When you have a new baby, you realize a few things: Every birth story is unique. Every newborn has his or her own little personality and individual needs. Each couple goes about the task of parenting in their own customized way.
In spite of all these differences, there are seven truths that almost all new parents encounter. I list them here, in all of their glory, and give you suggestions for coping:
1. You'll resemble a sleepwalking zombie for the first few weeks -- no Halloween costume required. Newborns have to eat throughout the night. Sleep patterns don't get established for several months. Your normal sleep routines will definitely be disturbed. You're going to be tired, my friend.
Suggestions: Take naps and sleep when you can. Take turns getting up with the baby. Remind yourself that things will improve as your little one gets older. Don't be afraid to reach out to a sleep consultant or ask for extra assistance from family and friends if needed.
2. Get ready to channel some Han Solo and Chewbacca mojo -- you and your partner will be relying on each other more than ever. A new baby is a two-person job. While one person changes a diaper, the other one can make coffee. While one rests, the other can soothe the newborn.
Suggestions: View your new infant as a team project. You two can take this challenge on together, and you will be a stronger couple as a result. If you are a single parent, surround yourself with supportive helpers who can give you breaks and emotional support when needed.
3. There will be a learning curve. Don't aim for an immediate 4.0 GPA in Parenting 101. Both you and your baby have to figure out how this new gig is going to work. Things won't go perfectly at first... and every time you get something sorted out, everything will change.
Suggestions: Be patient with yourself, your partner and your baby. Don't expect breastfeeding and baby-soothing to run completely smoothly right off the bat. Go with the flow -- you'll feel more competent with time and practice.
4. Welcome aboard, fasten your seat belts and prepare to ride the Emotional Roller Coaster. Hormones, sleep deprivation, anxiety and a bit of euphoria can make both parents (but especially mom) feel emotional. This is normal and should get better with time.
Suggestions: Let the feelings flow and offer each other comfort and understanding. If feelings of depression, anxiety or anger seem insurmountable, talk to your doctor, midwife or a counselor as soon as you can.
5. One minute you'll want to write your partner a love song; the next minute you'll feel like they are on a distant planet (and you might want them to stay there). Seeing your mate care for an infant is a beautiful thing, and you could find yourself feeling more attracted than ever. On the other hand, a newborn requires a lot of attention, which can take time away from connecting with each other. Add hormones and exhaustion into the mix, and irritations can run high.
Suggestions: Connect with each other when you can. A hug. A cuddle on the couch. A sweet compliment. Remind yourself and your partner that this is all temporary!
6. Your first "How To Be A Parent" manual was written and delivered by your own parents. Your folks were your original role models. Sometimes this creates anxiety, if your childhood was less than perfect or if your relationship with your parents is strained. Other times, you might feel confidence and optimism -- perhaps you have super fond memories of growing up. Know that your feelings about parenting, negative or positive, were influenced by your childhood -- but that you can mold yourself into the parent you want to be.
Suggestions: Decide how you want to do things differently and how you want to do things exactly the same. If you are feeling ill-equipped to embark on the parenting adventure, find positive role models, friends and professionals who can share knowledge and encouragement. They will help you to feel more confident and prepared.
7. Unlike climbing Mount Everest or avoiding anything pumpkin-spiced during the fall, things WILL get easier. They will. As the months and years pass by, you will have more time to yourself and more time with your partner. You will also feel more confident as a parent. When times get tough, the incredible love you feel for this little creature you are caring for will carry you through. Give yourself a high five for embarking on this adventure. You can do this -- you really can.
Kirsten Brunner, MA, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor and married mother of two rambunctious boys in Austin, Texas. She provides sanity-saving tips and private workshops for expectant and new parents at Baby Proofed Parents. Follow BPP on Facebook or Twitter for real-time tips and humor to help you "bring sane to baby brain."