Like many an expectant father I had done quite a bit of reading during the pregnancy to get ready for parenthood (albeit not nearly as much reading as my wife had done, but still). Even with all that preparation I knew I could never truly be ready, but the point of reading the books was to at least have some indication of how things were going to be, right?. Yeah, that’s where the learning curve is more of a learning step function, as I found out. Here are 10 things I wish the books would have told me about our newborn. Here’s hoping it helps you see what’s coming.
1) The first night home is pure hell.
You haven’t slept in days from the long labor (yes, both you and your wife). “Sleep” at the hospital is loosely defined as laying on a 30-year-old cot (or couch if you’re really lucky) while nurses come in and out of your room every hour to check on your wife and newborn. So by the time you get home, you really haven’t slept in, say, 15 years. And now you’re on your own! New environment for your baby and you think he’ll sleep? Yeah good luck with that. You’re just trying to survive by keeping your wits about you while fighting fatigue knowing you’ve basically forfeited your sleeping privileges for at least the next 18 years. While you can’t really prepare for that, just knowing that this is coming could prevent the additional disappointment of your expectations of a blissful, celebratory first night home from being dashed. Because that’s just like kicking you while you’re down. The first night is a matter of pure survival, and yes, you will get through it one way or another.
2) You have to be everything to everyone and then some.
Even with a smooth, natural childbirth your wife still has quite a bit of recovery to do, plus she now has that additional responsibility of feeding the poor bugger every 2 hours or so. Guess what? You’re the main man now. Food prep, chores, handling visitors and phone calls, scheduling follow-up doctor visits, anything and everything is now your responsibility. If you have vacation time or paternity leave, now is the time to use it. All. Of. It.
3) You can’t be everything to everyone and then some.
I hate to break it to you, but you’re not Superman. Get some help because you’re gonna need it. Parents, friends, relatives, anyone with a pulse who can look at your situation and figure out what needs to be done and how to do it. Because you’ll be too exhausted to form coherent sentences. My mother, father-in-law, and some really close friends definitely came through in the clutch for us here. Without them we would not have been able to get back on our feet.
4) “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is advice best left in the textbook.
Sure it makes perfect sense in theory, but then reality smacks you upside the head with an anvil. You think baby is just going to pass out in the crib and you can retire to your master suite for some shut-eye? Think again. IF you can get baby to sleep it’s most likely in your arms or on your chest, so you’re propped up at a 45-degree angle looking like the saddest, lumpiest, dirtiest, smelliest recliner chair ever. Your chiropractor will put their next kid through Harvard because of the money you’re about to spend getting your body back in line.
5) Breastfeeding is HARD. FREAKING. WORK. And you can barely help.
Bleeding nipples. Poor latch. Cluster feeding. Growth spurts. Gas bubbles. Tongue and lip ties. Clogged ducts. Engorgement pain. Breastfeeding is hard, painful, and both mom and baby need to figure it out. What can you do? Stand there like an oaf with your hands and your pockets, mostly. You can be a gopher, you can be a sympathetic supportive husband, but that’s about it. Sometimes that’s enough, though, so be there for them no matter what. Support her feeding choices no matter what they are. The fact that baby is eating is the only thing that matters.
6) Learn to like the taste of crow.
Remember all those idealistic thoughts you had of how you would parent your kid? How you weren’t going to use pacifiers or bouncy swings, how you were going to get your child on a sleep schedule early, and that you were convinced that you could do things better than other parents? Yeah buddy, that crow ought to be tasting mighty good right now, assuming you even have the energy to use your one free hand to lift the fork into your mouth. I think the phrase “don’t judge someone until you’ve walked in their shoes” was invented by the second set of parents who ever lived. The bottom line is that every good parent is doing the best they possibly can under the circumstances. You play the hand you’re dealt even though you have no idea what you’re doing, and if something works then it works.
7) Don’t let your lack of confidence paralyze you.
Nobody knows what they’re doing when they become parents. Your baby is trying to figure out this new world just as you are and that process is unique to every single family. What worked for your parents may not work for you. But just because you tried something and it didn’t work doesn’t mean you’re a failure and it doesn’t mean you’re not capable. Keep trying new things. Try the old thing again tomorrow as it may work under different circumstances. But keep trying. Deep down I believe your baby knows you’re trying to work things out the same as he is. You’ll figure it out, even if it takes longer than you thought it would.
8) It truly does take two.
I offer my utmost respect and admiration to single parents out there as I honestly don’t know how you all do it. It’s definitely hard enough with two parents trying to figure this all out at the same time; I couldn’t imagine trying to do it on my own. If you have a partner please please please do whatever you can to work as a team. Change diapers together. Watch them breastfeed and then take turns burping baby. Alternate sleep/babywatch shifts. Talk to each other and acknowledge you both have no idea what you’re doing. Don’t judge your partner as everyone parents differently and that’s OK. Recognize it takes time to figure out your own style of parenting, and that’s OK too. Go easy on each other and be there together. Even if your relationship isn’t in the best place, call a ceasefire for your baby’s good and your own good.
9) I have no idea what I’m talking about.
This list is based on my mere 3 weeks of experience as a father. In any other job that barely qualifies me to take orders at the drive-thru so definitely take what I’m saying with a grain of salt. Hell, take everything in this blog with a giant block of salt and a few shots of tequila for that matter. 🙂
10) It’s all worth it.
A glimpse of a smile, clutching my pinkie with his tiny fingers, falling asleep with his face buried in my chest, me staring into his big beautiful eyes knowing he feels comforted, protected, safe, and loved. All of those things make even the toughest, most sleep-deprived night fade away. I loved him so much for the 40 weeks and 1 day my wife carried him and I love him even more now. All the fear, anxiety, fatigue, panic, discomfort, it’s all worth it for those moments. He’s worth it.