baby! On another note-be prepared for the hermit life if you value sleep, routine and peace. My husband I are totally fine with the fact that we don’t go out in the evenings, we rarely make plans with friends and dates are like holidays in our home right now. It’s a season, ok? It’s not forever! It’s worth it! On a more serious note: if you feel like you are struggling with serious postpartum depression and anxiety, please don’t hesitate to get help. It’s crucial for the care of yourself AND your baby that you get help! You can read more about my experience with PPA, here.
Decisions. Wow. I had no idea how many important decisions I’d be responsible for making, for my son. It’s probably a good thing I had no idea because I might have had a panic attack. Everything from immunizations, to circumcision, to breastfeeding, to formula, to sleep training, co-sleeping, diapering, potty training and the list goes on! That being said, there were some very specific things that my husband and I discussed as well as decided on together, before our son was born. These things are all personal decisions that you will make as parents, together. Trust your instincts, do your research and don’t let negative Nancy get you down! Surround yourself with like-minded people who encourage and support you. Everyone has an opinion but what matters is this is your child and you have to live with the outcome of the decisions you make for them. You can do it. You were made for this.
Money. Babies cost money and then they don’t. Contradictory, much? I think how much a baby costs is going to depend on a few factors. Obviously if you are exclusively breastfeeding, that is going to cost less than if you have to purchase formula. If you are someone who needs the newest, latest, best baby gear on the market, then yes that will cost you. If you plan on going back to work after maternity leave, that will cost money. Have these conversations before you even get pregnant, seriously! I know it might seem silly but it isn’t. You will avoid a lot of arguments with your spouse/partner if you chat these things out and have some sort of plan. I will say, after having one baby and preparing for another, that clothing and toys are the biggest waste of money when it comes to babies and kids. We haven’t bought much in term of toys for our son but he would much rather play with a zip tie or cardboard box than some new fancy toy. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It has taught me not to run out to purchase the latest toy craze. If you are ok with secondhand items, you will save a lot of money in terms of clothing, gear and toys. Babies and kids are messy little things-they don’t need fancy clothing. I keep my eye out for solid brand names (used) in basic, gender neutral colours. This keeps my son’s wardrobe simple, durable and easy when he only has a few pairs of tops, bottoms, socks and shoes to choose from! Keep it simple, you won’t regret it and neither will your bank account! Having a family doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I wrote about the reality of affording children, here. You can also read about ways in which we practice frugal living, here.
The Future. We all like to have some kind of 5-10 year plan, right? I’m here to tell you that there is only so much you can plan for, when it comes to having a family. I’m also speaking from the experience of babies only. My husband and I have some plans in the making of how (and where) we want to raise our little family. It’s great to have some plans. Approach the future with an open heart and mind, I think that makes change so much easier to deal with
In closing, I want to get a little serious with you, because I think I’ve been hard-hitting and hopefully a little funny!
I love being a mom and my husband loves being a dad. I think that our happiest moments are usually at the end of the day, when we are bathing my son and putting him to bed. Not because the day is almost over and we are getting a break, although that part is nice. We love this time of day as a family, with our sweet boy. He giggles and splashes in the tub. Lately he’s been trying to stand (a little scary) and he loves being silly with us. It’s evident that he’s secure and safe with us. I love watching him take his bedtime bottle because it reminds me that he is still just a baby and these moments are so special. We take turns rocking and snuggling him before zipping him up in his sleep sack and putting him to bed. And every night a part of my heart twinges as I close the door to his room because I already miss that blonde haired, blue eyed little boy who has stolen my heart. My husband and I usually watch him on his monitor for a while as he rolls around, plays with his lovey and rubs his sleepy face. Every day I reminded of the awesome responsibility we have as parents. God has entrusted us with this human being to raise as we see fit, essentially. It’s often an overwhelming task that requires a lot of juggling, re-thinking, resting, resetting and love. I am forever grateful to be a mama, no matter how hard it may be at times. It’s always, always worth it. You can make every day count for something wonderful!
Remember this my friends, you can do it. You were made for this.
Best wishes on your parenting journey. I hope you laugh, cry and love through all of it!