I would say that prior to the birth of my first baby, I had lived an exciting life. I have partied in the favelas of Brazil, gone on a camping trip through Syria and worked as a bartender on a Greek Island. But the wildest adventure I have ever had, without a doubt, is that of the last month, my first month of motherhood.
May 17, my little boy was born via an emergency c-section. I have survived the first month and boy, have I learnt a thing or two. More than anything I have learnt how little I know, how contradictory the advice is and how infuriating books on motherhood are. Despite my best intentions and pre-birth research, there were some serious gaps in my newborn knowledge (‘you have to burp them?’) and I am madly trying to learn everything on the job.
Here is what I have learnt:
Time goes through a vortex.
Remember those late nights out drinking when you had work the next day and, when the alarm rang, it felt like you had just gone to sleep? That’s every night of motherhood, but replace ‘drinking’ with’ feeding a small human with your sore, swollen breasts’ and replace the word ‘alarm’ with ‘screaming baby’. That’s pretty much how it goes. I feel like I have just fallen asleep when the sharp cries of a newborn pierce my dreams and it’s painful nipples time again.
An overtired baby is the worst thing EVER.
Sure, we all know the ever age old saying, ‘sleep begets sleep’ but I did not understand exactly how much sleep newborns need, how quickly they become overtired and, most confusing of all, how wired they look when they are overtired. The key is to get them down while they are yawning, before they become overtired.
Hiccups, spit up and poo-namis are inevitable.
Babies are all bodily fluids and functions. They have no shame. My baby farts loudly while feeding and poos until it seeps up over his nappy, staining his adorable little patterned onesie. You just have to roll with it and change nappies regularly.
Tiny air bubbles are a nightmare.
The dreaded gas. Who could have known that a tiny burp or fart could cause so much angst? My little boy scrunches his face in pain and screams a blood curdling cry that sounds like he is being tortured. After a lot of back rubbing, out pops a tiny burp and all is well with the world again.
There is a different kind of love.
We have all felt love for someone before, our partner, family and friends. But this love is unique. It’s a protective love, a desire to shield them from all pain. It’s stronger and more instinctual than anything I have ever known before. And it’s the best thing ever, even in my sleep deprived state.
So, while I have learnt a thing or two, there are still a heap of things I am more confused about than ever. I have researched, read books and blog, spoken to experts, only to find completely contradictory advice.
Here is what I am still totally confused about.
To routine or not to routine?
Many people swear by a strict baby routine. I’ve tried, but it’s not easy. I put my baby down to sleep and he wants to play. I try to feed my baby at the specified time, and he wants to sleep, falling into a deep coma at the boob. Some people say feeding on demand is best, other day a strict schedule will help them sleep the night through (the Holy Grail). I still don’t know what to think.
Overprotective or good parenting?
I live in Chile and I am finding that there are some real cultural differences I have to navigate, when it comes to child rearing. Here, they are incredibly overprotective of babies. I was told by my paediatrician that the baby should not leave the house for a month (yes, really), by my mother-in-law that all baby’s clothes needed to be hand washed and ironed to kill all germs (seriously) and that my poor, little baby was probably freezing, dressed in a onesie and wrapped in a blanket on a warm, sunny day.
Whereas the advice from my friends and family in Australia is totally contradictory. My mother suggested letting the baby have naked time on a towel to stretch his legs. My friends said they took their baby for a walk every day, rain, hail or shine to get some fresh air. Now, you may not live in South America, but I am guessing that every first-time mother has received contradictory advice from different people they trust.
So how do you strike a balance between overprotective and letting the baby experience important things? I am still confused about what to do, but where advice is contradictory, I am going with what is easiest and most convenient for me (that is, to say, I will not be hand washing and ironing all my baby’s clothes).
How can I be environmentally conscious without losing my mind?
Pre-baby me was a super environmentalist, low waste advocate. Now, I hate the waste I am creating. Even with biodegradable nappies and a quick rinse over the bathroom sink instead of baby wipes, I am still generating a tonne of waste. I have never ordered so much take-away before nor have I ever been given so many gift-wrapped presents. The baby has a bigger wardrobe than I do, despite my not purchasing a single thing! I am totally perplexed on how to integrate my low waste self with my first-time mum self.
How can I politely tell people to mind their own business, yet still give me their best gems of advice when I need them? ‘Nuff said.
So, as I ride this motherhood roller coaster, I’m learning, more than anything, about my total ignorance on the subject of parenting. And he is only one-month-old!
What's something you learnt when you welcomed your newborn? Tell us in the comments section below.
Stephanie Johnson is a 30 something year old Sydneysider, currently residing in Santiago, Chile with her Chilean Partner, where she works at a British International School. In her spare time, she is a keen yogi and yoga teacher, freelance writer and first-time mum. Connect with her on Instagram or via her blog.