You know when you want a job really, really bad, you do all this prep and sweat over the interview and try on 400 outfits? Then you go in there and you almost throw up but then you totally nail it. You wait in agony making silent deals with the devil. This job will completely transform your life! You need it. You HAVE to have it. Then you get the call and…it’s yours! And you’re super pumped and crazy happy, like screaming and fists stabbing in the air all over the place, for like one hour. And then the terror hits you. How the hell are you supposed to actually do this job? You’re totally going to fuck it up and your new boss will simultaneously hate you and laugh at you and you’ll have to change your name and move to Alaska. Then you get in your bed and cry under the covers. You know how that is?
Well, that’s what’s happening over here, except instead of a new job I’m getting a baby. I’m three months pregnant with our first child. My husband and I are psyched but also freaking out. We’ve suddenly realized that we have absolutely no experience taking care of infants or children.
Do people just wing this stuff? Are there actual classes, or maybe night school? I feel like we should at least earn some sort of certification. I mean, are the doctors really going to let us just take this precious new life away from the hospital without vetting us first?
Dear Terrified Newbie,
I know exactly how you feel. I remember vividly leaving the hospital with my new baby, thinking, Can this be right?
I had to go through a day and half of training before I was allowed to work the cash register at my after-school job at Kohl’s. I took a six-week driving course before I ever got behind the wheel of a car. But no one seemed to think I’d be anything but capable when it came to keeping a tiny human alive for the next 18 years.
Yes, this is a little screwed up. But it’s also pretty amazing. There’s no one telling you what to do (Ack!), but there’s also no one telling you what to do (Yay!). This is your baby and you’re going to figure it out all on your own. At first, things might all feel wrong, but little by little, they will start to feel right. Trust me, Terrified. You got this.
Of course, if you’d like a little help getting started, there are tons of books you can read and classes you can take. Once that belly pops, people will come out of the woodwork to give you advice, I promise. Some you’ll listen to; some you’ll ignore. Some you’ll roll your eyes at, only to discover the pure genius of that random tidbit of information at 4am some snowy Sunday.
But since you’ve taken the time to write to me, I want to share some of my new-mom survival advice with you. Take what you need, and leave the rest.
- First, the fear you’re feeling already means you’re a good parent. The people who are bad parents aren’t worried about screwing their kids up. When the fear comes, let it comfort you. It means you’re doing a good job.
- You will learn fast because the baby will teach you. Babies are amazing teachers because when they don’t like what you’re doing, they aren’t shy about giving you their honest feedback. If you burp her when she wants to be fed, or feed her when she wants to sleep, or sing to her when she wants things quiet, she will let you know by screaming as loudly as she can directly into your face. Trust me, a few days of that and you’ll catch on pretty quickly.
- If your baby has trouble sleeping, don’t ask your friend whose baby sleeps. Ask your friend whose baby never sleeps. This second friend has read every sleep book, every website, tried every baby sleep apparatus. She’s got a thousand ideas for you. Give her a call. Don’t worry if it’s late—she’s up.
- Everybody’s going to accidentally bump or bruise the baby, so it’s best to make a no-guilt pact with your husband now, before it happens. Decide that you won’t get mad at each other when you, inevitably, hurt the baby. Pinky swear. Then when you knock his elbow against the rail of the crib, or, bleary-eyed, give him a 3am dose of painkiller when he just had a dose at 2am, or inadvertently catch the smooth skin of his thigh with the jagged edge of your fingernail, you won’t worry that, on top of the terrible guilt you already feel, you’ll have to suffer your husband’s wrath as well.
- Don’t ever Google anything. You won’t get answers, only more questions.
- No one enjoys every moment. The people who say that either have very selective memories or are straight-up liars. A huge percentage of infant-rearing is pure torture. And even the parts that are supposed to be amazing get a little tedious after a while. Sometimes snuggling your precious infant while she sleeps is five minutes of heart-exploding joy followed by fifty-five minutes of soul-crushing boredom. But there’s sweetness, too. So much sweetness.
- You are infinitely tougher than you think you are. Before I had a baby, if you’d shown me a printout of how much sleep I’d get in those first six months, I would have laughed at you. “No human can live on that much sleep,” I would have said. But I did. And you can, too. It’s amazing what you can do.
The fact is, it’s a good thing we don’t license people to care for babies the way we license them to drive cars. While all cars work basically the same way, babies most assuredly do not. This baby’s yours. She already knows you. She’s studying your heartbeat and your breathing. She knows your exact temperature, your smell, all the nuanced pressures of your plumbing. She knows how you walk and how you sleep. She feels you bend to tie your shoes. She’s starting to like all the things that you eat.
When she emerges into the world she’ll see that it’s bigger, much bigger than she thought. This reveal will happen slowly. First, when she comes into the light. Then when the doors of the hospital room open, and again the first time you take her outside. For a while, she may expect the sky to open, too. She’ll look for limits. She’ll look for patterns. You will help her find them.
She’ll be very smart, right away. She knows what she wants and she’ll tell you. Your big new job that seems so scary is actually terribly simple. You just need to listen to what that baby tells you and react with love.
You’re going to do awesome. I can tell.
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of “Why We Never Talk About Sugar.” Her work has appeared widely in print and online. You can learn more about her at www.aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch