I thought I couldn’t be more prepared for life with a newborn. I’d read every “must read” baby book on the market recommended by friends: Dr. Sears’ infamous The Baby Book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, The Contented Little Baby Book and The Happiest Baby on the Block. Each book had its own (often contradictory) take on how to take care of a baby, how to be the best parent, how to raise the happiest, healthiest, and most well-adjusted kid and how to get enough sleep. While none of these baby expert books prepared me for what was actually to come, I’d still recommend reading them. My nesting instinct – which I didn’t totally understand before I experienced it – was so strong that I woke up one morning confronted with an overwhelming panicky feeling that our old dingy carpets were not fit for a baby, so without thinking twice about it, I ran out to the nearest hardware store to buy a crow bar and a carpet knife and removed all of our upstairs carpeting while my husband was at work (luckily there just so happened to be salvageable hardwood underneath the old carpet). People came out of the woodwork with advice: “you should have at least 7 swaddles with Velcro,” “make sure you pack extra newborn diapers in your hospital bag,” “you should sleep with your baby beside you for at least 6 months,” “you should get your baby used to a crib from as early as possible, at least for naps.”
The most helpful advice I ever received about life with a newborn was from a social worker who was leading a talk on sex after babies. She said in a joking manner, “hired help is really expensive – babysitters, mommy’s helpers, cleaning ladies, grocery or prepared meal delivery services etc. But I’ll tell you what’s more expensive than hired help, divorce.” We all laughed. Some of the audience members laughed a little more uncomfortably than others. Even though it was a joke, I understood what she meant. It takes a village – whatever that village looks like in downtown Toronto in 2015 – and asking for help is OK.
The one thing the baby books never really prepared me for was what it actually feels like to get no sleep for such an extended period of time – or rather, just not nearly enough sleep to brave this new world of life with a newborn. Whenever my son was sleeping peacefully beside me, I couldn’t help but lay awake with one eye open wondering when he’d wake up again to breastfeed, whether he was too cold or too hot or whether I was doing everything properly as per the baby book instructions.
The other thing the baby books never really prepared me for was how newborns impact a marriage. It was only after a year or so that I truly appreciated the “help is expensive, but divorce is more expensive” joke – it wasn’t until after having a newborn that I understood why married people said gloomy things to newlyweds like “marriage takes work.”
Despite the baby books, there will never be a step by step guide to motherhood. Babies throw curve balls, they give you lemons and they will make you crazy. But, all the while they’ll give you this love that is so beautiful, so unconditional and so magnificent that you’ll wonder how your life really existed before they came along. You’ll learn as you go and you surround yourself with people who are learning too.
I’m definitely no expert, but if I could summarize everything I’ve learned through my journey into motherhood about preparing for life with a newborn, I’d say this:
1) Ask for help – from your partner, from your parents, from hired (albeit trusted) strangers.
2) Make more time – make some time for yourself, for your partner and for your marriage – even if it is just a little bit each day.
3) Go to bed if you are tired – if you are tired and you find an opportunity to sleep, just go to bed. So what if the house is a mess because your baby dumped the box of Cheerios on the floor? Sleep first – everything else can wait.