The thing about pregnancy and parenthood is that you will suddenly and unknowingly issue a universal invitation for advice and warnings. And that avalanche of advice and warnings will prompt you to start making statements like, “I will always…” and, “Oh, we’ll never…” and, “The baby should definitely…”
My only hard and fast advice? Banish [most] absolutes from your vocabulary. You’ll [probably] be happier for it. (See what I did there?)
First-time parents are especially vulnerable to this trap because we don’t have any real comparison point. We don’t know what we’ll be like as parents and we certainly don’t know what kind of baby we’ll have until it’s too late. Our friends’ stories and strategies may not apply to us. And obviously our own parents have no idea how to raise a modern child. (Kidding, kidding, kidding.)
I’m not saying to totally avoid the abundance of wisdom and experience out there. In fact, connecting with real moms on social media after Fire Monkey was born helped me cope with the overwhelming sense of, “I MUST BE DOING SOMETHING WRONG BECAUSE MY CHILD DOESN’T FIT THE TEXTBOOK.” It helped me see that every baby really is different, and after that first month I consciously decided to operate on the assumption that everything is fine unless our pediatrician says something or Fire Monkey seems genuinely distressed.
Anyway, before Fire Monkey was born, I approached parenthood the way I’d approached anything I’d been remotely successful at: STUDYING. I tried to read as much as I could about baby sleep habits, breastfeeding, how to get your baby to sleep, babywearing, establishing a bedtime routine, etc. (See a pattern here?) I got a lot of always and nevers and based on that formulated a baby-raising plan, which just about every first-time mother will do whether she means to or not.
So without further ado, here’s what I was told/what I planned and here’s how things turned out.
“Breastfeed on demand. Offer both sides. Eat oatmeal and brewer’s yeast. Pump after each feeding to build your supply.”
Actually, the absolute best advice I got regarding breastfeeding turned out to be, “Don’t assume you’ll have supply problems.” Because I didn’t. Quite the contrary, I had overactive letdown and an abundant supply. If I had pumped after every feeding in the early days, I’m fairly certain my boobs would have exploded. At first I dutifully recorded every feeding and diaper change, but once I started block feeding I usually didn’t need a reminder of which side to feed from when. Breastfeeding wasn’t easy at first for a lot of reasons but supply wasn’t one of them.
“Don’t offer a bottle too soon. Don’t offer a bottle too late. Get a slow flow nipple. Get an anti-colic nipple. You’ll have to try a dozen bottles before you find one that works.”
Because breastfeeding was so painful at first, and because I’d had one horrifying experience with a nipple shield, I lived in terror of nipple confusion. For the first four weeks I went postal every time Science Guy suggested offering a bottle, and when I finally couldn’t take anymore I made him use a syringe. I later found out, though, that the morning I went to get my hair cut and left the boys at home, Science Guy snuck the baby a pumped bottle out of desperation. Fire Monkey merrily came back to nursing and I was none the wiser until I decided it was okay to try a bottle three weeks later. He did just fine with the bottles that came with my pump, despite the lactation consultant’s admonition that the flow would be too fast. (Maybe that’s one advantage of having overactive letdown.)
“Sleep with your baby next to you. You can just roll over, pick him up to nurse, and go right back to sleep!”
I really, really wanted this to work. One of the first baby things I bought was an Arm’s Reach co-sleeper, visions of dreamy late night feedings in the family bed dancing (laying?) in my head. Unfortunately, because of Fire Monkey’s tongue tie and resulting nipple pain, it took 525,600 pillows to position him semi-comfortably for feeding time. Side-lying and laid-back nursing in bed were messy, painful, fruitless endeavors and I had to turn the lights on to see what I was doing and not latch my child onto, say, my nose. So much for nursing in our sleep. Even after breastfeeding got easier, I would whisk the baby out of the co-sleeper into the other room to nurse, because by that point Science Guy had gone back to work and there was no point in both of us being insane.
We stopped co-sleeping completely around week 5, kind of unintentionally when an electrical short fried the outlet in our room that ran the air purifier aka white noise machine. Knowing we’d never get a decent night’s sleep if we could hear every wiggle and fidget, I tearily let Science Guy put him to sleep in his own room. (“What if he thinks we don’t love him anymore?!” “Honey, he has no abstract concept of reality right now.”)
We all slept for six hours straight that night. Whether he was developmentally ready for that anyway or perhaps I’d been waking him when he wouldn’t have fully awakened, I don’t know, but we never looked back. I occasionally nap together with him during the day, but he spends nights in his crib and everyone is happier and healthier for it.
“You’ll never keep up with cloth diapering. The washing, the stink, the folding!”
This is one thing I let myself feel a bit smug about. We did exclusively disposables for the first three weeks until we got a slightly better grip on things and I could hike the stairs up to the laundry room without bleeding. We now use cloth all day long and do disposables at night and sometimes on the go. Fortunately, Fire Monkey has obliged us by peeing minimally and not pooping at all during his longest overnight stretch, so we’re down to just one or two disposables a day. The washing really isn’t bad at all…we have enough diapers to only do laundry about once every 5 days or so and through trial and error with the helpful advice from the Fluff Love Facebook group, we have a decent wash routine. Could I do it if I were working full-time? Probably not, but most daycares don’t do cloth diapers anyway. I also realize the environmental benefits might be a wash (heh) when the impact of laundry is factored in, but at least we’re saving quite a decent amount of money by doing cloth 80-90% of the time.
“Wear your baby 24 hours a day…it will solve all your problems! And you’ll need a dozen different carriers to match your outfit, the weather, and your mood.”
At the advice of a friend and co-worker who had a baby last year, I joined a local babywearing group on Facebook and was immediately overwhelmed by the huge variety of babywearing options. I’d just planned to get an Ergo from Babies’r’Us but suddenly there were a dozen options just in the soft-structured carrier (SSC) category alone. Fortunately the same group also has skills workshops where you can learn how the different types of carriers work. I signed up for one while seven months pregnant and got to play with lots of brands and styles. I decided to get a Beco Gemini SSC and a stretchy Happy Wrap. Science Guy asked why we couldn’t just use his camping backpack frame. I ignored him.
When Fire Monkey came home, I tried wearing him in the Happy Wrap within the first week. From his reaction, you’d have thought I tried to wrap him in sandpaper. The Gemini was much easier to get him in and out of, but it was hot to wear. (Fire Monkey lived up to his moniker and was a human torch for the first six weeks of his life. He has better thermoregulation now.) I did a little more research and discovered the Baby K’Tan, which let me wrap quickly and easily without fumbling with the length. I tried the Happy Wrap after Fire Monkey got a little more patient with me, but now that we have the K’tan I’m too lazy to bother with long wraps. As a fabric junkie I really wanted to like the long wraps but it’s just not meant to be, and our family budget is probably happier for it.
For better or for worse, I didn’t have a lot of hard and fast expectations for parenting. Having quite a few friends who have already had children, I’ve seen many different styles of parenting resulting in generally functional, happy minions. Some things I knew wouldn’t work for us, others I wanted to try, and some that were important but I wasn’t dead set on implementing. In fact, I tried to keep the perspective that if something drove our family crazy, it wasn’t worth it and we’d just do something else. This is probably a useful mindset to keep for, say, the rest of my life.
Until next time,