In honor of Throwback Thursday, here’s a post from O’s early days about truths we learned once we actually had a baby (from “The Littlest C” blog). Reading this took me back to newborn parenting and I’m happy to say the fog has since lifted!
Don’t believe the hype
It’s been 12 days since we’ve all been home together. Some days have been good, some have been hard and some days have been so stressful we can actually feel the gray hairs sprouting. We’ve been through a lot in the past week and a half – leaving life in the NICU, bringing O home, introducing the cat to her little brother, getting together with grandparents, aunts and uncles, doctors appointments and hosting eight family members at our house for Christmas – just to name a few. Every hour and every day seems different from the last – and it’s been a roller coaster of sleeplessness, crankiness, pride, joy, frustration, laughter and tears (from all of us).
Overall, G and I have done pretty well in our new roles as parents. It’s been all about teamwork and for the most part, we have the “feeding-burping-changing-bathing” routine down. And when it’s good – it’s great. But when it’s not…well, that’s a whole other story.
We did our homework in prepping for this kid. We read the books, took the classes, joined listservs, watched videos and poured over every free baby magazine available to us. We thought we were prepared and as ready as we could be but what we found out was that we really knew nothing at all.
The biggest surprise was how every reference material and every person who gave us advice seemed to miss the mark as to the honest reality of life with a newborn. While the ingredients were there (babies require x, y and z) the recipe itself was missing and so we are left to figure out how to actually make it all work.
Here’s a few things we learned along the way – and what all the advice and information DOESN’T tell you…
1. The NICU is anything but quiet. You would think that the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit would be a place of quiet monitoring and care. It’s actually anything but. It’s active, and bright and full of chatter and bustling energy – even when your baby requires “minimal stimulation”. There are doctor rounds, nurse check ups, machines that ding and flash and alarm and staff and equipment that rolls in and out all day. So NICU babies are even more down with stimulus, and once they get home, too much quiet ain’t gonna cut it.
2. “Newborns typically sleep 12 to 16 hours by the time they’re a month old”. OK, so newborns sleep all day. But what happens when YOUR baby doesn’t? What they should be saying is that “newborns SHOULD sleep 12-16 hrs a day”. Sometimes you have to force your baby (who hates to close his eyes and miss a thing) to sleep during the day which sounds like common sense but really isn’t, when every other resource says to “just follow your baby’s lead” and so you waste time waiting for them to nod off. It actually took a phone call with a good friend and recent new mom to drive that point home and emphasize the importance of instituting nap time at the first inkling of sleepiness, at any cost.
3. The vacuum is a mom’s best friend. Honestly, who knew that the vacuum (or hair dryer or stove fan) would be the key to diffusing an infant meltdown? We actually purchased a CD with an hour’s worth of vacuum sounds which, once cranked up, amazingly turns our red-faced, rigid wailer into a slack-jawed crumpled heap. And it didn’t take long for both mommies and the cat to learn to sleep through the CD, no matter how loud it blasts.
4. Babies go from zero to 100. Again, maybe this sounds obvious to some folks but until you have an alert and content baby who suddenly starts screaming bloody murder with no warning and for no apparent reason, you really can’t appreciate this concept.
5. Spinning plates. You really need to give up ANY sense of productivity once your baby comes home. You think there will be time to check your email, write a thank you note or read a magazine during your downtime. But then you realize – there IS no downtime! Seriously. Caring for this kid is like having 10 plates spinning at one time and every ounce of your time, focus and energy is spent on the activity at hand (i.e., changing a nasty diaper while combating a wiggling butt + diffusing baby screams + keeping kicking feet out of the poop puddle while attempting to avoid getting sprayed in the face with pee). Note from G: Before someone points out that we were able to blog I want to say that it takes effort from both the adults in the house to do this superfluous ‘stuff’ and now that we’re forcing naps on Oliver we take advantage of whatever time he gives us.
6. You WILL get sprayed in the face with pee. Well – at least with a boy and definitely when it’s least convenient (3 am).
7. Gimme the beat! Forgoing all the baby expert’s advice – O wants nothing to do with soft nursery rhymes and simple songs but loves a pulsing dance beat and hip-hop bass line (perhaps from listening to too much “Jersey Shore” in utero?). On the upside, I am very much enjoying dancing with him each day to my favorite iPod playlists and have not once been subject to “I’m a little teapot”. Note from G: Not all upbeat music works. For instance, Florence and the Machine’s ‘Shake it Out’ works well, while ‘Howl,’ by the same artist does not. It’s all trial and error. I hope he learns to enjoy more mellow music because there’s a new Kathleen Edwards album that will enter the house in about two weeks and I’m going to push it on him hard.
8. Sleeping baby doesn’t necessarily = happy baby. When being held and passed around to friends and family, often Oliver seemed to sleep peacefully. Then you realize that babies have to process every smell, touch, sound and sensation every time another person touches or holds him and a lot of times they just “shut down” to avoid over-stimulation. So sometimes, “happy and content” can be confused with “overload! abort mission” and it’s best to keep to baby’s routine and limit excessive exposure to stimulus – even if it’s well-meaning.
9. Breast friends. Sometimes, the only thing that will calm him is bellying up to the bar. Whether it’s for feeding, pacification or just close contact with Mama G…the quality time spent is often and long and I don’t blame moms for feeling like a “cash cow”, given all the time they spend in breastfeeding mode. Even more reason to be a good partner and teammate, stepping up to burp, change, distract, play and comfort while G takes a much deserved break.
10. “Enjoy Your Baby”. This was the advice we heard over and over in the NICU and from every doctor, nurse, lactation consultant and passerby-er. “Relax, go home, and enjoy your baby”— obviously, it’s been a while since these people have lived with a newborn. Otherwise they would realize that newly born babies ARE NOT FUN. Seriously people. This comment sets you up for disappointment and guilt when you realize that you are not having the time of your life and since clearly other parents are living it up with their 4 week old and you must be a heartless Shrek of a parent to not be appreciating this joyous time. YOUR BABY CRIES ALL THE TIME. And when they are not crying, they are eating, concentrating on a poop, flailing their arms at you, peeing all over the place, fighting off sleep — or if you’re lucky — actually sleeping. I think we get maybe 1-2 smiles a day before the grin turns to grimace. You really need to do two things: 1) Understand that life is like this during the first 3 months of baby’s life (aka “the 4th trimester”) and while things will get better, it’s not happening in the next day or so — and — 2) Capture the moments where things are good (smiles, mini hugs, sweet contentedness) and file them away because you’re going to need them when the remnants of your nerves burn away and the last of your patience goes out with the diaper pail.
So – there you have it. Our advice is that the best thing you can do is realize that as crazy as it seems, your baby is a normal baby and you are a normal, harried and frazzled parent. You are all normal and this bizarre experience is completely typical — sometimes hard to grasp when you feel like you’re isolated on house-arrest.
Happy New Year everyone. 2011 was kind of a bitch so here’s to a happy, healthy, safe and drama-free `12.