Last year, I wrote a little piece called "The Honest Truth", which was my silly attempt at describing what it was like being a mother to a spirited two-month-old colic-y baby. It was funny because it was true, and it even got spread around certain circles on Facebook. So I thought I'd share it here and add a little bit more of this so-called truth to it, now that I've got a near-toddler in my hands and a year's worth of hands-on experience.
There's a lot that gets talked about about motherhood, and a lot are also left unsaid (or at the very least, are only mentioned when one asks the right questions), like how one's concept of time becomes exceptionally warped the moment you go into labor and can last up until that moment you get your first full night of sleep (which in my case, was nearly a year after my son was born). Or how showers and baths can so easily be reduced to wiping yourself down with baby wipes because it's just more convenient that way. Or how you dream of having a vacation from your child but can't bear the thought of being away from them for even just an hour.
I had to learn everything fast, on my son's terms, and on my own. While the parenting books gave me a glimpse of what to expect, they were all very quickly forgotten (the condition they call "mommy brain" is alas, oh so true!) and replaced with patchy real-life how-to's that could only be refined and perfected over a period of time thru an unfortunate series of trials and errors.
So if you're a soon-to-be mummy who's reading this, I can't promise that you'll remember any of this when your baby finally comes around to meet you, but know this, you'll manage perfectly fine... no, you'll do great!
1. Honestly, baby-tracking apps are NOT for everyone.
My son was extremely fussy since Week 1. He cried A LOT and with good reason (he had an allergy to cow milk proteins and even though he was exclusively nursing, I was eating an insane amount of cheese and dairy products and NO ONE told me that I could transfer said products through nursing UNTIL my son was around 4 months old).
But I digress... like most brand spankin' new parents, I was told that to better understand my baby's rhythms and patterns (in order to establish a schedule) I had to track my baby's sleeping, feeding and digestive/urinary patterns. So I downloaded an app that did all that and logged every wet and/or dirty nappy he had, how long he nursed for (and from which side!), how much breastmilk he consumed from a bottle, and how long he napped or slept at night (and how often he woke up -- which was like every 2-3 hours until he was about 8 months!).
Long story short, the logging didn't last long despite several attempts at it (I restarted the process maybe 4 times before I completely gave it all up). Because how can one be expected to keep a detailed log of anything amidst the incessant crying, the actual nappy changes that sometimes involved flying pee at 5.30am and projectile poop, the general lack of sleep, food and drink consumption (except coffee that was reheated several times throughout the day) and proper hygiene? I was driving myself up the wall, across the ceiling, and was a short bus ride away from Batshit Crazyville.
So, yes, while the intention is good, it is not meant for everyone. In fact, these apps will do a well-meaning mother more harm than good IF you've got a fussy baby in your hands. Really, do yourself a favor and just delete it from your phone if you find yourself in tears while logging your baby's sixth poppy diaper in the middle of the night.
2. Honestly... buy second-hand and borrow if you can.
In countries like Norway, where baby products are sold like prime Manhattan real-estate, I've learned that buying second-hand and borrowing is the best way to go, even when you can afford it. My son's first pram and car seat (both very costly items in Norway) were bought used. Of course, we had a very strict criteria: (1) it should be a trusted brand, (2) have been used by only one child, (3) be no more than 2 years old, and (4) still be in great condition. Buying used saved us a heck of a lot of money. In fact, all our first purchases for our son (which included clothes for up to when he was 4 months old, baby bottles, breastfeeding pump, shoes, crib, changing table, bouncy chair, bathing tub, several toys and books) all amounted to the cost of his pram had we purchased it brand new with all the needed accessories (for those who are curious, it was the Stokke Crusi with bassinet, which has now been discontinued).
The money you'll save along the way, you can put into a childcare fund (which is costly wherever you live), or a bank account that you can open up for your baby, or a holiday fund (because at some point, you're going to need it!).
3. Honestly... buy quality baby clothes and shoes.
Once upon a time, I believed that high-street brands were the god-send solution to saving money when it came to buying baby clothes. I avoided any item that was being promoted by a fellow mom on Instagram or anything that individually cost USD20 or more, and spent it at Zara, Mango, and H&M amongst many others instead (and they always had to be on sale!). I mean, why spend that money when they're going to outgrow it in a month's time, right? Well, I had to do a 180 on that strongly held belief when said high-street bargains began to give out and/or shrank one size smaller after a couple of washes.
And the brands that I hesitated to buy, were the ones that lasted long after their "sizing". My son, who is above average in size by every measure and standard, is still wearing a jacket that he should have outgrown 5 months ago (I honestly don't know how Polarn O Pyret does it). Sure, it cost me USD45, but it has outlasted a pile of clothes that I got at Zara and Mango on sale while on holiday in Vienna -- all of them just as cute, but used for no more than a month before they were too small for him to wear. And it goes for pretty much any other Scandinavian brand worth mentioning: Wheat. Alba of Copenhagen. Janus. MeMini. Hust & Claire. Lilleba. Kuling. Nostebarn. Joha. I could go on and on, with nothing but a satisfied mamma's smile on my face.
It also goes the same for shoes (at least when you finally have a walker in your hands)! For someone learning how to walk, baby shoes need to be comfortable and provide much needed support all the way up to the ankle. My baby shoe criteria used to be: cute and cheap. But I soon found out that cheap shoes aren't necessarily comfortable and the ones I scrimped on tended to be the ones that got ruined at first scrape against concrete or the ones that my son couldn't walk in long enough, cutting short his exploration time (aka fun time!). So as tragic as it was to my and my husband's wallets, we've been buying him proper shoes since. And while I wouldn't recommend a single brand, you should look out for high-cut shoes, preferably those with velcro (so they don't trip on the laces!), with padded insoles, some level of water resistance (for when those puddles come-a-calling) and are flexible enough when you try to bend the soles.
4. Honestly... mothering a baby hurts.
When I say this, I mean not just emotionally and psychologically but physically as well. Aside from the pain that goes hand in hand with sheer exhaustion, sleep deprivation and caffeine overdose, be prepared to get kicked, scratched, clawed-at, climbed on, stepped on, kneed, elbowed and head-butted (I was honestly nursing a fat, torn and bruised-up lip for 2 weeks) at all hours of the day. A four-month old baby is as dangerous as a wiley cat, and it only gets worse as they get older. Prepare the first aid kit.
5. Honestly... not all babies take the dummy (aka pacifier).
I learned this the hard way. I mean, since the dawn of cinema, TV and the printed word, babies have always been portrayed with a dummy in their mouth. So when I found my son refusing the first dummy I ever bought him, and the second, and third, I thought it was just a matter of time before I found the perfect match. Needless to say, we gave up after the fifth try (I'm persistent and stubborn that way) AND after I found out that some babies just aren't the dummy type.
With that said...
6. Honestly... Don't buy everything before your due date (IF YOU CAN).
Other than the big and necessary purchases like crib, a handful of baby clothes (in various sizes), diapers and cleaning cloths, breast pump (if you plan to breastfeed), and pram, it's recommended to make the rest of your purchases afterwards (unless you're buying it from a store with a generous return policy). The reason why I'm saying this is because there might just be that one thing that your baby doesn't like. Stick to the basics and must-haves before your projected due date and the non-essentials after.
My rule of thumb is: Essentials are the ones meant to keep your baby alive, safe and comfortable. Anything that falls out of that are nice-to-haves. We bought our baby carrier after our son was born, for example. That way, we could test it out with him in it. If he didn't fuss and it didn't take a rocket scientist to put it on, it was worth a buy.
Then again, this may not work for everyone, especially mothers who have to go back to work almost immediately. I'm lucky enough to be living in Norway where maternity leave is almost a year long at 100% pay. So I didn't have to stress. I had all the time in the world to spread my purchases out.
7. Honestly... let your partner be.
Mamas parent their babies different from their partners. It's just how it is, for the simple reason that we're different people. And although our partner's approach may be different and may sometimes go against the way we want to care for our babes, know that it's all coming from the same place: Love.
My husband once dressed my son in pajama bottoms thinking they were pants (bless him!), but I didn't care or even mention it, because to my son, he's the best playmate there is. The one who makes him laugh the loudest. The one who made up a silly song for him to dance to (seriously, he hears the first few seconds of the melody and he's bobbing away!). The one who can carry him on his shoulders for him to see the whole world.
The sooner our partners take over, the sooner they learn the ropes, and the sooner they find ways to do things that we may have been struggling with (my husband, for example, was a champion burper and found the least fussy way to bathe our son who hated bath time up until he was about 6 months old).
Also, if you think about it, a partner who can take over -- in which ever way suits him best -- means you get to sleep a little longer; you get to spend some time to get your hair done; you get to enjoy a long-ish bath undisturbed. You get to eat your breakfast (or any meal for that matter) without having to scarf it down. You also get to sneak out to the cinemas to watch the latest Avengers movie because goodness only knows how many Marvel movies you've missed!
In short, happy and non-zombie looking.
8. Honestly... Don't be afraid to admit you need help.
9. Honestly... Follow through #8 and Ask for Help.
You should never ben afraid to ask for help. Being the perfectionist that I am (and the fact that I hate to inconvenience or bother people), it took me a while to admit that I needed help, and by then, I had rendered myself literally thin (I lost all my pregnancy weight and some more within the first few months). And while a lot of mothers would scoff at the previous sentence, let me say this. I became sickly thin. Not Victoria's Secret thin. But bordering on malnourished thin, so much so that I was losing all my hair (imagine post-partum hair loss on overdrive) and had zero energy to do anything other than keep my son alive and as happy as I could manage.
When it comes to being box fresh parents, there are no Wonder Women or Supermen (well, maybe Batmen and Batgirls, who want nothing more than to brood and sulk in their batcaves). We become those people when we get the help we need even if its just for five minutes.
But what if you can't get any help from anyone? I often thought that because I had no family around (mine live on the other side of the planet, and my husband's is a 3-hour drive away), I had to rely on myself. But little did I know that there were people around who were willing to help but didn't offer it because I simply didn't ask.
10. Honestly... lower your expectations.
... except when it comes to the safety and health of your baby, of course.
You know those "Expectations vs Reality" memes on the internet? They may be hilarious, but they're also very true. Reality is messy and chaotic and motherhood is no exception. Reality for me is having to rush to the hospital in the middle of the night in a foreign country when our 11-month-old son started exhibiting symptoms of measles during our Easter holiday (thank god, it wasn't!). Reality for me is not having had the chance to go on a date with my husband since our son was born, because, well, we have a pre-toddler who sometimes still doesn't sleep through the night and can only be soothed back to sleep by his mama -- and did I mention that we don't have any family nearby who can babysit? Reality for me is going thru a series of tshirts in one day because my son had colic and acid reflux all at the same time. Reality for me is being able to count with two hands the number of times I've had a decent night's sleep over a span of 14 months. And the list goes on.
Motherhood is by far a lot more challenging and certainly not what I expected. It requires decisive action, tested or not, which can lead you to question yourself and every action you take. The sense of doubt can be overwhelming, so much so that my poor husband had to watch and endure my many mini meltdowns. There will be days when you'll get to do everything on your To Do List, and days I'd like to call Frozen Pizza and No Chores Done At All Days, where you'll be lucky enough to drink a cup of coffee without having to reheat it several times throughout the day (or you just give up and turn it into iced coffee!).
11. Honestly... Trust your Instincts and avoid judging.
Let me end by saying that at the end of the day, no one knows your baby better than you. Each baby born into this world is unique and as their mamas we are attuned to this uniqueness. We know exactly what makes them tick and what to do to reverse said tick when it occurs, so when we see a mother doing something (for as long as it isn't endangering the baby in any way) that may be contrary to how we would handle a certain situation, we should be a little more understanding and a lot less judgemental. We don't know the details. We don't know the story. All we know is that she, like all of us, is doing her very best and heck, if we can do something to help make her day a little easier, we owe it ourselves to do so.