The 5 Most Surprising Things About New Parenthood

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(1) Newborns are TINY.

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The movies have it totally wrong. Newborns aren’t the size of toddlers. They’re small and fragile and that soft spot on top of their heads will freak you out long past their first birthdays. You’d think buying newborn clothes would have clued me in, but no. All I know is that during the first month, I carried that kidlet around like a coddled egg (except he oozed a bit more).

The outfit on the left is the one Baby J wore home from the hospital. He wore the one on the right yesterday. This kid is growing faster than a giant sunflower.

(2) My drive to protect privacy is stronger than ever.

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Not mine. If I meant mine, you wouldn’t have posts like this and this.

No, I mean Baby J’s. I already knew I didn’t want pictures of him floating around, and watching him grow and change confirmed this desire many-fold.

In this digital age, I know I won’t be able to control every bit of information leaking out to the world. I don’t expect to. Yet, I’d like to give him a chance to shape his own digital identity instead of shaping it for him. You can read more about this decision in a piece I wrote for one of my classes. Although I mention it in the article, it’s worth emphasizing that this piece is not meant to be a judgment on others’ decisions. (Still, having received a lot of feedback on the article, the knee-jerk reaction from some other parents seems to be anger related to the feeling that I’m judging them. Trust me — if I’m judging you, I’d have a scorecard similar to when I judge BBQ.)

So now you know why there are no pictures of Baby J on THIH/social media, save his adorable toes and fingers (trust me, I’ve been asked).

(3) You’re never alone.

I’m very introverted. Not shy. Introverted. (Read more about the difference here.) I love my alone time in which I don’t have to talk or interact. I can just be. Pre-baby, whenever I had a spare hour or two, I’d grab a cup of tea and enjoy some writing time.

That changes when you have a child. Even when he’s napping, you’re not alone. Sure, you can get a little work done or decompress while he’s snuggled up like a sweet pea, but you’re always on call. Your mind isn’t focused because in the next room there’s a little someone who’s depending on you for every one of his needs. You always have to be “on,” even when you’re exhausted and busy and need to finish your latest paper by midnight. I hear this need becomes even more prominent when they’re older. Before baby, I thought to myself that working from home and raising a child without outside help = totally doable. Um, no.

This change has been the hardest thing to adjust to. Even more than #4, which is that …

(4) Exhaustion is a four letter word.

Retro China picture!
Retro China picture!

(That’s how tired I am — I’m not sure that sentence makes sense.)

Everyone hears about how having a baby is exhausting. Yet in the back of my mind, I always thought I’d handle it better than some because I’m used to getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night for weeks on end. (Superiority: The Hallmark of Ignorance.)

The reality: Adrenaline carries you through the first few weeks, then the bone-crushing exhaustion sets in. I’ve woken up in a panic in the middle of the night thinking I fell asleep while Baby J was eating and that he’d gotten lost in the blankets. While this story sounds funny in retrospect, it’s definitely NOT hilarious in the middle of the night when you’re crying and frantically trying to find your lost baby. That’s what sleep deprivation does to you. While I can occasionally get 5-6 hours of sleep a night, they’re fragmented into 45 minute or one hour chunks. Currently, Baby J is going though the four month sleep regression/transition, which makes delirium the new normal. Thank goodness Peter is so supportive, or I’d have lost it long ago. (Not that I’m being dramatic or anything.)

(5) Life goes on.

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I thought about putting something here like “Your life is so much richer” or some positive and inspirational message about how your life is changed forever yet so much better. Pretty much all lists like this end with such a message.

All true, yet life goes on with many elements intact. The day after returning home from the hospital, the “water plants” alert went off on my phone, and I puttered around with the watering can like I had a few days before leaving for the hospital. (Peter likes to point out that that was the last time I watered the plants, and he’s right. Black thumb, remember? Peter usually takes over my plants out of pity and concern for flora welfare.) Sure, many things have changed. Yet so many things have stayed the same. I still stress too much over insignificant problems. I make a mean protein-packed hummus for sandwiches. I give unsolicited nutrition advice on occasion. (Only kidding about that last one. Maybe.)

I try to remember these parts of myself whenever the thought of raising a little human threatens to overwhelm me. Life changes. Life goes on. Both statements are true.

A notable exception: Your pet is just a pet.

Where's the love?
Where’s the love?

I love little Maddie. Pre-Baby J, my phone was filled with an endless series of Maddie photos where she’s doing the cutest things ever. I’d heard that once you have a child, your pets are less prominent in your life. What I didn’t expect was how fast that transition would be. I’d barely walked in the door after getting back from the hospital before yelling at Maddie to stop barking. I don’t dote on her nearly as much as I used to. I try to show Maddie just how important she is, but I know things aren’t what they used to be.

Maddie's not sure how she feels about her little brother.
Maddie’s not sure how she feels about her little brother.

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Q: For all you parents out there, what was the most surprising thing about becoming a parent?

P.S. I realize most of this post seems negative. That’s because I’ve been looking forward to the positives for such a long time: his first smile, his first laugh, the feel of his chubby hand closing around my finger. I’ve not been surprised by any of these wonderful bits of parenthood; rather, I’ve been looking forward to them for years.

P.P.S. Bonus thing: A renewed appreciation for modern medicine.

Long before Baby J was an adorable ball of squish (objectively speaking), I loved reading birth stories. No matter the process, the difficulty, or the outcome, I felt as through the new mom was empowered by such an amazing experience.

Then Baby J made his entrance. And I did not feel empowered. My OB chalks it up to incredible bad luck. Few talk about the emotional scars a traumatic birth leaves behind.

Still, I’m forever grateful. While I’m all about prevention and the power of food to enhance health, I thank my lucky stars every day that I have access to the best medical care available. Because of this fact, Baby J and I can snuggle in our favorite chair, reading and singing songs. And that’s truly all that matters.

15 Comments

  1. I don’t think this post is negative; I think you capture a lot of parenthood, things you couldn’t have known before you became a parent. And it doesn’t take away from how wonderful it is. πŸ™‚

    I think it’s interesting you say people feel judged when you say you don’t share photos of Baby J online. In my experience, people often try to convince you/argue with you about parenting decisions when you end up doing things differently than they are doing them. I think it’s often because they are second guessing themselves…

    I guess what surprises me again and again is that your baby will always be your “baby” in a sense. My older son is in his mid-20s, and while I know that he is a capable and responsible young adult, in a way he’ll always be my “little boy” that I need to guide and protect… And I think that will never change… πŸ™‚

    1. It really is wonderful! A smile makes up for a lot of sleepless nights πŸ™‚

  2. im not a mom so i cant relate a lot to this but i dont think there is anything negative here Jessie..its the reality..no? i am sure things change when you become a parent and i know you guys are both a marvelous job at it. thank you for sharing this with us, helping for prepare for motherhood when time comes πŸ˜›

  3. Jessie, keep these tips comingβ€”we’re going to need them in the future. Maybe sugar-coat it for C’s sake πŸ™‚ For example, don’t ever mention this four month sleep regression. I say that, though she’s sitting right next to me, reading everything. We miss you and love you lots. Baby J too!!! Same for Maddles! Pete too, mostly.

    1. Maddie can’t wait to see her favorite pushover–I mean, treat-giver–again πŸ˜‰

    2. Wow Dave, making baby plans already! =) Congrats Jessie, we’re really happy for you guys! Hope you get more sleep soon!

  4. Beautifully written, Jessie. I don’t see it as negative at all. Adjusting to a baby (especially the first baby) is incredibly difficult. #3 hit me really hard, too, at first.

    I’m sure you are doing an amazing job. I wish we didn’t live on opposite ends of the country so I could swing by sometime and give you a hand.

    I also had a traumatic first birth. I often still find myself watching my 8-year-old and thinking how different things could have been if the doctor hadn’t been on her toes that evening. I think traumatic births are pretty common, but you’re right, nobody talks about it. If you ever want to talk, or need someone to listen, you know where to find me.

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Virginia. I wish we lived closer, too!

  5. One more thing, about your third point; I sometimes find myself just sitting in the bathroom with the door locked for five minutes, pretending to use the bathroom but really just enjoying the solitude. Or I’ll get all the kids buckled into the car in the garage and then run back inside “for something I forgot” and just stand there for a couple minutes. And when grocery shopping without the kids I’ll walk up and down the aisles for an extra 20 minutes, just to take a break. It’s okay. Take the solitude wherever you can find it. If he will accept a bottle, see if you can leave him with Peter sometimes and go for a walk by yourself (my favorite), take a nap without worrying about being disturbed, get a massage, or go out to a coffee/tea place and sit and read for a few hours. It makes a world of difference.

    I have come to realize that, as a mom, I’ll never be completely alone again. My mind will always wander to where my children are, even if that means across town or across the world. Parenting life is divided between “on call” and “not on call” and as kids get old the “not on call” becomes the default. Yes, it gets harder when they are toddlers, but you can also let your guard down more when they nap. As they pass toddlerhood it gets easier and easier.

    Sorry about the book, but hopefully I will have said something helpful in all that. I would edit more, but the baby woke up and the toddler is jumping on his bed instead of sleeping, so I’m “on” again.

    1. Your comments are definitely helpful. I know I feel better when I can snatch a little alone time. I even scrimped on sleep in the beginning to have some restful alone time in the middle of the night when Baby J was really young (which perhaps wasn’t the best choice health-wise but it saved my sanity!) It’s definitely been an adjustment, and I appreciate your advice and words of wisdom πŸ™‚

  6. This is lovely, Jessie. I’m sorry J’s having a sleep regression. Squirrel decided to have hers at five months, to coincide with my struggle to find new rhythms as a working mom and my sister beginning her cancer treatments. It was deeply, painfully awful. At her six month appointment I discussed sleep training with her (Williams alumna!) pediatrician. The sleep training was also awful, but only for a couple of nights, and then it seriously saved my sanity. It was absolutely the right decision for all three of us.

    I’ve also been thinking about the never alone part. I love that my daughter loves me and needs me, but sometimes I need a little time to just be a person and not a mommy or a teacher. I try to read for a few minutes before bed every night, which definitely helps. It’s something that I need to continue working on.

    One other thing that surprised me about parenthood was how much I liked moms’ group. I had no particular intention of looking for one, but when Squirrel was a few weeks old Jen and I were talking and she said she was trying one, so I did a little googling and found a breastfeeding support group in town. Going to that was a great decision. I got so many tips there, it was great for getting out of the house to an infant-friendly space, the LC had a scale so I could track her weight gain, and it made me not feel alone during a time of my life that was incredible but also a little isolating. I’ve kept in touch with some of the moms, and they remain positive resources for me.

    I’m sorry that you had a traumatic birth. I’m also grateful for good medical care and that you and J can cuddle and read stories!

    Gigantic cross-country hugs!
    Marie

    1. Hugs, Marie! You’ve been so helpful during these times. I will take your experiences and tips to heart, and I will look for “Jessie” time. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the minutia of taking care of a baby. Sometimes it takes a timely reminder to step back for a few minutes πŸ™‚

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