It was a sunglasses kind of day. Every morning since I had started strolling with my newborn, I made the decision whether or not to wear sunglasses without looking at the weather report. Instead, I wore them when I thought they could be useful in hiding the tears streaming down my face. Strolling had been my saving grace because it afforded me some quiet moments as my fussy baby finally slept.
That morning, a well-meaning man had stopped me and said, "Enjoy this time -- it goes by so quickly." I faked a smile and kept strolling. He was one of many who had shared this exact thought, and I wasn't buying it. Was he serious? How could anyone enjoy this time? As a nearly 40-year-old business executive in a male-dominated industry, I had assumed I could easily handle a tiny tot weighing less than 10 pounds. I was wrong.
Before my daughter, Rachel, was born, my husband and I had enthusiastically taken a couple classes on breastfeeding and baby basics, and we'd seen the video about swaddling and all the other soothing techniques that would magically cast a baby under your spell. I never anticipated the first weeks would be easy, but I didn't think they would be this challenging.
What I discovered is that you can prepare as if you're taking the GMAT, but caring for a newborn is more of an art than a science. It seems simple on the surface -- feed, change diaper, sleep, repeat -- but it's more complicated in reality. For each of these seemingly basic tasks, there are several paths you can follow, and experts who claim that different ones are correct.
I devoured several books and consulted online resources and friends, all of which helped somewhat. Many sources claimed it was a natural process, and that if you followed your baby's cues, it would be easy. It wasn't easy -- at least not for me. I finally got to the point where I had an approach that worked for my family, and things started falling into place. But it never felt natural.
As I prepared for the birth of my second daughter, Meg, who was due in June, I remember leaving work, and one of my colleagues said with a smirk: "Enjoy your summer vacation." I smiled, but I was well aware that caring for a newborn was no vacation. Somehow, the ease with which I navigated my business world didn't translate to the nursery.
However, I didn't want to show any signs of dread to my colleague or anyone else, because that would be, well, unmotherly of me, right? Now, as I'm into the seventh month of Meg's life, I can admit to myself and others that I want to fast-forward through the newborn stage.
Don't get me wrong. I am extremely grateful I could have kids -- I have friends who couldn't get pregnant, and I had two difficult miscarriages between our two girls -- so I don't mean to be cavalier about having a baby. I love my kids at every stage, but I simply don't like going through the newborn period.
That doesn't mean I don't try my hardest. I record feedings and bowel movements like I'm keeping score for the Yankees. I bought 18 brands of pacifiers (none worked) and washed onesies with sensitive detergent. I swaddle like I'm in charge of baby Moses. I'm Googling and devouring every piece of advice I can about how to help my baby adapt to this new world.
I treat being the mom of a newborn as if it's my job. It's just not my dream job -- for those 12 weeks -- and I know I'm not alone. Whether we're 20 or 40, a successful businesswoman or an accomplished artist, some of us are just not cut out for the newborn stage. And it's OK to admit it.
One of my early career mentors told me that great leaders inspire others by showing vulnerability. I thought he was crazy at the time. I was a young, ambitious perfectionist who wanted to show the world how much I knew. With each passing year, I've seen the wisdom in his words. While you don't want to seem inept, it shows others you're human if you can share some of your weaknesses along the way.
Unfortunately, it's not always easy to be candid. As I combed through online message boards to seek answers to some of my questions about feeding and sleeping, on the whole I found them rife with judgment and martyrdom. Anyone who dared complain about feeding on demand for five hours straight or going without a shower for days was reminded that this is normal and they need to deal with it.
Let's face it. Many of us don't see the newborn stage as a vacation at all. We just don't have the courage to say it. What we can do is work to create an environment where women feel safe to express their true feelings and are supported for them. Instead of "Enjoy this precious time!" in my baby cards, I include lines like "It gets better -- I promise!" to encourage the first-time mom to reach out to me if needed.
I have very candid conversations with expectant moms -- and dads -- who ask about my experience. My goal is not to scare them, but I want to paint a realistic picture so they don't think something is wrong if everything doesn't go according to plan. Not only has this candor helped manage expectations, but it has led to much stronger relationships.
It's easy to strike up a friendship while trading stories about stroller brands, but we all know you form a different kind of bond when you drill down to your core.
Remember the concept that launched The Real World (for those of us who remember when MTV played music videos) -- "when people stop being polite and start getting real"? I've decided to get real, because I'm strong enough to be vulnerable. Who's with me?