Of course nothing could have prepared me for the euphoric, whirlwind, sleep-deprived joy that is the first year of parenthood. Except… you know, social media, which was awash in 3 a.m. “still up” selfies and diatribes about Ferberizing and weaning and crying about your last day of maternity leave. In other words, I was prepared for the sleepless nights; I was prepared for the insurmountable love; I was even prepared for the judgments and unsolicited advice. But here’s what I really wish somebody would have told me.
1. That everybody lies about how much (and where) their kids sleep.
When my son was about six weeks old, I ran into a longtime acquaintance who had a baby one week younger than mine. “He’s sleeping eight-hour stretches!” she told me, gleefully, spurring a crying fit on my way home from the Rite Aid, while pushing a City Mini through four inches of slush. When I asked her about this months later, she revealed the truth: He had once slept for seven and a half hours. Every other single night of his life he had been up multiple times, and often finished out the early morning in bed between his parents. Here’s the thing: Most women (at least, the ones who will corner you in a Rite Aid) are aspirational and competitive, so we tend to overblow the good things and downplay the bad ones. You hear about Lucy sleeping through the night, in her own crib. You don’t hear about the time she required two hours of bouncing and eventually passed out on the sofa.
2. That you will live in constant fear of something truly terrible happening.
The author Elizabeth Stone once wrote, “To have a child… is to decide to have your heart go around walking outside your body.” For me, this was acute, from the moment I brought my first child home from the hospital. Was he going to stop breathing in his sleep? Was his swaddle blocking his nasal passageways? Could a murderous pedophile climb in through the kitchen window and abduct him while I was in the shower? My mind went to dark places, and while I knew I was crazy, what I didn’t know was how normal this paranoia is. It’s something all moms go through, we just don’t talk about it, either for fear of bringing down the mood or, if you’re as batsh*t as I am, somehow speaking the unspeakable into existence. My kids are now three and one, and I wish I could say these fears have subsided. But they haven’t. They never will. My heart is outside my body, end of story.
3. That milestones are a load of crap, and yet you will obsess over them.
My son didn’t walk until 18 months. My daughter was walking and stacking blocks at 11 months (genius!) but still has only a couple words (that all sort of sound like “moo”). I joke about how his complacency was his blessing and his curse, and how she’ll never get a word in edgewise with a brother who chatters 24/7. But the truth is, I read all the books, I memorized all the shoulds and I freaked the hell out in the rare instances when my kids didn’t measure up. I wish I had known ahead of time how loose the milestones are and how common it is for children to miss them. Would I still have gotten the developmental assessment? Probably. Would I have worried less? For sure.
4. That parenting is intuitive.
Maybe it’s because I’m a big reader, but when I was pregnant, everyone wanted to give me books: Books on breastfeeding, books on sleep, books on bonding. And all (OK, most) of those books were well worth the read. (If you’re out there, Dr. Karp, I’d like to kiss you full on the mouth.) But they also gave me the erroneous impression that parenthood is something to be learned, when, in fact, a lot of it comes pretty naturally. My body knew how to hold an infant. All those 30-year-old lullabies immediately came back to me. When my daughter dropped her Sophie the Giraffe, I instinctually said an overly enunciated “Uh-oh!” without having to be told. All of which is to say: I’m glad I had the guidance and the reinforcement, but I wish I’d had more faith in myself, right off the bat.