1. The exhaustion. No sleep. No sleep. Noooooo. Sleeeeeeep. For many months there is literally no difference in how we feel in the morning compared to the evening. At 9 a.m. on Monday we could fall into a dead sleep next to the bassinet and at 9 a.m. on Tuesday we could have a snack and wash it down with a swig of wine straight from the bottle. What difference does it make when we’re up every two or three hours around the clock? In a delusional state of madness, we become ecstatic when we finally manage to get a measly four hours in a row. We might try to kid ourselves that we’re doing okay – and maybe we are comparatively speaking – but that sleep deprivation is no joke. We leave the house with two different shoes on and we look for our phone for half an hour when it’s in our palm the entire time. That’s on a good day.
2. The sopping wetness. Hormones are in flux so breasts are leaking and tears pouring. There is bleeding and seeping and sweating and drooling. There is spit up (which can be startlingly voluminous). There are so many unexpected ways that urine can end up outside the boundary of the toilet bowl or the diaper rim. Just when we think we’re out of the woods, someone gets the flu – and vomit and shit get added to the list. Parenting is messy. It is wise to always keep a change of clothes handy.
3. The crying. There’s something mysterious that happens to new parent’s ears – invisible ear trumpets grow overnight. It’s some evolutionary maximum sound sensitivity that allows us to hear every tiny noise our baby makes. It means we hear every groan. Every breath. Every blink. Yes, we could really be hearing our baby blink from across the hallway and through shut doors – and we won’t let anyone tell us otherwise. We develop better hearing than a bat or one of those tiny field mice with the big floppy ears. It’s horrible. We can ignore YOUR kids crying, but not our own. Our own newborn’s screams do not just vibrate our eardrums, they strum every nerve ending in our body. Those screams are literally painful. We might even get startled by phantom cries that exist only in our heads – reverberations of our anxiety on par with the pain experienced by those with phantom limb syndrome.
4. The attachment. Or lack thereof. We might not fall in love with our newborn at first sight. Quite frankly, many are mushy and squashy and red-faced and screamy and not at all cute. I’m not sure why this isn’t discussed more. Some refuse to be rocked to sleep or settled by swaddling. Sometimes infants are sweaty, raging, feral little packages of mucous that headbutt us in the jaw and bust out of their swaddles. It’s okay if we don’t like our own kid immediately. We shouldn’t fret – it’ll come. It always does.
5. The changing. And I don’t mean the diapers. Babies change so quickly that once we figure out what they need, their needs have changed. We think we’ve got their schedule figured out and then growth spurts and teething disrupt feeding patterns and sleep habits. We end up changing our daily routine more than we change their soiled sheets. And then there’s the changing relationship with our spouse. Having a baby does to a marriage what having a broken leg does to the muscles of your lower limb. There’s trauma, recovery and a whole lot of re-learning how to work together. The old functioning can come back, but it’ll take some time and some focused attention.
6. The undivided attention. It’s impossible to divide our time. Babies require undivided attention unless they’re sleeping (and even then our body will physically respond every time they cough or roll over. Or blink.) Trying to catch up with a friend when our children are present is about as easy as reading a chapter from a physics text while driving. This is why parents of young children typically get together with other parents of small children.Then we can pretend to participate in normal adult activity even though we are really just engaging in a grown-up version of parallel play.
7. The unwanted advice. THERE’S SO MUCH OF IT. Not only is it typically unwanted, but it’s almost always unhelpful. I think sometimes people ask questions about how the baby is doing just so they can talk about their previous child-rearing experiences. Maybe there’s some sort of therapeutic quality to the expression of their own survival of The First Year. The bottom line is – no one knows our kid better than us, so no one knows what they need more than we do. Period.
8. The lack of control. During the first year we might still think we are the ones in control – over how the baby eats, sleeps, poops, behaves. At this stage, most parents haven’t given up on that illusion yet, and the desire to be in control conflicts with the reality that is staring us in the face – with its massive eyeballs and miniature toes. The sooner we realize that we are riding this train as a passenger instead of the conductor, the better off we’ll be.
9. The expectations. Sometimes we set ourselves up for failure by expecting our child to behave a certain way and to meet milestones by a certain time. We expect our spouses to read our minds and help us when we need it and to take care of the tasks we don’t want to deal with. We expect to provide amazing learning opportunities and enrichment experiences for our children. We expect to spend oodles of quality time with our kids, to feed them nutritious home-cooked meals, all the while maintaining a spotless home and a fit physique. We expect to maintain our relationship with our spouse and our friends and to keep up with our previous workloads and responsibilities. We tend to expect the impossible.
10. The unknown. Will he follow in our footsteps or our spouses? Will she be a social butterfly or a wall flower? Will we ever rejoin our book clubs or our spinning classes? Will we ever fit back into our old clothes? More immediately pressing – will we ever be able to shower regularly again? Will we ever feel like ourselves again? Or at least like an actual human being again? We don’t typically know the answers to these questions until after that first year is over. For now, we have to be content with just hanging in there.