7AM again and the nightshift is just ending. I have been awake nearly as much as I have been asleep, but I don’t mind, this is my favorite part of our routine. Instead of lying in the basinet, she is next to me, our last attempt at sleep before morning is officially here and she refuses to lie in bed. Her eyes are open and staring at me, her warm breath on my cheek, our faces just inches from one another. The sweet smell of baby fills my being. She is happy, I am happy, it is one of those moments where nothing else matters.
In the last weeks of pregnancy people constantly told me, “Enjoy being pregnant, your life will never be the same.” As silly as it sounds now, those words filled me with trepidation. I was overjoyed to become a mom, but suddenly I found myself clinging to the life my husband and I shared alone. What I did not realize is I would never want my life to be the same.
In the last four weeks I have discovered many other things I did not expect about becoming a parent, some trivial, some life-changing:
1. The body changes during birth and recovery are more manageable than they sound. All the tongue-in-cheek blog posts, while honest and enlightening, made the transformation seem like the world’s worst torture. While it has definitely not been a day at the beach, all of the (sometimes intense) physical discomforts have been overshadowed by the excitement of being a new parent. In other words, ladies, don’t worry about all the gruesome side effects, you won’t mind nearly as much as you thought you would.
2. Hormones. I did not expect to cry as much as I have in the last few weeks. I cry when I’m happy, sad, scared, frustrated, overwhelmed, watching a movie, watching a sitcom… I will probably cry at some point while writing this post.
3. No matter how much thought goes into each parenting decision, someone will think you are wrong. Sleeping arrangements, breast feeding, supplementation, you name it, someone out there will have a very different opinion and not be shy about vocalizing it. This has been one of the hardest lessons of new parenthood. I did not expect to care what others think. I am only now, after a month, beginning to emerge from the anxiety of not pleasing everyone.
4. Nothing in my life has been as animalistic as having a child. From the intensity of birth to the insane feeding schedules and even more insane sleeping routines, I have never felt so connected to my physical self. Even more shocking is the intensity behind my need to protect my child. When the dogs move too quickly in her vicinity, an instinctual ability to destroy any threat rises inside me. This power, while somewhat superhuman, is so primal it scares me.
5. Sleep is relative. When I heard friends talk about how they were still getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night with a new baby but that the sleep was broken up, I thought, alright, no biggie, I already wake up 5 times a night to pee while pregnant. What I did not expect was how difficult it would be to feed a restless baby for hours on end in the middle of the night then go back to sleep for an hour and a half and wake up to do it all over again two or three more times. But, here is the magic. Somehow, by 10-11AM, I feel human again because those sleep chunks really do add up. I am both exhausted and rested beyond what I expected.
6. Yoga has made my postpartum life better. I am not supposed to exercise for another couple weeks. I thought I would ignore this advice, but the truth is, my body is not ready to move more than required. However, yoga has taught me to find peace in even the smallest moments. I slip into meditation while I nurse. I let go of every muscle in my body for savasana when I lie down in bed. I breathe deeply while she screams. It all helps.
7. Discomfort over others holding my baby. I thought I would have no problem passing the baby around. Instead, I find myself waiting for people to ask to hold her and then insisting they wash their hands and grilling them about their recent health histories. Then, when they are holding the baby, I watch where they put their hands, cringing if they touch their eyes or scratch their face, uncomfortable if they touch their lips to her, or worse yet, stick their finger in her mouth…
8. Extreme pleasure over others holding my baby. Yes, I know what I just described above, but there is also a true joy in watching the people I love pour their love into her, kisses and all. At family dinners, she is adored, half a dozen faces surrounding her in those rare newborn eyes-open moments. My heart is warm in knowing how many people she has brought happiness. I knew others were excited, but I did not know how happy a new baby could make an entire clan of people. So, I guess I am just going to have to be a little less neurotic about sharing germs.
Above all, I did not expect becoming a parent to happen as naturally as it has. I had so many concerns before we decided to have a baby. I worried about finances and other life goals. I was concerned I would stop writing or waste all the time I spent setting up my classroom and establishing myself as a teacher. What I did not expect is that none of this really mattered. It could all be figured out with time and the things I thought were most important really pale in comparison to the intense emotions of parenthood. I would not trade what we have now for anything.
14 thoughts on “What I didn’t expect about the first month of parenthood”
What a precious little baby girl and she looks so attentive, like she’s taking in a whole world…and she is 🙂
Thank you! I’m obviously smitten 😉
As you so very well illustrated, there is no love like mother love.
Love your perspective. You have such a grounded mind that I appreciate. New parenting is always portrayed as so frantic and hard. Though I imagine they are both it is refreshing to hear the peace that comes with the chaos as you have shared. Just lovely.
Thanks Ashley! While there are definitely really hard moments, overall I have found it much more peaceful than I envisioned!
Your opening paragraph … just describes so perfectly in little details what is the absolute unconditional love that you experience with your newborn.
1. The same goes for me, in a different way. There are so many things we all think are so important and then that baby is born and so much of it goes away. Where it’s the “gruesome side effects” or whether or not my hairline is receding or this or that happened at work … it just doesn’t matter as much as it used to.
2. Yeah, that may never change. I cry just reading your post and looking at your pictures on FB.
3. Do what you know is right and screw the people who disagree.
4. That protection impulse is also not going away. You are the mama bear and you’re gonna be that for a long time.
5. I only got a week off before I went back to work, so I didn’t have the “luxury” of extra sleep through the morning. I look back on those first few months and marvel at how I was able to function on such little sleep when I went to work after the rough nights — of which there were many for the first 2 1/2 years with my oldest.
7 and 8. Ummm, yeah. As I posted over at FB — I loved seeing those pictures of your other family and friends holding her. The expressions on their face, the … well, there is so much there. So much good. So much joy.
Thanks for sharing your experiences and pictures. Gives me warm fuzzies, a thing I need more of these days.
I am typing one handed (baby asleep in other), so my response will be a little brief! It helps to know I’m not alone in my experiences. I really think dads get the short end of the stick in having to return to work more quickly than mom, I don’t think I’d survive that degree of sleep deprivation! 🙂
Beautifully expressed, as always-and astoundingly wonderful (though understandable!) how you feel about motherhood. It’s true, so many folks only talk about the difficulties of new parenthood, which is sad. And absolutely YES, Eloise has made an entire clan happy-can’t wait to see you all again soon, and cuddle that baby!
Thanks Dani 🙂 Excited to see you Sunday!
Your Mommy instincts are spot on. Just smile an tell people with suggestions…I have it filed. I could not be more proud of you an Alex. Ellie will lack for nothing in her world. I love you three.
Thanks Cathy 🙂
Congratulations Olivia to you and your family! She is lovely. I love reading your posts about parenthood, there is such a gentleness in your writing. All the best, Nicole
Thanks Nicole! It is definitely an adventure 🙂