Part 1 Prenatal Stuff I learned
Part 2 Labor, Delivery, Postpartum stuff I learned
So here is the last part (for now) in my First Year Survival Guide. Or Stuff I Learned from Being a Mama THAT NO ONE EVER FREAKING MENTIONED BEFOREHAND! This is what I have gleaned from these last 11-odd months with a growing, changing, demanding, wonderful, funny, frustrating little being. I know there is so much more to learn, for both of us. But here are some been-there-done-that things I wish I had known about before being in the thick of it.
Don't read parenting books. Seriously. They only served to convince my sleep deprived brain that I was doing everything wrong and I was a bad mom. Oy. If I could go back and change one thing, I would never read a single book on parenting techniques, parenting philosophies or sleep issues. I had sleep book overload. They all contradict each other and even baldly write that the other books and their authors are full of crap. Nice. And the worst part was, nothing we ever did ever changed the fact that Lucy was a frequent night waker. Some babies are natural sleepers, some are not. Eventually she outgrew the waking every 2-3 hours thing. She still doesn't sleep ALL the way through, but is usually only up once.
Letting your baby "Cry it out" is very very very hard (and should NEVER be done with a baby under 4 months old). When I wrote this post a few weeks ago, Lucy was still waking at night. I finally hit a wall. I could no longer function on only 2-3 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I had nothing left to give - to my daughter, my husband or myself. So we shut her door and didn't go back til morning. This was not in my original parenting plan, and it was the hardest thing I have ever done. It took about 5 nights. The first two were AWFUL. 2-3 hours of screaming. I had to will myself not to go running in to comfort her. The third night, she barely peeped at her usual wake-up times. The fourth night, even less peeping. The fifth night there was more screaming, but only 45 minutes. The sixth night (and most nights since then) - 11 1/2 straight hours of sleep. So it can work. It is hard. It feels cruel. But we are all getting more sleep now, and we are all happier for it.
I also didn't realize that "sleeping through the night" for a baby means 5-6 hours. Not my own personal definition of sleeping through, but that is what the experts all say.
Don't ask other parents of young babies about when their baby reach such and such a milestone (er, especially sleep). It led to me being extremely disappointed when Lucy didn't sleep through at 3 months or 13 lbs or 16 weeks or 18 lbs, or whatever everyone else said. Your baby is your baby and will do just exactly what your baby is going to do. I really REALLY wish I had just accepted that and not bothered asking anyone else what their baby was doing. "Does he/she sleep through the night?" is absolutely the cruelest question you can ask a new parent. And really, can't you just tell from how they look? A mama with purple bags under eyes and a fresh-from-the-grave-zombie look does NOT have a baby who sleeps through the night.
Don't rub it in if you do have a baby who sleep through the night. If someone asks you that question (especially the fresh-from-the-grave-zombie-looking mama), you can say "She's a decent sleeper" or "He does okay most nights". It's kinder that way.
Everyone has their different issues. Lucy's was (and to some extent still is) sleep. But she wasn't colicky, she didn't have reflux, she was a good eater. So even if Super Mom has the Amazing Mircle Sleeper, that mircle sleeper might be a screaming demon half the day where you have the angel baby who never cries.
Milestones are placed at different intervals for all babies. Focus on yours, not on anyone elses, or where the experts say a particular milestone should be. In that same vein, some babies are just more interested in on set of skills than another. Just the way you are intersted in yoga and your husband is interested in motorcycle racing. Until he gets himself killed, that is. Then he won't like anything. Not every "missed" milestone is cause for concern. For example, Lucy could feed herself large chunks of whatever I put in front of her by 7 1/2 months old, but was still dragging herself on her belly to get around. My friend's baby was still exclusively eating purees at that age, but could crawl like a speed demon. **shrug** They do what they are gonna do at their own pace.
Don't forget to eat.
Put down that parenting book. I'm not joking. Consulting a book for a specific problem might be okay, but trying to align yourself with one philosophy or another makes it that much more difficult when something recommended by "the experts" doesn't work. I found the best thing I could do was ask other moms in a online forum what their experiences were and if they had any tips. Sometimes they recommended a particular book or author, but more often, they told me what they did and how it worked. I found this to be much more practical.
Do your babyproofing way too early. Have a friend's toddler come check it out for you. MUCH easier than babyproofing while trying to corral a zippy little crawler.
Tracey Hogg (the self-described Baby Whisperer) is sort of crazy. Don't take her breastfeeding advice. Some of her scheduling ideas and her sleep advice are good, but otherwise, I would steer clear. Plus she calls her readers "ducky". As in "Take my advice, ducky, and you'll have a perfect baby who never cries and sleeps through the night at 2 days old. Plus you've already made a lot of mistakes, ducky, so stop being a crappy mum and do what I say." Okay, she never said that, but she does call her readers ducky.
Join or start a mom's group for moms with babies the same age as yours. I walked my neighborhood for months and never ran into another mom. I know they are out there, but I would have made no mom friends witout the group I found at http://www.meetup.com/ . I am so grateful for the women I have met.
Don't forget that you LOVE your partner and you were a couple before you were parents. Kevin and I have a rule when we go out together that we only talk about Lucy in the car on the way to wherever we are going. It was hard to follow at first, but it makes our time out without Lucy about us rather than about her.
The days drag. They really do. Sometimes I find myself wishing it were naptime. It is hard to find time to do things outside the house, let alone join in any scheduled activities, when your baby only has a MAXIMUM of two hours of really good, happy awake time. So I just try to remember how fast the months are flying. Soon enough we'll have all morning to go to playdates and take yoga classes and swimming lessons and baby macrame and baby jujitsu and baby Japanese cooking classes. Soon enough. Right now, she's happy puttering in the house or in the yard or taking the occasional outing to the fountain in downtown Silver Spring. It is much less stressful than trying to take a full courseload of classes with less value for her than for me. Plus she can't even get college credit for them til she's out of diapers.
On that note, you are not required to sign your baby up for any classes at all. They are more for you than for her. A reason to get out of the house. This, of course, is enormously valuable...if it is not a huge, stressful struggle to get to them every week. I have found that almost all baby classes, storytimes and activities are scheduled smack-dab in the middle of Lucy's morning naptime. This makes getting her to class a juggling act I am not willing to perform. I sort of feel like I should be out there with her everyday, taking music and yoga and mommy 'n' me classes, but I try to remember that not taking her to these things does not make me a bad parent. Perhaps I am lazy. Fine. But I am not stressed and Lucy is perfectly happy. So whatever. Of course if DADDY wants to sign her up for a class and leave me alone in the house every week, I would be all for it!
So that's it. Everything I know. There are major gaps in my knowledge. I look forward to filling them in as Lucy gets bigger and even more fun. I love being a mom and I love having a teacher as sweet as my little girl.
What do you know now that being a mom has taught you? What blindsided you? What did you see coming a mile away? Tell me tell me tell me!