From the moment a pregnancy is announced, well-intentioned advice floods in like an avalanche and will continue for the remainder of your parenthood, which is essentially for the rest of your natural life.
The majority of the advice is golden. I listen intently, as I categorize the advice depending on the subject (sleeping, feeding, teething, product advice…) and tuck the information into my back pocket, ready to be utilized when the time comes ~ and the time does come!
Everyone is quick to tell you how little sleep you will have and counters the information by advising you to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’; or strongly recommending you not to hold the baby all the time or they will become use to your hands as comfort; or will tell you how baby wipes will become your savior and you will need and use them for absolutely everything (this is very strangely quite accurate)! Or people will be quick to offer breast feeding advice and clothing brand recommendations – these are all very valid and valued but as I am almost five months into motherhood, I have come to understand that while parents share a huge chunk of their knowledge, there is a great deal of information that is not shared or spoken about that is vital to the maintenance of your sanity as a new parent and as the saying goes… knowledge is power.
So here are the things I have learned that no one told me…
You may experience a disconnect with everything else
From the very first antenatal appointment, I filed in forms and answered questions to assess my mental health for any red flags that I was suffering from any form of depression. These assessments continue after the birth by the maternal health nurse and while these assessments are vital, as is the information around how and where to access assistance, there is very little discussion about the reality and disconnect of the settlement of life once the child arrives. This may lead to confusion about whether they are in fact suffering from postnatal depression. It is very normal to take time to adjust. There could be feelings of hovering between your pre baby life of work and the way you socialized and the relevance you felt in those situations and the new life of parenthood. It’s a grey area of transition that truly settles when the visitors slow to a trickle as everyone else continues on as before, while you are still navigating the new structure (and un-structures) of your world.
Everyone tells you to forget about work and just enjoy being with the baby ~ again very valid and comforting advice… but no one tells you that when all of the newness and adrenaline of the birth wears off, you may feel unsettled and lost because you were so use to a hectic and busy worklife that the hours of sleep the baby will grab will leave you twiddling your fingers trying to either get comfortable with the new (and short lived) time you have or your hands, or you will try and fill the time with something you will newly consider as productive.
With all new things, adjustment takes time.
No one tells you that at the end of the day, when you are sitting there in your pajama’s (not even the attendance of religious door knockers or the post man delivering your online purchase could persuade you to change your clothes), that you will suddenly feel pangs of strange guilt at feeling as though you have ‘wasted’ the day, even though you have spent the entire time feeding, sterilizing bottles and making new ones, changing nappies, soothing, settling, playing and educating the baby as well as cleaning the house and ticking off chores all the while you forgot to eat yourself.
No one tells you that you suddenly feel defensive when someone innocently asks you what you did during the day. In your head, polite conversation suddenly becomes an accusing interrogation and you potentially looking crazy or guilty trying to justify your time and you sound as though you did something far worse than ‘waste the day’ with the baby in your pajama’s.
Fear, Anxiety and Irrationality
No one tells you that from the moment the baby is born a switch is flipped to signal the end of your carefree existence ~ and I don’t mean being able to be spontaneous and head out the door with 2 minutes notice for a lazy day at a beach after an hour drive to get there (summer is clearly on my mind).
The ‘parent you’ suddenly becomes fearful, anxious and irrational.
Stories of attempted or actual kidnappings, sexual violence, murders, freak accidents ~ basically any news involving children could cause you to have an anxiety attack as though the news story took place next door and begin to map in my own mind how I would prevent or cope with these situations because I am now one part of a two-man team assigned to the safety of another person (think ‘The Body Guard’ – my husband and I are now sharing the leading role of Kevin Costner and my baby is Whitney Houston!).
And in the moment of any illness (suspected or actual ones) you could be gripped with fear of the worst case scenario and already have decided that you will be the organ donor of whatever the baby needs ~ even if it’s the common cold.
No one also tells you that you will spend the rest of your life watching your baby’s chest for movement of the lungs to signal they are breathing and if there is any moment that you cannot see it – for that split second your heart could feel as though it will fall out through your feet!
Showers become a luxury and a safe haven
If you thought remembering to eat would be challenging, you probably didn’t anticipate that a shower would be even lower on your priority list, or forgotten off it completely until your significant other asks when you had a shower. And when you finally get a few minutes to shower, it is the very best place to press pause and be in the moment of presence and just enjoy the peace of doing something completely for yourself and to breathe. Those moments also give you the space to refuel your energy levels and realign your perspective. A bathroom lock might also be a sound investment for your sanity…
Babies are already wired with their own strong personalities
There are endless pieces of advice on how to raise the perfect child and to mold them from birth. Yet, what no one tells you about is that from birth, your child arrives with it’s own personality and unique qualities that they have been developing and creating for the nine months they were growing before their arrival into your arms.
You often hear as part of relationship advice that you can’t change another person – the same advice translates to a baby. Listen to what they like, what they don’t like, how they like things done. Everyone wants to be the best parent with the best child possible, but in reality you are raising a person who will become what they are meant to be ~ allow yourself to learn from them and merely guide them with your morals and values and then watch them add onto those teachings and develop their own (even in their later years when you loss hope and think they didn’t listen or learn anything of what you tried to teach them).
Enjoy these moments
Everyone will tell you to enjoy these moments … and this is the most paramount advice I hold in my soul to be the truest of the true.
These moments are fleeting and time continues to move forward. Let go of the expectations that may cause you lessen the fulfillment and enjoyment you are getting out of this time. It’s okay not to have reason or answers to everything you do – sometimes the answer is simply ‘because’ and that doesn’t make you a bad parent.
Parent the way you want to ~ take thousands of photos; spend hours just watching them; leave the house work until later; feel okay to just sit and cuddle them because you want one not because they need soothing; put together a cheesy scrap book – not to embarrass them when they are 18 but because you want to capture all of their quirkiness that make up this amazing person you created and you want to hold all of these moments like an ever growing time capsule…and share as much or as little of it as you choose to!
Throw out all expectations of what parenthood will look like because just like every adventure in life, the experience will guide you and sometimes you just need to let go and ride the waves of the unknown adventure.