Advice for Parents-to-be
Here’s my unsolicited advice to you:
1. Enjoy this time before baby arrives. It’s unique. These are the last months for a long time to come where you can put your needs first. Spoil yourselves: dinner dates, movie dates, being super lazy, sleeping in, take a trip, leave work early, take walks, sit in parks reading books, blow money on take out and useless stuff you want, stay up late, go out of town and visit friends, hobbies – oh hobbies…. follow every whim and tell your partner to follow hers/his. Feel guilty for nothing. Feel no “shoulds” – this whole baby thing is going work out fine, no need to fill every moment tackling “shoulds”. Just enjoy silence, stillness, freedom, and being a couple and being an individual. It will change when your child arrives. Not bad, just extremely, very different. Indulge in some major “me time” before it hits.
2) I love to plan and organize. It’s a lot of fun and it’s soothing to me (illusion of control). However, most of this baby stuff you can’t really plan. It’s impossible to know what all you need, but you know what, you can go get it once the kid is here. People will be thrilled to go get it for you. We went to Babies R Us like twice a week for the first couple of months, but whatever, it wasn’t a big deal. You’ll get a lot of stuff through your registry and showers too. Where to put baby’s crib? or the diaper station? Don’t sweat it too hard, because you’ll probably end up moving it. Once she/he is here, you guys will quickly determine where is the most convenient spot for you to change diapers and store burp cloths. It’ll make itself known pretty quick. I tell people I want to know my kid’s gender because everything else will be an unknown – What temperament will they have? Will they enjoy the swing or a swaddle? Will they sleep well? Will they eat well? No one knows. Don’t worry about it because within a month of your kid being alive you’ll have it figured out and you can deal with anything. Everything is flexible and doable. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t do any planning or shouldn’t educate yourself about pregnancy and birth. But don’t stress about planning everything out and don’t freak out about educating yourself on every little thing. Do some of it, enjoy it as you do it, don’t worry about the rest of the “shoulds” — it’ll work itself out.
3) Women (and men) have really strong opinions about the right way to have babies and raise kids. You must nurse for at least one year. You must never let your child cry themselves to sleep. You must always be in physical contact with your child. Disposable diapers are evil. Strollers are evil. Teach your kid sign language or he’ll forever be frustrated. Put him on a schedule. Don’t put him on a schedule. Pacificers are OK. Pacifiers are not OK. Your child should only wear cotton. Only feed your child homemade organic baby food. There’s a lot of “shoulds” and very pushy (and convincing) opinions and authors and “experts” out there. The truth: Every baby has different needs so there isn’t one right way. I think this is what people mean by “trust your instincts” which was something I heard a lot but wasn’t sure what my instincts were. If baby seems to respond best to a certain type of soothing, then that’s the “right” way for your kid. Our kid slept better in a different room than in ours – that doesn’t seem to be true for a lot of kids, but it was true for ours. Our kid sometimes needed to “cry it out” because he was even more upset if we tried to rock and sooth him — in hindsight, he was probably over stimulated and over tired and just needed to work it out on his own. My biggest “should” anxiety was about nursing – I really wanted to be a great nurser and was worried I’d fail. It wasn’t a smooth ride for us and we started supplementing with formula when he was 8 weeks old or so, but as it turns out, he’s totally fine. I was so anxious and upset about “failing” at this, but now I have a smart, healthy, active, and delightful 15-month-old so I guess it was all OK after all. Maybe he would have done better with a mom who wasn’t totally freaked out all the time vs. a mom insistent on nothing but breast milk no matter what the cost.
4) Expect the unexpected. Get educated about birth to feel empowered about it and have a plan for what you want but recognize that often the plan has to change because — guess what — this baby is calling the shots and not you. We took an awesome class that helped us feel confident in our ability to birth this kid. The class wasn’t about doing it a certain way, like natural or with an epidural. Our teacher’s thing was learn what your options are, learn the typical interventions used and what the common consequences and side effects of those interventions are so you can make informed decisions along the way. This worked out great for us — when my water broke before having any contractions, I knew it meant I’d have to induce labor within 24 hours if I couldn’t get labor started on it’s own. I knew what to look for when my water broke to determine if there was meconium or infection (which in turn would have required quicker intervention). I knew some techniques to help get contractions started. I knew that if I was induced, I had a much greater likelihood of needing other medical interventions, including c-section. All of this knowledge helped me stay calm and in control, even as things did not go the way I had expected or hoped.