As I look back on it now, I realize that I viewed having a baby much the way I viewed a triathlon competition. I did the training (pregnancy) and then had the race (delivery) and when I finished, I had that euphoric feeling you get for a job well done and usually walked away with a medal (baby). Which I would hang on the Christmas tree next to all the other medals. And the next day, I'd sleep in, stretch a little, watch some Seinfeld and start the whole process over.
But, see... that's not how having a baby works. NEWS TO ME.
And in those initial days after coming home and having it hit me that this was my new life (and holy crap, what had I gotten myself into?), I was angry. I was angry at all of my girlfriends who I felt hadn't properly prepared me for life after birth. Those women who had multiple children (meaning they chose to do this more than once!) who made it look like rainbows and puppy farts. Those women who chose to have more than one of these things. Those women who only talked about how amazing having a baby is.
THOSE WOMEN NEEDED TO SUCK IT.
I was really, really angry with all of my friends. And because I was angry, I was hesitant to reach out to them and ask for help. Because the help? The help would have been them telling me up front that it was going to suck, but then assuring me that it would be worth it. The help would have been them explaining that the first three months of a baby's life is nothing but give, give, give by you, and take, take, take by them. Take your youth, take your beauty, take your showering time, take your sleeping time, take your perfect shaped breasts, and take whatever sanity you still possessed after giving birth and flush it all down the toilet.
The help would have been them explaining that Baby Boot Camp lasts about three months. Three whole months before you could start to fight your way out of the haze. Three whole months before you felt like semi-human again.
So, because I've got girlfriends out there about to give birth, or thinking about getting pregnant, or have a functioning uterus, I decided to write a little letter that they can read at their leisure. Because there will come a time that they need this letter.
And they'll need my number.
And some tequila.
And when that time comes, I'll be there with a great big hug and a shot glass.
A Letter To The Mommy-To-Be
Dear Friend Who Has No Idea What's About To Happen:
How are you doing? How's the pregnancy going? Are you still enjoying that peaceful morning reading the paper? Are you still hitting up your favorite restaurants, counting down the days until you can bring the little one with you and enjoy the view/peace/community spirit?
I'm writing because I've been thinking about you. And since you know me and know that I really can't keep my big mouth shut, I'm giving you an opportunity not to read this letter. Since it will likely harsh your pregnancy mellow. But it contains some truths that I wish I had known before I had my first baby. I want you to know that I don't regret having kids. I believe it's the greatest thing I'll ever do. But, you're in a really good place right now and I don't want to ruin that.
So feel free to stop reading right now.
Still with me? Good. Here goes.
Things are about to get real for you. Like... Real Real. And that Real Realness gets even more real because you're going to be fucking exhausted. You'll excuse the profanity because, well, you're you. And I'm me. And that's how we roll. And while I want you to know that having a baby is the single greatest thing you can EVER do in your life, sometimes when we're pregnant, we don't think about what happens after we're not pregnant. After we take the baby home and OMG... I can't believe they allowed me to take a newborn home! There is no way I can be responsible for another life!!! Take me back to the hospital right now!!!!
So, this little ditty is to give you a heads up (not to scare you) that the next few months of your life are going to be overwhelming. And I know that you'll have plenty of help and that your mom/husband/fairy godmother is going to be great. But you're still going to feel overwhelmed. Because you're going to think about how this isn't just a few years of your life. This is THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. And nevermind that it's the rest of your life. Because you'll feel like time moves at mach speed and as slow as a constipated turtle.
Slow when the baby is screaming non-stop for six hours every night. (I will circle the drums to send positive thoughts to the universe that this doesn't happen to you.) Slow when they're waking up every hour to feed. Slow when they're teething and miserable. Slow when you just can't take another minute of being attached at the nip to this human that wants to suck you dry... physically and emotionally. Slow when you just can't get the baby to latch. Slow when you can't figure out this "natural" thing called breastfeeding. (Let's just be honest here: Calling it natural accomplishes nothing other than making a mother feel like a complete failure if it's not working. If it was natural, it wouldn't be that hard, so all of the lactation consultants can suck it, mkay?) Slow when you realize that you really are going to change hundreds of diapers in your lifetime and you honestly can't think past the diapers to the part where they don't need diapers (This will happen way faster than you realize, so embrace the diapers.)(And save the really nasty ones for Daddy.)
The fast happens when you're looking at your baby while she sleeps... and you can swear you can see her eyelashes growing in front of your eyes. It happens when she giggles the first time... which is the single greatest sound you hear and you wonder why they don't giggle for six hours straight... like they were able to cry. And trust me, you will do ANYTHING to get that child to giggle. This holds true for many, many years... so start practicing as soon as possible. It happens the first time they roll over and you get panicked because rolling over means soon they'll crawl and then walk and holy hell, didn't you JUST bring her home?? It happens the first time she sits up on her own, the first time she claps, the first time she eats solid food, the first time you leave her with a babysitter, the first time you leave on a work trip, the first time she says a word that isn't goooo. All of the firsts you are about to experience are going to make it seem like life is moving way too fast.
I hope you don't mind unsolicited advice, but I was where you are right now almost three years ago. And I had read the book. I was ready. I was educated. I had a loving husband. I had done some great things in my life and felt like I could do anything. But I'll tell you that those initial months of being a Mommy remain the hardest thing I've ever done. Pregnancy and delivery? Please. I pushed three times and there was my new life. A screaming bundle of joy that desperately needed a bath.
And the thing is, not one of my Mommy friends gave me the low-down on life after pregnancy. No one told me how freaking hard it really was. No one told me that I would actually forget to eat because I was so stressed. Can you imagine that? Me? Forgetting to eat? That's some serious stress. I spent weeks and months with self doubt and anxiety. When I was irritated with my baby, I felt like I wasn't a good Mommy. And that no one else had these problems and feelings. That's a harsh belief to saddle yourself with... feeling like you're a terrible mom because you really don't know what the hell you're doing.
So, I played catch-up and read tons of books looking for the secret answer on how to get the baby to sleep. Because - and this was news to me - babies just don't fall asleep when they're tired.
No. They like to fuck with you. And babies... they come out all screwed up so they sleep during the day and stay awake all night long. Babies, it turns out, don't come with instruction manuals about how they are supposed to behave. Because they can't read. I, however, could. And I read so much that I made myself crazy.
Turns out, there's no secret to being a Mommy. Certainly not anything you can find in a book. You have to just blindly stumble from one catastrophe to another and learn from each bruise to your soul. But lucky you, you also have friends that you can call when you need a good cry. Those friends will tell you that it's okay and that it will get better. Your baby won't always be two-weeks-old. Oh, it will feel like she will be, but trust us... they do actually grow up. And yes, it's okay that you wish she was older already. That doesn't mean you don't love her or cherish her. It just means that you're tired and holding her all day to keep her from crying is catching up with you. Don't worry. She actually will age and mature and figure out the sleeping thing. You friends will tell you that it's okay if your milk doesn't come in or clue you in on secrets to breastfeeding that worked for them. But most importantly, they'll tell you not to get stressed out if you have to give your baby (gasp!) formula to supplement the breast milk because the twins are just not getting the job done. Because it turns out, all that matters is that they're eating. They'll tell you horror stories of their own baby boot camps that will make you feel better... even though at the time you won't really be listening because one of your ears will be tuned to hearing any cries that indicate the baby is awake. Again. And you won't really be thinking about their horror stories... because you'll just be so engulfed in the life that is yours right now. And that's okay. Because you're a new mom and you get a pass on all of that. Oh, also, you'll be exhausted.... have I mentioned that?
And when the time comes, I want you to know that you can call me. You can call and bitch and moan, or you can call and ask questions, or you can call just to tell me how much you truly love being a Mommy. (What you can't do is call to tell me your baby is sleeping through the night at 2 weeks old... if you do, FRIENDSHIP OVER).
Just know that you can call and you'll have someone on the other end that will be real with you. You can tell me if you wonder why you ever had a baby (not that I um... did that the first month of Mommyhood). You can ask me what we did when our first-born cried for six hours a night for a week. You can ask me how we got our girls to sleep... and ideas of what to do and what NOT to do. Trust me, I'm an expert in both. And you can ask me what I did for cracked nipples. Oh yes... that does happen. And it's tons of fun. (Cabbage leaves, btw... trust me.)
Just know that whatever you call me for, it's a safe place. You can exorcise your demons and hopefully see the light at the end of the tunnel. Because honestly? In the end? Having and raising a child? Totally worth it.
And I've got a second one to prove it.
Good luck and I'll be thinking of you.