So far parenting has been simultaneously the most difficult and most rewarding and enriching experience of my life. Here are just a few thoughts on the first 6 months. I’d love to hear yours!
1. No matter how many labour stories you hear, yours will be different
When I was pregnant, it seemed like every woman I talked to who had previously given birth wanted to share her labour story upon seeing my bulging belly. At first this was fascinating, and after a while it was a bit overwhelming. Visions of episiotomies and C-sections danced through my already borderline neurotic brain (more on that later), and I feared I wouldn’t even know what a true labour pain felt like when it did occur. I ended up being induced at the recommendation of my doctor at almost 42 weeks, and experienced some procedures I had never even heard of – cervical catheter, anyone (as an aside, I’ve come to realize after preparing for IUI and giving birth that any procedure involving the word cervical is not going to be fun)? It is, however, true what they say: in the end, whether you give birth, adopt, have a child via surrogate, etc., a healthy baby is all that matters.
2. Breast-feeding is the hardest ‘natural’ thing I’ve ever done
Even though I read books and took classes to learn how to breastfeed, I had no idea the complexity involved in such a seemingly natural process. It didn’t help that my milk didn’t come in until about day 6, and even then it was with more of a whimper then a bang. I won’t detail my struggles here, but will say that a loving partner and a good lactation consultant – one who listens and doesn’t vilify you for supplementing with formula for the sake of feeding your baby – were the keys to my getting through the tough times. I do believe ‘breast is best’ but groups like La Leche League have to be supportive of all women and realistic about the demands new moms are facing (ie. It is not feasible or good for your mental health to have your baby at your breast literally 24 hours a day!) regardless of their feeding choices. I made peace with ‘combination feeding’ Hannah and I think a lot more women would do the same vs. giving up breast feeding (or pumping) altogether if the message from most public health nurses and support groups were more inclusive.
3. The ‘other mother’/dad has a tough job, too
Yes, birth moms go through a lot physically and emotionally to bring a child into this world, and of course that should be highly commended, but the other parent carries a burden before, during, and after the baby’s birth as well. While people congratulated Andrea and her team at work threw her a lovely shower, I don’t think she experienced quite the same level of attention when we were expecting Hannah as I received when pregnant. During labour and delivery she was on her feet for most of the 21 hours, incapable of easing my physical pain, and she had to field calls, emails, and in person visitors throughout. Despite changing countless dirty diapers, giving bottles, comforting, and rocking our baby to sleep, when Hannah first started to smile and focus on faces it was often me she’d look at because she is with me all day while Andrea goes off to work to provide for our family. All of these things start to change, and I’m already noticing that mama’s return from work in the evening is an exciting event, but I think most non-birth parents deal with the emotions this must invoke in silence (likely because they are mostly men and are taught to keep there emotions hidden and ‘be strong’). Nothing warms my heart more than seeing Andrea (mama) and Hannah sharing ‘a moment’ and I am so glad Andrea will have 2 months of parental leave to enjoy with our baby girl.
4. If you think the worrying ends when you hear your baby’s first cry, think again
To quote another mom from a parenting magazine, “if you could get paid for worrying, I’d be a multi-millionaire”. Boy, does pregnancy and parenthood give you a lot to worry about! During my pregnancy Andrea basically banned me from the Internet. She’d hear me clicking away on the computer, ask what I was doing, and I’d say something like, ‘just surfing porn, dear!” but she knew darn well I was googling things like ‘incompetent cervix’ and ‘echogenic bowel’. Then Hannah was born as healthy as could be, so naturally I stopped worrying, right? Hells no! It was on to my fixation with SIDS, of course. It dawned on me the other day that I’ll be watching Hannah on stage at high school giving her valedictorian address and I’ll still be worrying about what might happen to her out in the world. Oh, did I mention I have potentially unreasonable expectations, too?
5. You really don’t understand the love you feel for a child until you have one.
My friend Rob Sawyer put it best (I’m going to paraphrase here): “I am a teacher and work with a lot of women. When I had my first child I realized that when I had congratulated them on the birth of their babies, I really had no idea what it meant, so I went back and congratulated them again now that I truly know how amazing it is to have your own child”. Before you have kids, parents tell you that you would lay down on the tracks for your child and you understand it as a concept, but not a reality, until your own little one comes in to your life. And God help anyone who tries to hurt our babies…
6. You get to see the world through your baby’s eyes
I think we focus a lot on the fact that we are going to be responsible for showing and teaching our children all about the world, but we don’t realize they’ll give us a new perspective on things as well. Hannah’s wonder at the tiniest things, like the fish swimming by in our aquarium or the actions to a song, make me remember how wonderful the little things in life are. This has been one of the most pleasant surprises so far.
7. You’ve entered a new world you may not have known existed and you will do things that used to leave you baffled
Before your baby is born, people love to tell you that you will never again get a full night’s sleep or see a movie without interruption. What they may not tell you is that once you have a child you suddenly belong to a ‘club’ inhabited only by other parents. You will undoubtedly have a moment (or several moments) when you realize you have joined said club, such as when I was at the Baby Show next to people dressed as My Little Ponies singing about being vegetarians while I watched stroller-pushing moms form long line ups for free samples. I said to my friend, “This is our new world” and thought to myself, ‘I used to think these people were crazy. Now I am one of these people’. You will also lift your baby and smell its bum to see if he/she needs a change, and you will literally do anything, no matter how ridiculous, to make your baby laugh. You will tell yourself that you’ll never do these things (just like you’ll tell yourself you’ll never by a mini-van), but you will.
8. Watching a baby develop is freakin’ cool
We all know that people develop from completely needy creatures to self-sustaining, highly capable beings, but seeing it happen before your very eyes is fascinating! One minute you are carrying around a lump who can only see about 20cm in front of her/his face, and the next minute they are focusing on items, then grabbing for them, rolling for them, and even pulling their bodies along the ground to get to them. All they can do at first is cry, then one day they coo and, best of all, laugh, and before you know it they start to make noises like “ma-ma-ma-ma”. I know with crawling, standing, walking, talking, etc. still to come this real-time development stuff is only just beginning for me!