Now that my kids are 2 and almost 5 (and I've been writing about motherhood for most of their young lives), I'd like to think I've learned a thing or two about parenting babies. But back in 2011, when I was about to give birth to my daughter, I was as clueless as every other first-time mom. Despite the numerous parenting books that lined my nightstand and the hours I spent researching every newborn-related thing I could think of on BabyCenter, I had no idea what kind of crazy, life-changing experience was coming my way — and how stupid some of the first parenting decisions I made truly were.
Recently, I attended a baby shower for one of my younger friends, and I was surrounded by pregnant women, glowing with the anticipation of their first child's arrival and a blissful lack of understanding about what they were really getting themselves into. I didn't want to burst their baby-joy bubbles by telling them they didn't really need the wipes warmer or every available stroller attachment, but maybe I should have. While no one can really prepare you for your first baby, let me share a few dumb things I did, so you don't have to repeat my mistakes.
- Buying every possible baby item and gadget made. Like many first-time moms, I was convinced I needed everything those online registry lists suggested, including multiple strollers, a bouncer, a swing, a bassinet, a crib, a wipes warmer, a bottle warmer, a million swaddles and sleep sacks, and, of course, a couple of pairs of baby skinny jeans, size 0-3 months. My daughter hated the bouncer and swing, I never used those warmers, and the skinny jeans? The poor girl couldn't bend her chunky legs in them. Now I would tell my former self to buy the bare minimum. One safe place to put the baby down is ample. Trendy gadgets probably aren't necessary. And remember, Amazon and Diapers.com deliver just as fast after the baby's born as they do before, and you'll know much better what you really need once you and your baby get to know each other.
- Getting too attached to my birth plan. I never wrote out a birth plan, but I was adamant about not wanting a C-section. So after 16 hours of labor, when my doctor told me I'd only progressed to six centimeters and it was time to consider one, I freaked out. I was pumped full of drugs, beyond exhausted, and totally emotionally unstable, basically the worst combination to process what felt like such a big loss. Now, two C-sections later, I've been known to sing their praises to whomever will listen (I was lucky and had two really easy recoveries). In retrospect, I wish I would have gone into my first labor with a more open mind about the delivery. The goal, after all, is to have a healthy baby; don't let how he or she arrives ruin your experience.
- Not setting boundaries for hospital and home visitors after the birth. Besides asking my mom to stay for the a week after my daughter was born, I never even thought about this one. But after a long, rough delivery, I realized that recovering from major surgery and becoming a mom was overwhelming enough, and the addition of having to make small talk with relatives or worrying about whether I'd need to breastfeed while my father-in-law was in the room was too much for me. Even if you're a person who usually loves being surrounded by people, consider setting some limits for the number of visitors who come to the hospital and your home for the first few weeks and definitely set a time limit for each visit. Also remember that it's not your job to serve anyone or make sure your house is clean. An appropriate response to a visitor request: "We'd love to see you from 12-2 on Thursday, and it would be great if you could bring lunch."
- Thinking I'd seamlessly jump back into my old life after my baby was born. After gaining 45 pounds with my daughter, I vividly remember telling my husband I was planning on losing the weight through breastfeeding, hot yoga, and juice cleanses (I'd been doing a lot of the last two before I got pregnant). Then my daughter was born, and I quickly realized I was one of those oh-so-lucky women whose bodies hold on to the last 5-10 pounds during the year-plus I was breastfeeding; that my hot yoga gym had no childcare, making it almost impossible to make a class; and my favorite juice cleanse had a big disclaimer that said "not recommended while breastfeeding" — and those were just a few of the least shocking discoveries I made as a new mom. This isn't one you can really prepare for, but maybe don't sign up for a year-long Bikram membership that starts on your due date or plan to attend your girlfriend's bachelorette party when your baby's six weeks old. Things will change after you become a mom, and you won't know what, how, or why until after delivery.