I’m smart; I have an Associate’s degree, a Bachelor’s degree, a Master’s degree and various other certifications. I’ve also been a summer camp counselor, a substitute teacher, a children’s librarian, and used to babysit as a teenager. Suffice it to say when I discovered I was pregnant I thought I had some good qualifications under my belt, but somehow very little of this prepared me for infanthood!
In addition, being quite academic and definitely literary, I acquired a whole baby library. My shelves are replete with books on natural childbirth, vaccines, sleep books (nothing works, he still wakes up once or twice every night), attachment parenting, building children’s self-esteem, nourishing traditions for feeding, how not to be a sh*tty parent, etc, etc. But as in most life situations, nothing replaces first hand experience and I knew that, but now I REALLY know it. So here are a bunch of things I was totally naive about and had underlying assumptions about, until I found out otherwise….
Perception: In our culture labor is excruciating, painful, horrible, medicated and difficult. In my Hypnobabies class, we were taught otherwise and I was on board with the concept of an unmedicated childbirth, a positive experience and self-hypnosis.
Reality: My birthing experience actually was positive and it wasn’t particularly painful, just intense. But what WAS painful was tearing, my episiotomy and the ensuing post-birth stitches- that was excruciating! The post-birth bleeding and recovery were way worse than the birthing itself; I had no idea!!! It took me two weeks to walk normally and almost a month before I could sit without a “U” shaped cushion.
Perception: I assumed that newborns would get tired and then they would nap. Everyone knows babies sleep a lot, right?! Babies are famous for sleeping, so I thought.
Reality: Babies usually sleep exactly when you don’t want them to sleep (like when friends of family are visiting and you went to show them off). Babies don’t magically sleep, often, they actually need to be taught! Who knew?! There are 100’s of books about sleep training and an entire industry of consultants charging big bucks for what I thought was an automatic human function. My baby didn’t like to sleep much, I had to cajole, swaddle (he usually broke out of the swaddle), play music, rock, nurse, or dance with him. He’s 17 months now and still doesn’t like to sleep, I think he has a serious case of FOMO.
Perception: Baby clothing is so cute and I had some fantasies about the adorable outfits he would wear and and how cute he would look and how cozy he would feel.
Reality: Forget anything over the head for at least the first three months and even though everyone tells you to buy big sizes because babies grow quickly, that’s not necessarily true. My son was really tiny, even though he was full-term, he was under six pounds and he didn’t grow quickly at all. He was swimming in everything, even newborn things were too big, especially the diapers, they practically fell off. I should have bought preemie size for the first month- who knew?! Note to self- too big diapers leak!
Perception: I thought breastfeeding would be kind of icky, I’d leak everywhere, I’d need nursing tops, pads, special bras, and that I’d only do it for a few months and then be done with it!
Reality: At seventeen months we’re still going strong, I nurse him to sleep every night and the whole experience has been quite easy! He latched right way, I’ve never leaked or bled and realized quickly all I needed was a wardrobe of a hundred spaghetti strap tank tops to wear under everything or alone to just yank down to nurse. I found the best $20 nursing sport bras and was done with it, the one fancy nursing tank top I bought was frustrating- I hated trying to fit my nipples though those tiny little slits and then my husband mistakenly shrunk it in the dryer. Waste of money! However, the trickiest part has been breaking the habit of not nursing him to sleep. I had no idea how comforting and pleasant nursing would be for the both of us, but also how demanding, especially in the beginning. Ideally, I’d like to wean him by two years, we’ll see how that goes…
Perception: Babies are a fact of life and wherever you go people will just understand that.
Reality: HA! Not everyone loves or understands babies and people and businesses can’t or won’t necessarily accommodate you. A lot of restaurants do not have high chairs and are not set up for stroller navigation- neither are stores. It can be challenging to push a stroller through narrow grocery aisles and boutique display cases. Not that many places have changing tables and even less have them in men’s rooms- why do they think dads don’t change diapers?! Most subway stations don’t have elevators and if they do, they’re often out of service and you can only take your stroller on a bus if you can fold up the frame. Taxis will avoid picking you up, even though it’s illegal.
Perception: Babies like to eat and I was excited for him to try solid food. I thought carefully about what his first food should be and heard babies love sweet foods, especially banana purees- they’re soft and sweet. I also assumed that after purees comes chunkier mash ups, then real food bits. Easy, done! I also bought various bibs to keep him clean.
Reality: My son disliked bananas and still does unless they’re hidden in something, but he loves hummus, guacamole, sprouted tofu, dark chocolate and Bamba (Israeli peanut butter puffs)… I guess he gets his palate straight from my breast milk! It seemed like he would never learn to chew like all the other babies I saw, I thought there was a problem. He choked a few times a week, although never on the brink of death, it was still scary. In fact, he liked the attention so much, he started choking on purpose, just for attention, even though he did’t have anything in his mouth. Babies are clever…. So clever, in fact, this baby learned how to take off all of his bibs- every single one! So even though I still attempt to put them on, he rips them off. I didn’t know he would hate them so much.
So, with the two year mark just around the corner I’m assuredly in for a lot more learning. I don’t know what I’ll discover in this toddler world, but I’m prepared because I know that my perceptions will not match reality and that, at least, is something I can count on.