kids

Sorry, new parents. This is why you're all screwed.

When you tell me you are pregnant, and I say “Congratulations,” what I mean is: You’re screwed.

There is actually no way to prepare for parenthood. It is important to take the birthing class and to practice diapering and swaddling, and you should go ahead and read Spiritual Midwifery and What to Expect When You’re Expecting and Positive Discipline and The Vaccine Book and You Are Your Child’s First Teacher and French Kids Eat Everything and Raising Your Spirited Child.

But there is no way to really know it in your bones until it’s 3:26 am and you are covered in mustardy baby poop and cannot find the snot-sucking thing and your baby is barking like a wounded seal.

Either I have lived a lifetime in the six years since my first child, Milo, was born, or my relationship with time has changed. I do not remember 24 hours ever feeling as long as those new-parenthood marathon days that began before dawn and were a series of explosions of bodily fluids.

I was spent by noon.

When my husband Mike came home from teaching at 5 pm, I was so resentful of his time outside the home that I would basically throw the baby at him and shut myself in the bathroom crying.

Why don’t people warn you about new parenthood like they do about stealing, lying, or sex?

I remember being called out by my parents for taking something that didn’t belong to me — I had to return that girl’s thin gold necklace in person, with a written apology.

I remember the awkward conversations about sex we had when I was a teenager. Between my mom and me on our laps was a pop-up book about the miracle of life with curvy pink fallopian tubes in three dimensions. I remember being warned about contraception, consent, my reputation.

My mom seemed so calm and matter-of-fact as she spoke the words ejaculation and slut. I flashed on a memory of going downstairs past my bedtime and seeing her at the kitchen sink in a black lace lingerie romper thing that covered most of her body but left her — let’s call it pelvis, or maybe vulva — exposed. I rushed back upstairs hoping she hadn’t seen me see her.

Anyway, hearing my mom talk about sex made me imagine her having sex, and that just shut down all my receptivity to the important health/safety wisdom she was trying to impart.

Why didn’t she sit me down when I told her we were “trying” for a baby?

Why didn’t my spiteful mother-in-law tell me that Mike was a terror as an infant, that karma was coming to bite him — and by extension, me — in the ass?

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Maybe they did. Maybe both mothers reached out to me in subtle, gentle ways. Maybe they were even forceful. I can’t remember. I forget my age and social security number half the time. But I wish the mothers had shaken me, even smacked me in the face.

Did you know we have a whole podcast about this messy business of parenting? This week on This Glorious Mess, it's the parenting mantra's that get you through the day... (post continues after video)

For most of us, pregnancy is the pits. I knew I was entering uncharted waters when the scale crept up to uncharted heights and I was winded after running from one room to the next to answer an impatient knock at the door.

“I just want to meet him,” I said to people sunnily on good days late in my pregnancy.

“I just want this to be over,” I said to my husband through choking sobs. “I’ve been usurped by an evil force.”

We had watched the horror film Rosemary’s Baby for the first time right around the day I found out I was pregnant, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that something awful was growing inside me, making me sick and unsteady and unreasonable and ravenously hungry. Our midwife assured us that sick pregnant ladies grow healthy babies, but I remained suspicious.

As I said, no matter what you do, you’re screwed.

Your child will test your limits — all of them. Their uncanny ability to sense your uncertainty will astound you. They will say, Can I just go to the end of the block? Can I just finish this game, this drawing, this page?

Sure, yes, whatever. You let your guard down — way, way down — because you are so very, very tired. You have been spun around in circles like a sick grownup version of Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Donkey. What is the right answer? What is the logical consequence? Where are the car keys, the eye drops, the lovey, the Twilight Turtle™?

Every time you find your bearings, the landscape shifts like a sickening science fiction device. Singing “Fields of Gold” along with Sting at the top of your lungs placates one week, but not the next. Favorite foods are abandoned on a whim.

You have never had to be so flexible, literally and figuratively, in your life. Prepare and consume entire meals one-handed. Push a stroller and hold another child’s hand and the diaper bag and your purse and the dog’s leash. There are weekend days in which you have three different birthday parties to attend in three different cities. Your child gobbles up and then vomits up an entire container of blackberries onto your shoes and you think, Damn, those berries were expensive.

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Every time you think, This is all I can do or This is all I can handle, another meteor lands in your lap. The child is choking AND the doorbell is incessantly ringing. The Internet is down AND the deadline to sign up for the very important essential thing is tonight.

You crawl up onto the trampoline to remove your child before he hurts himself or someone else and you get body-slammed by a boisterous bouncer. It takes you a lot longer to recover (days) than it would have taken your child (seconds). The silliest surface scratches become permanent scars. The broken bone heals completely.

You have never been all that concerned about safety but now you are glued to the baby monitor. It has a weird glitch that causes it to flash to the image it last captured when it was turned off and you think there is a person in there with your baby. (It’s you, from the last time you went in to get him.)

You lose your cool.

You literally lose your child for a few excruciating minutes at Children’s Fairyland in downtown Oakland and when you find him in the office, crying, you have already gone to all the dark places, but you pretend simply to be happy to see him. “Why, there you are!”

I think back on myself before I met my children, Milo and Ruby, and think what a fool I was.

Disappointment, pain, loss, acceptance of absurdity — this is the stuff of character.

That elusive “grit” that college counselors say our children need more of: I didn’t have it. I hadn’t experienced actual hardship.

I didn’t get the part of Ophelia. A mean guy called me a fat bitch. I got a B+, once. I didn’t get into Yale (but I did get into Stanford). Such flimsy setbacks, such surmountable obstacles.

Then the universe served up my kids.

Congratulations! You’re screwed.

This story by Leila Sinclaire originally appeared on Ravishly, a feminist news+culture website.

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