You’re Going to be a Parent? You’ll Love it. It sucks.

When people tell me they are pregnant, out loud I say, “Oh, how exciting! Congratulations!”
 
But really what I’m thinking is, “I’m so sorry.”
 
Not because I think that being a parent is a terrible thing. I just know that a lot of people are in for some rude awakenings. I don’t care how much you think you know about being a parent, or how many dogs you’ve had, or how many kids you babysat growing up, or how many nieces and nephews you have, or how many much younger siblings you have, you won’t know what it’s really like being a parent until, well, you’re a parent.
 
After giving birth to your first baby, you head home in a surreal state. Are they really letting you walk out of the hospital with this tiny person with no assurances that you know what you’re doing? Shouldn’t there be some required coursework or something? Maybe a certification? A test that you need to pass? Or at least a background check?
 
And once you are home with the baby, it finally sinks in. You are going to be a parent for the rest of your life. You will feel this crushing responsibility for this person forever. And that’s really scary. After all, part of you still feels like you’re a kid, just trapped in an adult’s body.
 
Then you realize that it would have been really helpful if the baby came with a manual or something. Because being a parent is hard. Really hard. It’s by far the hardest job I’ve ever had. Newborn babies require care around the clock. They don’t care that it’s 2 in the morning and you have already gotten up twice to feed them that night. They don’t care that you are exhausted every single day. And they really don’t care if you’re sick. Being sick is for people without kids in the house. You’re a parent and you don’t get to be sick.
 
And as that little baby grows up, they test your patience in ways you never thought were possible. I always assumed I would be able to cope with anything. I’m an analytic thinker, what problems could a child possibly give me that I couldn’t solve? Well, it turns out, a lot. Parenting has given me some of the lowest points of my life.
 
But, I’ve also never experienced such highs.
 
There is so much to love about being a parent. The fact that your child loves you and wants to spend time with you over every single other person in the world. Given a choice, they always pick you.
 
That you get to help this person turn into who they are going to be, and you get to experience it along the way! You’ll feel proud of every single thing they do, as if you are directly responsible for each accomplishment. And each thing they do will feel amazing, as if your kid was the first to learn how to walk, get a tooth, or jump, or write their name.
 
You shift from everything being about you, to things being about your child. And you realize that you don’t resent that you spend more money on them than you do on yourself.
 
And each night as you give a sigh of relief that they are finally in bed and your job for the day has ended, you watch them sleep and your heart breaks a little with the intensity of your love for them.
 
So, welcome to parenthood. You’ll love it. It sucks.
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Advice a New Mom Doesn’t Need

While pregnant with your first baby, you probably imagined the first few months as a peaceful, blissful time where you bonded with your beautiful baby and experienced one of the most wonderful things life has to offer: being a mother.

At least that’s what I was imagining.

Then I had my baby and realized that the first months can be really, truly awful. And well-intentioned friends, family, medical practitioners, or total strangers would offer me these (essentially worthless) pieces of advice:

1. “Take Some Time for Yourself.”

I understand that it’s important to take some time for yourself so you don’t go crazy. My issue with this gem of advice is that it’s nearly impossible. If you breastfeed, the baby needs you to eat, which is about every 1.5 hours around the clock. Even if you pump ahead of time and leave a bottle for the baby, you still need the baby to eat every 1.5 hours (or pump) so your boobs don’t explode or give you mastitis. Also, babies are pretty demanding. They don’t just sit there and let you take a long relaxing bath, or paint your nails, or take a leisurely walk around the mall. They get bored, cranky, fussy, poopy, and hungry.

2. “Sleep when the baby sleeps.”

The first few months of parenthood are exhausting. And people will urge you to sleep any chance you get. Unfortunately they forget that you are supposed to be taking time for yourself. So if you spend nap time sleeping, you don’t get any time for yourself. Or you don’t get a shower. Or you don’t get to eat. Or go to the bathroom. Or do pretty much anything (refer back to #1).

3. “Get some exercise and eat a healthy diet.”

Good thing that my maternity leave left me with so much free time, I had LOADS of time to fix myself healthy lunches and regularly do that postpartum exercise video. Oh wait, no one has ever said that. Instead we all grab whatever is closest and easiest before the baby realizes you aren’t paying attention to them and starts crying. And physical activity? It’s pretty much limited to the exhausted walks around the neighborhood trying to get that fussy baby to sleep. Or walking around the house trying to get that fussy baby to sleep. Or driving in the car, trying to get that fussy baby to sleep. Not physical activity you say? Shoot.

4. “Cherish these moments, they pass too quickly.”

It’s very true that the newborn stage is short, but it certainly doesn’t feel that way when you’re in the midst of it. And it’s impossible to love smelling like spit-up, having poop on your clothes, leaking breast milk all the time, and waking up every few hours at night. No one loves that. When your child is older you look back on that time fondly, because you are blocking out all of the nasty parts.

5. “Make sure you and your spouse have time for dates.”

First, see #1 again. Second, people forget to tell you that you are so exhausted you don’t really care if you ever go on a date again. And you don’t feel that attractive wearing your yoga pants (that’s all that fits) or your maternity pants (since you’re no longer pregnant, it just feels pathetic), so dressing up for a date sounds awful. And for your first baby, you don’t WANT to leave them behind. It sounds irrational since those early weeks are so hard (see all of the above), but leaving the baby behind with a — *gasp* — babysitter sounds way more scary than it did when you were pregnant. They can’t possibly take care of your baby the way you do!

6. “Have other family members and friends help with things like feedings, diaper changes, and cleaning.”

This is challenging for a breastfeeding mom. If you aren’t using bottles at other times, you still have to pump while the baby is eating from the bottle, so you really aren’t getting any help at all. And while people come over, none of them are exactly jumping up to change a poopy diaper. Or cleaning your nasty kitchen. And who will be comfortable asking a friend to do their dishes?

7. “Don’t stress out about schedules, routines, or milestones.”

Ha! Easier said than done. As a new mom you will probably stress out about most things. With my second baby I was able to not worry so much and really enjoy those early days, but as a new mom, you are so scared that you are going to do something wrong and screw up your kid, you worry about almost everything. Some people are more relaxed than others, but I have yet to meet someone who told me they were more stressed out with their second child versus the first (with the exception of course of difficult pregnancies, premature babies, and things like that).

8. “You know your baby best, go with your gut.”

Honestly, there are some things that a mother’s instinct just doesn’t know. Like whether that nasty cough is pneumonia or just a cold. And frankly, with your first, you don’t know a whole lot. Everyone kept telling me that I would start to understand what the different cries meant. My kid had one cry: full-blown, loud, the-world-is-ending crying. And my instincts with him consisted of feeding him every time he was upset. Because I had no idea what he wanted, and no instincts telling me what to do.

So if you are in the trenches right now with your new baby, take heart that over the next few years you will remember mostly good times from those early months with your baby. And if you are past that stage, try to refrain from giving those new moms some of this advice. Just offer to do their dishes.