A year ago, I was 36 weeks pregnant. I was anxious, excited, and above all, I was READY CAPS INTENTIONAL to meet my new baby! She was kicking away in my belly, getting more and more impatient, just like Mama. I had washed, folded, and put away all her clothes, my hospital bag was packed, I had read every single baby book, and now all I had to do was wait. My due date was Christmas Day, but I was hoping she would come a little early, if only to ease my aching back and swollen ankles.
On a Wednesday two weeks later, I was feeling tired and under the weather and finally realized about 11:30 pm that I was in labor. I called Frank, who was at work, and told him it was Go Time, but not to rush home, since the contractions were very weak and over ten minutes apart. I took a shower, got dressed, and watched Jimmy Fallon. Within an hour, the contractions got much stronger, and suddenly they were only two minutes apart! I thought first babies were supposed to take forever, so you could commiserate with other Moms about being in labor for 36 hours? Frank was home at that point, rubbing my back and letting me squeeze his hands in a death grip as I got through each wave. We arrived at the hospital, got settled in, and yada yada yada Veronica was born at 9:35 a.m.! It was incredible to finally meet this sweet baby and the adrenaline and parade of visitors kept me giddy until that evening when I drifted off to sleep with her swaddled next to me in her bassinet. What felt like 30 seconds later, I was woken up by her tiny squawk, demanding milk and wondering why the hell it was so cold in the outside world.
It was at that moment, not when I had pushed her out into the world that morning, that the gravity of what it actually means to be a parent hit me. I was beyond exhausted, physically and emotionally, and my whole body was sore. I had bruised my tailbone during labor and it was excruciating to put any pressure on it. I felt, you know, pretty much how every woman who has just given birth in the history of the world has felt: miserable. But my baby needed—in the true literal sense of the word—me and her Dad to survive. Half-awake, I jumped up from the bed without thinking, like Pavlov’s dog. Biting my lip to keep from yelping out in pain, I picked my little bundle up. I snuggled her close and fed her. After a diaper change (more squawking!) I swaddled her again and she fell right back to sleep. To be honest, the reality of this new responsibility was humbling. Scary, even. The next few weeks were a blur of feeding, diapering, swaddling, and crying (all of us) as we navigated this new world of family-hood. It was amazing and intense.
Fast-forward to today, and I can’t believe that 6 pound, 15 oz infant is now running around the house, dropping her toys and yelling “UH-OH!” at the top of her lungs. She is a happy, giggly little gal with a stubborn streak. She loves cucumbers and ice cream (sometimes together) and Bruno Mars. If you have a drink with a straw, you have to give the straw to her. That’s one of her rules, and she won’t compromise. She also loves to give hugs now, and offers to share her snacks and toys with us and the cats. She really is such a sweetheart. Although we have still have the Terrible Twos to look forward to, we have cleared the first year hurdle!
As I’m planning her first birthday party in a couple of weeks, I keep thinking back to this time last year, when I was waiting anxiously, hoping everything was going to be all right during labor and delivery, not sure how I was going to be as a parent, a little sad that our child-free life of spontaneity was going to end, and above all, excited to finally meet this little creature whom I already felt a deep connection to. I realize now that many of the things I was worried about, the things that took up so much of my mental space, were merely blips on the radar, while other aspects of parenting I thought I was completely prepared for tested my strength and perseverance.
If I could go back and tell my 36-weeks-pregnant self a few things, here’s where I’d start:
Don’t Read the Internet. We all know the internet is full of weirdos, and fake information is everywhere. For some reason, the “pregnancy industry” seems to have more than its fair share of false and misleading information about everything from breastfeeding to fertility to baby products. And since there is a lot of judgement and fierce debate around many aspects of pregnancy and child rearing, there are thousands of websites promoting methods, products, and philosophies that have no basis in research, or even reality sometimes. The truth is, these sites are fairly easy to spot for what they are, but for me it was more frustrating than anything else. All I wanted was a simple answer to a question I had, it was 3 a.m., and I was too tired to think straight. Instead I had to weed through a bunch of nonsense message boards and “articles” written by content farms to find solid information.
Oh, and speaking of the pregnancy message boards: they are something else. I swear they must be a front for some kind of NSA spy program, because they make no sense and use certain acronyms and initials for things that don’t need to be abbreviated. A typical thread will start something like this: “My DS and DH are out and I’m at home with my DD and I’m 30 wks and I’ve had some bleeding now for 3 days and having some contractions what do you guys think it is?” And the replies would be matter-of-fact, offering advice on what it could be, instead of things that a normal person would write (“Um, call the doctor maybe? Why are you posting this question to strangers on the internet, it sounds terrible and serious...what does DD mean?? WHAT IS HAPPENING????”). It was just all so odd and not helpful and potentially dangerous. Oh, and Spoiler Alert: DD = dear daughter, DS = dear son, DH = dear husband. Not sure why these ladies don’t have time to type “husband” or “son” but are able to bang out “amniocentesis” without a second thought.
Save the internet for Netflix documentaries and setting up automatic bill pay and cat videos (all necessary when you are home in January with a newborn), and go radio silence on any sites pregnancy related.
Need Help? Ask Baby. I have been really fortunate to have a great support system of friends and family, and our pediatrician, to turn to when I had a question or was struggling with some aspect of baby care, but I never thought the baby herself would actually be a resource. I am amazed at how early Veronica’s personality emerged, and her preferences for certain ways of doing things. I always assumed newborn babies were sort of oblivious to the world, as long as they were fed, clean, and snuggled. For example, every time I tried to feed her “on the go” she would fuss and turn away, and I took that as a signal she wasn’t hungry. But when we arrived home, she would immediately start that desperate hunger-wail and would be almost inconsolable. When I could finally get her settled down, she would nurse for 45 minutes to an hour and a half straight! After this happened a few times, I realized she didn’t like to be fed anywhere but home. Fine by me! I didn’t necessarily enjoy breastfeeding at the mall. Most of the breastfeeding books tout the advantages of being able to feed the baby anywhere, anytime, but my baby wasn't having any of it. Once I figured that out, we made our plans around her feeding schedule—it was a little less convenient, but we were all much happier.
Veronica also showed me she has some very strong opinions about books that she will “read.” If she doesn’t like a book, she grabs it from your hands and throws it to the floor. Don’t insult my intelligence with ‘Where is the Baby’s Bellybutton?', Mom. This book is terrible! I was under the impression that all children’s books are the same—throw some brightly colored illustrations on a page with some nouns (apple, car, cat) and call it a day. Nope. Eric Carle is a special snowflake genius.
Babies are opinionated and have their quirks, even from Day One! Pay attention to them.
You’ll Be Tired, But You’ll Also Be More Focused, Creative, and Energetic. Everyone told me how tired and stretched I would feel with a new baby, and that’s definitely true at times, but parenthood has also made me more focused, better at time management, and able to prioritize my life in a way that still gives me plenty of time for myself. I’ve learned to get so much more done, and be creative about how I use my time. I’m now an early riser (5 a.m. most week days) and it’s become my time to myself when the house is quiet and I can work on my business, read, make breakfast, and just generally feel centered and peaceful and ready for the day. Another bonus is that other people respect my time more! Who knew?! When they know you have a baby at home or you’ve got to be somewhere to pick up your kids, there’s a lot less yackity yack. Refreshing.
When it Comes to Parenting Decisions, Apathy is Your Friend. Last summer, I read Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes, Please. The book was an entertaining read about her childhood, career, and personal life that I finished in about two days. In one chapter, she talks candidly about working in show biz and how, to be successful, you need some degree of apathy. To set your heart on something, and invest all your energy (financially, emotionally, and otherwise) into it can leave you disappointed and crushed if it doesn’t work out. Especially when you are relying on others to fund your project, return your affections, or follow the sleep schedule you’ve set for them. Instead, keep yourself a little removed from your ideas and goals so that you can maintain some degree of objectivity. I found this advice could translate into many areas of life, not just career goals. Passion and persistence are important, but don’t get so focused on any one particular thing that you lose sight of the big prize. If one thing doesn’t work out, something else will.
Before I gave birth, I made several decisions about how I was going to do things. I think all Moms do. Part of it is that when you’re pregnant, people will pepper you with questions about whether you plan to nurse, use pacifiers, co-sleep, put baby in day care, use cloth diapers, etc etc etc and you need a prepared answer! And you also need to defend your decisions in case they challenge you on—which they probably will. This causes us to become attached to different ideas and philosophies on parenting and raising children, when there’s really no reason to. After all, we’re dealing with a little dictator who has his or her own ideas about how they like things! We are powerless to defy Kim Jong Baby.
One decision I made early on was that I wanted to breastfeed for a year. Instead, it turned out nursing was something I really struggled with. My milk came in late, the baby had trouble latching, she wasn’t gaining enough weight, she developed thrush, and then when I went back to work and had to pump, my supply dropped significantly. I was only able to get about an ounce of milk, despite pumping three times a day. When she was about 6 months old, she stopped showing any interest in nursing, and so we weaned. Oh well.
At the end of the day, just keeping stumbling onward and upward, and if something isn’t working out, try something else. Everything will be OK!
A couple of weeks ago John Oliver had this funny bit about how 2016 was just awful. Between David Bowie and Prince passing away to more terror and chaos in the world to the divisive (to say the least) election, the year has definitely challenged us. But this morning on the baby monitor, I could hear Veronica in her crib singing her little songs and playing with her stuffed rabbit, Bun Bun. 2016 was actually pretty great.