Before I had kids, I was pretty sure I knew exactly how to do this parenting thing. While heavily pregnant with my first child, I encountered a rather unhappy toddler and her mother at Target. The child was screaming bloody murder, and her mother didn’t appear to even notice; she was simply perusing the clearance rack, apparently not bothered in the least by the ear-splitting shrieks coming from the cart right in front of her.
As it turns out, it’s quite easy to know exactly how to parent before you actually become a parent yourself. It’s a whole lot harder when you’re living with that fussy baby/whiny toddler/stubborn preschooler. Like most parents, reality slapped me in the face when baby made three (and then four), and I’ve been that oblivious—or perhaps more accurately, beyond the point of caring—Target shopper more than once.
Here are seven other things I swore I’d never do that I now do on an almost daily basis.
I swore I’d never … graphically rehash my labor and delivery.
So you don’t want to hear about the third-degree tear in my perineum? I can’t imagine why. When people would go into great detail about their deliveries before I had lived through my own, I would listen earnestly and try not to be disgusted by the talk of the bloody show, tabletop bowel movements and astonishing vaginal stretching. But inside, I was thinking: Ew. Please stop. I did not understand why every woman holding a newborn felt compelled to share every step of her baby’s journey from womb to world.
And then I had a baby—and I got it. Because it is, in a word, amazing. How could you not tell everyone you see how awesome it is to witness a new life entering the world? How could you not tell them how strong you are, how badly it hurt, how totally worth it the whole thing was? It’s impossible not to share—even when your kid-free friends are looking a little squeamish. Great stories deserve to be told, and every birth story is great.
I swore I’d never … let my kids sleep in my bed.
I fully planned to have my first son sleep in a bassinet in our room for the first few months and then transition to a crib. My husband and I agreed: No baby in the bed. Within days we broke this promise. In our defense, it was out of desperation; the kid just would not sleep. As soon as his back touched any non-human surface, he would begin wailing like a banshee. Snuggle him up next to a person, and he would sleep like, well, a baby.
At first, we laid beside him cautiously on the bed, scared to close our eyes or move. Then exhaustion kicked in, and we began sleeping like logs—all three of us, together in the bed, every night. The baby could nurse with ease. My husband was less zombie-like at work. I finally remembered what it was like to actually close my eyes. That bassinet I insisted on buying was perfect for holding all our diapers, wipes and extra sleepers. Not exactly what I had in mind for it, but let’s focus on the positive: We were all getting some sleep.
Now for the Public Service Announcement: Sharing a bed is not recommended by most medical professionals, and they will even tell you that it is downright unsafe. They are probably right. If you do co-sleep, you should do so with an approved co-sleeping device. (We splurged on one the second time around.) Do as I say, not as I do. Because while we survived co-sleeping in the safety sense, we quickly realized that it presented another unexpected danger: The danger that your child may never, ever leave your bed. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s just as hard to get a toddler to sleep in his own bed as it is a newborn.
I swore I’d never … feed my baby a bottle.
I knew I wanted to nurse, so when the lactation gurus told me not to put anything in my baby’s mouth that might cause nipple confusion, I took their advice to heart. But during the aforementioned no-sleep debacle, I reached a very low point, and my husband sent me to bed—alone—with very stern instructions to not return until I had actually had a little rest. I crawled under the covers in tears, feeling like a total failure. My mom came over, and together she and my husband fed my son a little pumped milk from a bottle.
When I woke up three hours later, I felt like a new person. I immediately nursed my son (because my breasts were dangerously close to exploding), and he had no problem latching on. No harm, no foul. In fact, that bottle brought us nothing but happiness.
A few weeks later, my son enjoyed a bottle from his grandma again while I went to a doctor’s appointment. And then my husband started taking the night shift on the weekends. A few times I even allowed my son to drink formula (gasp!) from that bottle. I’m a firm believer that breast is best, but I also now know that there’s nothing wrong with breaking out the bottle every now and then. The end goal is a mom and baby who are both happy and healthy, and when a bottle helps you reach that goal, so be it.
I swore I’d never … have my home taken over by toys and baby gear.
This one is downright laughable. I registered for modern gear in neutral colors that would fit seamlessly into my home’s décor. And it all looked perfect—until the baby was born, and we actually started using it. A sleek baby swing smack-dab in the middle of your living room is still a baby swing smack-dab in the middle of your living room. It’s not going to blend in.
And that small bin of carefully selected toys in the corner? It has been replaced with a full-fledged kiddy toy box that is loaded to the brim with bright, loud, obnoxious baby toys. What can I say? The kids love them, and I love the kids. I still try to opt for the less-offensive wooden toys when I can, but sometimes that talking plastic phone is the key to my sanity.
And although I was hesitant to borrow my friend’s huge colorful activity center when she insisted it was well worth the visual displeasure, I found within minutes that she was absolutely right. That thing was magic. I went out that day and bought one of our own, and it sits in a place of glory where I can appreciate its function to this very day. I recommend one to every new mom I know—flashing lights, circus colors and all.
I swore I’d never … refer to myself as “mommy” and my husband as “daddy.”
I barely even remember our prebaby names; I don’t think we’ve used them in years. Now it’s just, “Oh wow, I think it’s Daddy’s turn to change a diaper!” or “Mommy, this sweet baby is looking for you.” (In other words: “He’s crying.”)
Strangely, I’m not even sure that using these names was a choice we made because it seems as though everyone else auto-matically assigned us these generic titles— pediatric nurses, our family, strangers. Our old names are simply gone; in every essence, we have become mommy and daddy. While I do kind of miss my old name, the parenting monikers aren’t quite as bad as I thought they’d be. I had no idea I’d drink the Kool-Aid, but I kind of love being called mommy. I can’t think of a single title I’d rather boast.
I swore I’d never … wipe my kids’ noses with my bare hand.
Or catch their vomit in my hands. Or pop their dirty pacifier in my own mouth to “remove” the germs before sticking it back in theirs. You get where this is going. Parenting is a disgusting business.
For the first six months of my youngest son’s life, spit-up was pretty much my only accessory. It was on my clothes; it was in my hair; it was all over the burp cloth slung permanently over my shoulder. I really tried to stay on top of the mess, but there was so much, and I was so tired. I bet I grossed out quite a few people when they spotted—and smelled—the dried baby vomit on my back. Hopefully they recognized the new mom haze and didn’t judge me too harshly. But they probably did—after all, I know exactly what I would’ve thought of someone in that state three years earlier: Yuck. I’ll never let myself go like that. Oh, the irony.
I swore I’d never … bring up my children in every conversation.
Although I do try not to do this, I fail miserably. I blame my kids—they’re just so stinking adorable and talented. On girls night, I’m the dork in the corner thumbing through 800 blurry iPhone pics of my kids doing various everyday things, like playing in the sandbox. And on date night, my handsome man and I spend at least 75 percent of our time talking about how mind-blowing it is that we created such wonderful, amazing little people. I’m still the same girl I was premotherhood, and I am perfectly capable of having “real” conversations about important things like world peace and the latest episode of “Scandal”—but you’re going to have to hear a thing or two about my offspring somewhere along the way. It’s just the way things work these days.
Perhaps the oddest thing about how much parenthood has changed me is how little I care. Many of the things I thought would be important just aren’t. And because I’ve now lived the dream (and sometimes nightmare) of being a parent, I’m so much less judgmental and concerned with appearances. My kids made me a better person simply by showing up on this planet—and for that, I am thankful every single day. (Have I mentioned how amazing my kids are?)