I'm not trying to scare you, telling you how much worse parenthood is than you originally thought. Heck, you may turn out to be a baby whisperer. You may have an airtight support network. Or, you may have been visited by one of Dickens's ghosts, seen the real truths of motherhood to come, and are prepared to shift your entire life pace and focus.
But you'd put up the storm shutters if forecasters said a hurricane was likely to hit. As a company manager, you'd prepare yourself and your employees for the repercussions of a hostile takeover, even if the acquiring company ended up being affable. My veteran mommy friends and I suggest you, too, lay in provisions to ease Junior's arrival and your adjustment to the new management of your household.
Lining Up Helpers Galore
First, get help, at least periodic relief, lined-up for six weeks to two months after the birth, not just a week or two. Think about ways to lengthen your husband's paternity leave, keep your mother in town longer, or hire a helper for more time.
Make lists of specific requests such as "Fold laundry," "Bring me fluff magazines," or "Make us a casserole" so you're prepared when people ask you what they can do for you.
Learn to accept every offer of help, even if you tuck away a proffered favor for later. One caveat, though, invite into your home only helpmates with whom you are truly comfortable. Don't be like Pam, a mom in New Jersey who still can't believe she waited on her mother-in-law hand-and-foot for two weeks after giving birth. Don't let your father come with your mom, if he'll end up being helpless and demanding.
Also, be forewarned that you'll likely feel a dollop of competition with those you bring in to help. Your mom's magic touch with babies may feel especially threatening if you're feeling as though you're all thumbs.
Developing a Network of Sitters
It's never too early to start filling a little black book with names and phone numbers of babysitters. Approach this networking task with the zeal you'd apply to gathering contacts in a job search. You'll soon learn which friends hoard sitters and which pals share, but don't rely on their recommendations alone.
Help from professional nanny services, which should be bonded, insured, and do background checks, provide peace-of-mind with a newborn but they cost a bloody fortune. Gyms with childcare are a mom's best friend, and many offer classes for postpartum moms in which newborns are allowed to work up a sweat on the sidelines. Child-care providers with whom you arrange daytime care might also babysit at night, or have someone reliable to recommend. Local houses of worship, babysitting certification teachers, child-care facilities and day camps, and principals of parochial or private high schools, to whom the students are well known, can be great resources for finding sitters.
Consider hiring a teenager as a mother's helper during this frazzling time. Not only do you get bright-eyed and inexpensive assistance, you get a chance to orient her and scope out whether she'd be responsible alone with an infant. And don't rule out boy sitters-sons of friends and associates, particularly those who care for their younger brothers and sisters. As is true of my boys with their favorite Saturday night supervisor, Enrique, a great sitter can become an important role model to your child in a relationship that can sometimes be fostered for years.
Amassing Comfort Items
Secondly, stockpile comfort items and sustaining influences. Lots of bottled water will come in handy, as you'll need to keep hydrated if you breast-feed. You'll appreciate having several new, large, and loose cotton T-shirts in flattering colors, because even after giving birth, you probably won't yet fit into pre-pregnancy clothes.
Pick one comprehensive baby health and care guide, maybe two books on breast-feeding if you plan to nurse, and one on getting babies to sleep. Learn only what you need to know now. You're less likely to get overwhelmed and confused if you take things day by day, developmental stage by developmental stage.
Get six favorite CDs, preferably a couple featuring kick-ass women rockers, loaded in your stereo. Buy a "sanity" journal and tuck it and a pen into a side pocket of your glider rocker. Make little reminder signs for the house with sayings like "It takes a village," or "This, too, shall pass." Put into speed-dial friends who can provide great pep talks. And practice little cheers for yourself such as "I'm too sexy for this spittle, too sexy for sterilizing bottles..."
Another calming influence? Lowered expectations. Give yourself permission to eat on paper plates for a year. Commit to spending no more than fifteen minutes on weekdays straightening/cleaning your home. Set a timer, and when the bell goes off, go lie down! Stifle the perfectionist in you long enough to list, together with your spouse, some specific standards you could relax. Prioritize only your most basic needs.
Trusting Your Gut
Ultimately, the resounding message from the moms I interviewed is, do what feels safe and comfortable for you and your family. Find your truth, follow your heart, and trust your gut. Employ whichever clich?mantra you need to!
For example, attachment parenting with its co-sleeping emphasis may be ideal for your friend to raise her baby, but not at all suited to your temperament. Breast-feeding is wonderful and beneficial, but it's also incredibly difficult. So go easy on yourself if the adjustment is hard, or you just can't make it work.
A labor and delivery nurse once told me, "There's no right way to have a baby." Likewise, there's also not a single right way to tend an infant or raise a child. Parents, babies, and households are so wildly individual that one-size-fits-all approaches are laughable at best.
You will know your baby best, your marriage best. Even if your own answers seem cockeyed, even if you're tempted to course-correct when you watch other moms, honor your role as the authority on making your life-with-a-little-one work.
Remember that your enormous love is at the very crux of all this stress. Then go forward with calm and confidence to meet this new member of your family. Let yourself be as human as the experience itself. Hold the miracle in your hands, and breathe.
From What No One Tells the Mom by Marg Stark. Copyright © 2005. Used by arrangement with Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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