A letter to all new parents
I’ve seen the look on your face – a combination of terror, tenderness, and confusion. What just happened? How did this happen? How am I supposed to care for this helpless little being? How do I get through tonight? Then I’ve seen you glance over and think, how on earth do other parents do it? How do they look so calm and in control? What’s wrong with me?
For all the mamas (and dadas) who aren’t feeling this way in the first newborn period, I applaud you. You’ve amazing. Good for you. For all the rest, read on. I’ve been there. And I have something to tell you.
Here are the reasons why we don’t have that look of terror on our face any more. And it has nothing to do with the quality of our parenting.
1. We’re getting some sleep. Lots more sleep than you are.
Oh I won’t lie to you, it goes on and on for a while. For some, a loooong while. But nothing can prepare you for those first few weeks. That very adorable baby wants to be adorable for several hours from 2am til 5am. It pukes and cries every half hour on the dot after midnight. You don’t even have the luxury of “waking up” in the morning – you’ve been awake all. Night. Long. Sometime in the not too distant future, you’ll be complaining about your baby waking you three times a night instead of every hour. Hang in there. Once you get your first block of 6 hours sleep, you’ll suddenly feel like a new woman (or man).
2. We’ve been through all the milestones that you’re fearing now.
Right now you’re terrified about all the new things to come. Teething – what the @@#$? Crawling, climbing, tantrums, solids, the smelly poos that come with solids… Us mums have a way of regaling you with our stories of “what’s to come”. Bewildered much? But once you’ve been through several of these brand new experiences and lived to tell the tale, you’ll gain a new kind of confidence.
3. It gets better. I promise.
That mum and dad having coffee in peace while their children read or colour at breakfast? That will be you, soon, very soon. (Ok, not very very soon, but time does fly, in retrospect!) One day, believe it or not, your little baby will learn to feed himself, walk, communicate, go to the toilet (on his own!!), and then (sob of joy) pick up a crayon and scribble. If you’re lucky, for ages and ages. And while every new age and stage brings it own joys and challenges, like homework, learning to ride bikes, navigating friendship dramas, once we have completed our family we will never ever have to go back to those weeks and months of breast-leaking, constant crying, feeding around the clock, waking around the clock, puking, mastitis, recovery from vaginal or Caesarean births, twelve runny explosive poos a day type existence. Never.
4. Our kids can show us that they love us.
We know you’re probably completely in love right now. (And if you’re not, don’t panic, it can take a while). But for the first six or so weeks, apart from ceasing to cry when anyone picks it up, your baby seems, well, grumpy. There are no smiles, no coos, no giggles, no babbling yet. My first baby smiled very early, at 5 1/2 weeks, which was probably a survival tactic as she was colicky and screamed all night at that age. My second baby didn’t smile til 8 weeks and it was like living with a very cranky little old man! But the smiles will start soon, and, with the first toothless grin, all the weeks of sleepless and being covered in puke melt away. Then comes the steady march of adorable behaviour, from the first giggle, to first “Mama” (and steadily proceeding to separation anxiety, another fun milestone for you!) But life is truly truly better once they start to smile.
5. We know now that crying is normal.
Every time your brand new baby squawks, you worry that something is terribly wrong. Are they hungry? Are they ill? Are they in pain? Too cold? Too warm? You run around frantically trying to soothe the crying. It doesn’t help that very well-meaning family and friends wisely say to you, “Babies only cry for a reason.” We went through that too and can tell you whole-heartedly now, sometimes newborns cry because they are newborns. Heard of the “fourth trimester” theory that proposes that babies are born three months early because otherwise their big heads (housing their big brains!!) would not allow them to physically be expelled from the womb? In the first three months there is a lot of crying. Sometimes they’re hungry, sometimes they need a cuddle. Maybe they’re overstimulated. But some babies just cry because they’re very new babies.
So relax. Take a deep breath. Enjoy the ride. Don’t hold it in if you’re feeling stressed. (Research shows that a significant proportion of new parents experience daily anxiety). Talk to someone, get some reassurance, get some practical tips and help. All too soon, you’ll be patting another new parent on the hand and telling them “It will get better. Hang in there”. :)