So You’re Thinking About Having a Baby

Dear Potential Parent:

So you’re thinking about having a baby. Maybe you’re even already pregnant. Congratulations! You are about to embark on one of the most scary/fun/exhausting/hilarious/rewarding things you will ever do.

But there are some things you should know. Babies, new ones especially, come with their own agenda. And the crazy thing is – they don’t even know what the agenda is. All they know is that they were once warm, cozy and didn’t have to work to be fed. And then suddenly they were snatched from this nirvana and put someplace bright, loud, cold and they were expected to DO things in order to get nourishment. Whisky Tango Foxtrot, man.

And not only that, they are saddled with parents who don’t even know baby. For real. “I’m obviously crying because I’m hungry, but this numb nuts is trying to rock me to sleep.” “What fresh hell is this? Why am I naked from the waist down WHEN ALL I REALLY WANT IS FOR YOU TO LET ME GO TO SLEEP?”

But the thing people rarely tell you is that babies pick up their cues from you. Even the tiniest ones know when Mom and Dad are keyed up. “Mom is all bajiggity. Something MUST be terribly wrong. I WILL CRY HARDER NOW.” And you will be, indeed, bajiggity. I promise. There will be a point where you feel overwhelmed and exhausted and you will look at this little child you willed into existence and Google “Moses Law” on your iPhone at three in the morning. But at that point, I’ll give you a tip: Swaddle the baby, lay them in their crib, and close the door for a few minutes. Take a deep breath. Maybe take a nice quick hot shower.  Then go back in. The baby might cry, yes, but they were crying before, so you know … But something has changed this go around – you. You got your bajiggity out, and now calm you can go back to trying to remember the five S’s. And that calm attitude will probably get you a baby that quiets down and sleeps.  And then you go to sleep.

But most of all, when you’re feeling frustrated because your baby is well, being a baby, remember the other part of having a baby that is being a baby – the adorable moments. The part where they learn your name and use it. The part where they light up and get excited when you come in the room. The moment your heart gets so full you think it might burst because he came running to you when he got hurt, and stuck his snuffly little face, wet with tears, in your neck, trusting you to make it all better.  Those are the things that make you forget the sleep deprivation, and possibly even make you realize that you can’t have all of the fun stuff without the other stuff. After all, how does a baby learn to trust you unless you have proven your reliability, your steadiness, your calm?

You will also seek advice from friends who have had babies. And that is a good idea. What’s a bad idea is to seek that advice, but then shoot down all of it, or ignore it. Before long, you’ll be up at 3 a.m. with a feverish and inconsolable baby and you’ll wonder what to do. A plea for advice will get you crickets, because well, it’s a universal fact that people feel excited to offer a nugget of advice that works – especially when it’s asked for, but will quit offering and will be less enthusiastic if they never feel they’ve been heard. Trust me, that one person that offers what you think is silly advice one time will be the person who gives the best advice just when you need it about another situation. So a simple, “Thanks for your advice!” is generally better at keeping those helpers close at hand.

And finally, don’t forget (if you’re married or partnered up) that you need to take time for yourself, and time as a couple. One of the best pieces of advice that we ever got came in the form of a direct order from our pediatrician at John’s two week check up. “You guys need to go out on a date, alone,” he said. “When you come back for his one month check up, I want to know you’ve been out on at least one date.” We did. An afternoon lunch date, with John’s Aunt Jen and Uncle Mike staying at our house for a couple of hours. And we still do date night as often as we can. It’s easier now, of course, to eek out couple time on the regular because John sleeps all night most nights. But seriously, begin thinking of family and friends you’d trust to hang with the baby. And plan time to get out on your own and even time for dates.

Babies are frustrating, amazing, awe-inspiring, headdesk inducing, sleep-depriving, pants pooping, throwing up in your hair, unconditional loving, trusting, wonderful creatures. So just remember when you’re watching really bad TV at 4 a.m. because he or she is awake with a head cold and is covering your shirt in snot, or he’s six weeks old and suffering from an outrageous gas attack at 1 a.m., that this is the same baby that you prayed for, the same baby that made you smile when he or she kicked, the same baby you first saw on the black and white sonographer’s screen.

courtesy Sugar Photography/Jen Weintraub

And that baby you’re holding in your arms is still that magical being. And all too soon, he or she won’t want lay in your arms and snuggle. So enjoy your baby – and your baby will enjoy you right back.

I promise.

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