When it comes to trying to parent a baby, I feel like we were lied to. There were no out-and-out lies like “he’ll sleep through the night at five weeks,” but there were omissions. Big honking omissions. And when we’ve brought them up to more experienced parents, they laugh and tell us that whatever we weren’t told about is perfectly normal.
Nobody told us that for the first week, he’d only sleep in our arms and scream to wake the dead if we put him in a swing or co-sleeper. We’ve had this couch for six years, and I slept on it more in a week than I had in the previous six years combined. We should have realized something was fishy when our midwife told us during our hospital discharge that her daughter only slept in the Mobywrap or the car seat for her first four months. After months of parenting classes that all emphasized only putting babies to sleep on their backs and never co-sleeping, we had to ignore the rules and make our own.
Nobody told us that sometimes, babies’ bodies aren’t coordinated enough to poop on their own all the time. We spent nights listening to Gabe fuss and grunt and cry, until our pediatrician explained the careful application of a lubricated Q-tip to relieve his issues. And while the official party line from our parenting classes was that there was no solid correlation between what a mother eats and what gives her baby gas, I beg to differ. We learned the hard way that I can’t eat onions in any quantity after one hellacious night.
Nobody explained that baby clothes, like adult clothes, vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. I have a stack of unworn and hand-decorated Gerber onesies that never fit Gabe because they run so small. Garanimals run short and wide. Ralph Lauren runs small (high-end designers: helping body dysmorphia start at birth!). Carters runs long, which is just fine, because the kid’s 24.5″ long and sometimes it seems to be all torso.
While my midwife had briefly alluded to latching on sometimes being painful, nobody had explained the sheer agony of a bad latch during breastfeeding. A good latch gives your child an open mouthful of boob. While Gabe can certainly open his mouth, he prefers a dainty tip-of-the-nipple latch, one that involves pain that can send me into tears if I’m tired enough. Nobody explained that you don’t have to leave your child on your breast as long as they want, something I wish I’d figured out before I’d gone through almost two months of feedings that lasted an hour or longer each, effectively limiting me to my couch for days.
While nobody told me about painful breastfeeding, they’d also never mentioned the rush of oxytocin that breastfeeding releases. Some mothers have said they never felt it, while others have said that it hits them like a brick wall. When Gabe and I relax into a feeding (one that’s not painful), the oxytocin rush can be intoxicating.
Nobody told me that I really would find the most mundane things he does to be fascinating. Nobody told me that I’d slip into sing-song baby talk at the drop of a hat to make him smile. Nobody told me that his grumpy face is the funniest thing ever. Nobody told me that I’d spend hours discussing the minutiae of his bowels with my husband. Nobody told me that I’d sacrifice everything from eating to taking the time to pee to make him happy (or at least, not cry).
Nobody told us that when he first smiled at us, actually made eye contact and smiled at us, it would make everything bad seem worth it. Sometimes he’ll be mid-grump session and smile at us, catch himself, and then re-commit to the grump. Of course, now he smiles at everything–strangers, family, toys, mirrors, the car seat. But the moments where he connects with us–the smiles, the wheezing almost-laugh, the piercing sweetness of when he relaxes into our arms–nobody told us how amazing they would seem. Nobody told me I’d be so happy to let 12 pounds of sleeping infant lie across my arms while I tried to type this, just so we could be close, just so I could see his face.