When I was pregnant with my first baby, I thought I was doing a great job preparing. I bought all the essentials: burp cloths, bassinet, baby swing, a million different creams and lotions, diapers, crazy cute itty-bitty baby clothes. I had enough crap to fill a basement and was gifted so much more. I took a birth class and read a ton about preparing for birth and the newborn stage. I was so ready it was ridiculous.
But then the baby was born, screaming his little head off, and holy crap, I really had no idea. I thought all I had to do was feed the baby, change him, and tuck him into bed—all at reasonably scheduled intervals. What was I smoking?
It’s not that I underestimated the work or the fatigue, but I didn’t know that performing even the most basic baby-care tasks wasn’t as clear-cut as people described. Not at all. I didn’t know how inconsistent babies could be and that so few of them fit the mold of the “perfect” babies that seemed to fill the books, TV, and movies, the internet—just about everywhere.
I have since learned that babies are not just cute lumps of flesh, but mini-humans. They come out with their own personalities, quirks, and preferences, right from the get-go. The best thing to do is just kind of go with who they are and realize that all the stuff pertaining to routine, independence, and normalcy kind of happens on its own, and often at a much later date than you thought it would.
Here are some truths about the baby stage I didn’t know, ones I wish someone had told me before I jumped headfirst into the mess of parenthood:
1. Sometimes babies cry their heads off, and there’s not always a clear reason.
My newborns were colicky. They fussed and cried on and off from about 5 p.m. till midnight unless we were in motion or nursing. It was exhausting (to put it mildly), and I was constantly trying to find the source of their upset. Was it something I was eating? Gas? Reflux? Too hot, too cold? Missing the womb? A combination of all of that? Finally, I realized the hard truth: Babies cry (sometimes a lot), especially in the evenings. And because almost all babies do it, it’s normal—and usually passes on its own (thank the good lord).
2. Not all babies like the car.
This one threw me for a loop. I thought the car was like a cozy rocking cradle for a baby. Not so for mine. Not at all. Both of mine screamed their flipping heads off. Only one of mine would even fall asleep in the car, and only sometimes. They wanted out. They wanted me. Sitting back there with them helped, but only minimally. The car was like baby jail for them.
3. Babies eat all the freaking time.
The book said my baby would breastfeed every two to three hours. That sounds like a lot already, but somewhat reasonable. Umm, no. Sometimes it was every two hours, but only if I was lucky. Usually it was hourly, sometimes every half-hour, especially in the evening (cluster-feeding joy). But my babies got nice and chunky, so there’s that.
4. Some babies can’t be put down AT ALL.
We had this baby swing. It had adorable fish that rotated around and this baby song that was only mildly annoying. But my son would not let me put him in it. Nope. Mom and Dad’s arms only. Thankfully, he grew to like the swing eventually (Mama needs her showers at least sometimes!), but by that time, he had pretty much outgrown it. Such is my luck.
5. 30-minute naps are normal for a long time.
We had this co-sleeper/bassinet thingie, and I tried in vain to get my kid to nap in it. I would wait until he was dead asleep and then gently place him in it. And then “zoink!” his eyes would pop right open. One-minute nap down the drain. I realized the only way to get him to sleep at all was directly on me. And even then, no matter what I did, naps only lasted about 30 minutes for a very long time.
6. That ‘put them down drowsy but awake’ thing is bullshit for most babies.
During the baby stage, I was desperate for sleep. Desperate. I scoured every sleep website out there, and they all said the same thing: I should put my kid down “drowsy but awake.” I tried it. It didn’t work. If my kid was awake, he wasn’t asleep. And if I put him down, he wailed and wailed. Apparently this works for some kids.
7. Schedules are bullshit too.
I’m a very scheduled kind of person. I love schedules. They make my life run smoothly and help me feel sane. My newborn didn’t give a rat’s ass about schedules. I tried to pretend he had one for my own sanity. But it was basically eat, sleep, wake up, look around, repeat. And a schedule for when all that would happen was totally random for very many months. As soon as I thought I saw an discernible pattern, it would change that same day.
8. Babies can feel pain—and love too.
I don’t believe for one second that those early smiles are gas bubbles. Babies know love as soon as they look at you, as soon as they hear the voice they’d been hearing all those months in the womb. They can also feel pain (recent research proves this), and anytime my babies seemed to be in pain from gas or shots or whatever, I felt their pain in my own body.
I remember having an epiphany about babies one evening when my second child was fussing for a good part of the night. Every time we finally settled him down and thought we’d gotten him to sleep, he’d wake up a few minutes later, his big blue eyes looking around for a few minutes before he’d fuss again.
We were totally spent, and we just wanted him to sleep, but I realized, looking into those giant, searching eyes, that this was how parents fall in love with their babies. Somehow, in all their relentlessness—their total and complete needfulness in those first few months—they are speaking the truth to you. It goes something like this: “Hi, I’m here. I’m real. I love you. And your life will never be the same.”