As you may have tallied from previous installments of this column, I have four children. After the birth of my first, I relied heavily on the advice of, in particular, one friend a thousand miles away, and two websites. After a request from an expectant mother, I wrote out what I could think of as “advice.” I will share that advice with you now, either for you, someone you know, or fodder for your novel.
Kellymom.com and Askdrsears.com were gold for me for advice with each baby. I never learned from Dr. Spock or Dr. Oz; I just googled the same questions for each child.
Create a podcast list for the long nights.
Know there will be long nights.
Embrace the long nights. One day they will be a distant memory. I still hold an affection for the film, “Witness for the Prosecution,” which I watched incrementally in the middle of the night on YouTube with a terrible video card before streaming movies were all the rage.
Whatever happens at night stays at night. You might say things to your partner you regret. He might say things to you that you regret. But those are insomnia conversations and are best let go of when daylight comes.
People will ask you every time they find out you have a baby, “how is she sleeping?” They see this as a mark of success on your part or goodness on the baby’s part. Your baby might sleep the night away at three weeks or wake every two hours for 18 months. Love her, nurse or bottle feed her and know that she will sleep on her own by the time she goes to college.
Say yes whenever someone offers to help. Create a list before you are completely sleep deprived for those people to select from when they offer generically. Share the list with your partner as well.
When she is born, stay in, don’t go out. You may feel well enough to go to Target or Walmart when she is five days old. Resist the urge should it arise. If the opposite happens, leave the house by at least one month.
Shrug off the people who say you should keep her indoors until she is three. You will not endanger her life by taking her to mass at two-weeks-old any more than you endangered her life by giving her life. That said, avoid Ikea.
Everything outside of baby’s vision goes on hold when a new baby arrives (pregnancy trained you for this). Expectations change. The fog grows thick. Meals get delivered.
When you are ready to act, baby carriers and battery-powered rockers help. It depends on baby’s personality. She’ll decide what works. In our baby training society, there is an expectation that we can train our children to be pacified the way we want. This only happens in 1960’s television shows. It is not grounded in reality. Fight less. Sleep more.
My firstborn had to be held non-stop. The night I realized I could lay down with her in the crook of my arm while I slept was the first night of relief for me. My third child, on the other hand, lived in the swing because she was happiest there. My fourth child slept in my arms for two months and in a hospital crib for the next 6 weeks (and not because of the time spent sleeping in my arms). Your flexibility will help you find the best way of being in the world with your daughter.
Trust your gut. Trust the system. Your body and the baby’s body are made to work this way. Sometimes things do not work the way they are supposed to. It is okay to admit when things are wrong when it should not be this way. That is when trusting your gut matters most.
In those times, support buoys us up. Whether support comes in the form of a military-mom 1000 miles away, a Facebook group or the Hughson Family Resource Center, the support you find becomes a light when the dark nights grow long.
You will find a way.