We never know how we are going to be as parents until the big day arrives.
You drive this tiny infant home in the back, all buckled and protected by a gargantuan car seat that seems way too big for that tiny body.
It seems logical to think that you will be able to figure it out as you go, and that is indeed what most of us do. As they say, there are no “parent manuals.” We are all totally winging it based on kindly, well-intentioned advice by passersby or family members.
I will tell you what I learned in raising my first child that nobody told me.
I had to use my intuition, my motherly instinct. It was there in its truest form under all of the various layers of self-doubt and well-meant advice from friends.
After a while, I learned I needed to scrap all of their words of wisdom and asked myself what felt right. I had a lot of bumps in the road, and so I hope to distill some of my trials and victories as a means of coming full circle in my parenting journey.
I read all of the “what to expect” books; they gave me a semblance of an idea about what my body was going through during pregnancy. They were a great reference when my baby had an unusual cry (usually gas) and helping with ways to soothe him, but the hands-on reality of parenting, no book or human on earth can prepare you for.
I was born in the 70s, which seemed to be the generation of breast milk is bad, science can do it better, try this concoction of ingredients we call “formula,” no need for skin to skin contact and looking your baby in the eye, just throw them a bottle of this muscle milk and let science take shape in the next generation of boys and girls. We were all going to be little Incredible Hulks of epic proportions.
This is also the generation that said cigarettes and alcohol were good for weight loss. So why are we not more careful who we trust and listen to?
After gobs and gobs of people telling me I had to get a crib, I did. I bought into all of the baby shower bumpers and bedding and was ready for the big day.
My water broke one Saturday morning while I was sitting on the couch eating my cereal a couple of days before my due date. We got to the hospital to learn my doctor was on vacation, which was unexpected.
They gave me a drug to speed up my labor and then asked us to go do laps around the track (me dawning my hospital gown and robe). I only brought wedge sandals (forgive me, I was 22 and it was the 90s). I had no sensible shoes. I didn’t know I would need my runners for giving birth.
“Are those the only shoes you packed?” They asked while smirking at my naivety. They gave me some fuzzy socks to adorn while walking my laps.
I went through it all—the excruciating pain, screaming obscenities, “Give me the epidural now,” although I thought maybe I could handle the pain originally.
And here’s what I wasn’t prepared for:
I had completely skipped over the chapters in “What to expect” about a C-section, but when I wasn’t dilating and my baby’s heart rate started to plummet, they explained quickly that I would need to be rushed into an emergency C-section. I heard beeps and hushed voices from nurses and I was scared out of my ever-loving mind. It was just me and my young husband there, and we were truly just kids ourselves. “How long will it take?” I asked breathlessly. He said, “40 minutes tops and you should have your baby,” I said, “Let’s do it.” I didn’t really have another choice it seemed, but I’m glad they included me in the decision.
Right before the main event, they asked me if I wanted more pain relief and in my fear of feeling pain, I said yes. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much of what happened next.
I couldn’t feel my body obviously but, in addition, my brain was not in the game. I felt some tugging down below and my husband had quickly joined us in the surgery room after getting scrubbed up from head to toe.
I finally spoke up that first morning after my drug-induced haze while family had come and was passing around our new baby, and said, “Hey, I haven’t held him yet.”
After everyone evacuated, I practiced my nursing. I had pumped and they had given him some bottles so it was more challenging I believe than if I would have just started nursing right off the bat. I got increasingly frustrated with the lactation consultant and lost my cool more times than I could count. I didn’t think we’d get it. We pulled through and were eventually able to nurse, but at the end of my stay, we had to go to a quick meeting with all of the other new mothers and fathers—a quick how-to on getting this baby home, and congrats, these little beings now belong to you. Good Luck!
I prayed and prayed my little boy wouldn’t need to eat or cry out during this meeting. I didn’t want to look incompetent in front of the hospital staff and other new parents. I was hanging on by a thread of anxiety mixed with panic.
They wheeled me out in the wheelchair, and I was honestly surprised my pre-maternity pants didn’t fit! I thought this kid was out of me—why am I still so huge?
We got home and sat the baby down in his carrier on our living room floor. It was afternoon and a few days had passed since we left that morning in a whirlwind. What a ride.
We stared at each other, wondering if we had what it took to raise this little man?
My husband worked out of town and had to leave the following week. I would be alone with my infant. I was so scared I slept with his baby bag packed and ready with my clothes on in case we needed to rush out in the night.
I gave up on that damn crib, as it wasn’t conducive to being alone and nursing all night.
I started reading books about Attachment parenting (Dr. Sears was my absolute favorite). We had a rocky start, and I was as complete of a mess as I sound like in this writing, but we made it!
My baby is now 21 years old. But I remember we nursed for two full years. I joined La Leche League and found other moms who thought the way I did about their babies, and I learned what I was feeling wasn’t crazy. I wanted to do it my way and stopped listening to others about what was right for them.
As much as people told me that babies needed to sleep in cribs and “cry it out,” I just couldn’t buy into it. It felt wrong for us. To each their own, and we have to do what we have to do based on our own family’s circumstances, but I am so thankful to not have taken the advice I received from so many well-meaning family members and friends.
People will intrinsically do what they know and what has been done for them, but when we stop to think, we have to ask, “Is this in the best interest of my family?”
When I tried to listen to a well-meaning friend with two children of her own who said I had to “sleep train” my baby and lay him in the crib until he learns to “self soothe,” I thought it sounded pretty good, and I gave it a few goes. But listening to my baby’s cries while I sat helpless outside of his door, and sometimes outside the front door as it was so grueling, I quickly realized this was not for me, no matter how long it took. I couldn’t do it.
Doing my own research was quickly the way to parent and make my own parenting decisions.
A quick story: my little boy had countless ear infections as an infant. We would rush him to the ER in the middle of the night with his blood-curdling cries of pain. He would always have an ear infection and be treated with antibiotics.
One time, I asked his pediatrician if he could have an allergy. I had been researching dairy, and I drank milk at the time (I am now a vegan). I asked her if I stopped if she thought it could help, and she said, “No, it probably won’t make a difference.” I listened to my gut and stopped with the dairy and he never got another ear infection. Coincidence? I think not.
Another goodie: we were in a mommy and me playgroup and the instructor told us the negative effects of sleeping with our babies and was pro “cry it out.” She said if you don’t sleep train your baby, he will still be needing his mommy when he goes away to college. Not true. Both of my kids slept with me in the “family bed” and both gradually moved to their own bed when the time was right.
My son is in his third year of college and doing amazing. Trust me—he’s not needing someone to coddle him for bedtime. He is well-rounded and has formed a secure attachment. I have no guilt about those early years and feel so proud of the connection we established in those first years of his life, even though the first moments started out rocky.
There are so many facts and opinions about childbirth and baby-raising. It seems impossible for us to know “what to expect,” but I wish I would have been more supported and less afraid. I wish I would have known more about what to pack in my hospital bag.
I would love to hear any stories about the birthing experience or things you “didn’t expect” when having a baby.
Just remember, we are all doing the best we can in this parenting journey and none of us have all of the answers. We all make individualized decisions based on what we know at the time.
Oh, and after birth, if they give you a laxative. Take it. Seriously.