On April 10, James and I welcomed our son, Jude Francis, into the world. It has been 11 weeks of wonderful mixed with a thorough helping of disorienting and, well, life-altering. I didn’t spend very much time reading up on What to Expect while I was expecting but even if I had, I don’t think you can ever really be prepared for what being a new parent requires. As I emerge out of the initial fog of keeping a newborn alive while trying to remain sane, I find myself laughing at the discrepancy of what I was expecting during maternity leave compared to what is truly was.
What I expected: In the weeks leading up to our due date, EVERY friend with kids told us to get as much sleep as we could because we wouldn’t be getting it again for the next 18 years. I heard them loud and clear – I expected to be tired.
What I didn’t expect: That the lack of sleep would cloud all parts of my life and make me feel crazy. Crazy tired, crazy emotional, crazy indecisive, crazy crazy. I mean, I haven’t had more than 4 uninterrupted hours of sleep in 91 days (but who’s counting?). I also didn’t expect that eventually you really do adjust to being able to pretend to be a fully functioning person with so little reserves.
What I expected: I would have to feed the baby every 2-3 hours, even through the night.
What I didn’t expect: “2-3 hours” is a euphemism for “All The Freaking Time”. Let me explain: you count a feeding cycle just like a menstrual cycle (the first minute of the first feed to the first minute of the next feed). When each feeding takes 40 minutes, that’s only 1 hour 20 minutes between feedings. Within that 1 hour 20 minute “break” I also had to pump to store milk for returning to work. So basically, I’m a sleep-deprived milk factory where every day feels like Groundhog Day.
What I expected: Just like every other baby, my baby would cry a lot.
What I didn’t expect: That I would be the one crying more. The compounded nature of pregnancy, delivery, nursing, sleep-deprivation, raging hormones, and the utter loss of autonomy brought more daily tears from me than it did from my baby. I remember a few horrible nights when Jude was crying inconsolably and all I could do was to cry back at him. I may have even pleaded with him, hoping we could reason our way out of the long night. We were a hot mess.
4. FREE TIME
What I expected: Twelve weeks of maternity leave would give me ample time to work on projects in the house, grab meals and coffee with friends, let me catch up on lots of books and Netflix, pick up new domestic skills like baking banana bread and taking trips to Target.
What I didn’t expect: See points number 1, 2 and 3.
What I expected: Our friends with kids all said that parenthood would be the hardest job we would ever love; that we would find ourselves staring at our little one with wonder and delight; that we won’t be able to believe how much we could love one little baby.
What I didn’t expect: That they would be right. Cliches are cliche because they tend to be universally true. I don’t even care that I get pooped on, puked on, spit up on – he’s still the most adorable being in the entire world. I am head-over-heels in love with the way he falls asleep on my chest, and the way he squeaks when he eats, or how his chin quivers when he cries in a pathetic high-pitched wail. I melt in love when he smiles (especially when it’s not gas), when he stares with fascination at ceiling lights and fans. I love his little “startle arms” that shoot up when he least expects it, and his big eyes with a look of surprise. I love wondering who he is and who he will become as he grows. I am crazy in love with this little boy and I can’t believe it when I say that I would do it all over again just to experience the delight of my son.
If you’ve gone through something similar, what other surprises did you encounter in your first several weeks of parenthood?