There’s something that no one will tell you.
They don’t want to scare you, or be a downer, or maybe they don’t remember, really truly, what it was like. They will wait for you to bungle through it, and hopefully figure it out yourself at some point, though I think a lot of us never do. I’ve been through the new parent thing three times now and no one ever told me, that’s for sure.
Wait a minute. Wait. That’s not the secret thing that no one will tell you. Sure, not many people honestly talk to a couple expecting their first child about how hard it is. It’s all congratulations and calling every day asking, “Any News?” Nevertheless, there are probably a few people in your life who tell you that it was hard for them, or maybe you witnessed some friends or family go through it and you were surprised and appalled by their transformation from happy and excited (even glowing) parent-to-be into weeping zombie. I’m sure you sort of expect that it isn’t going to be a cake walk. But part of you just doesn’t get how hard it can be, and part of you doesn’t even care because you’re all hopped up on the delicious anticipation that is pregnancy. Not to mention a little self-absorbed with the idea that pregnancy is really hard and you can’t wait for it to be over.
I’ll tell you the secret now. The secret is that there is no solution, no fix for the hardness of new parenthood. (I’d almost go so far as to say that it is supposed to be hard, though it’s possible that wasn’t as true in the old days when we lived more communally.)
After the marathon, whirlwind, ordeal, or ecstasy of birth (whatever combo of those you are blessed with), and the initial nights of parenting while you wait for your milk to come in, already exhausted from not sleeping through labour, and then not sleeping because you’re staring dewy-eyed at the new piece of your heart cradled in your arms, and the back-to-back visits from family and friends, and the meconium, and the euphoria of 9 months of waiting has finally worn off, you may find yourself staring into the eyes of a bunch of new challenges.
Challenges like: poor latch, mastititis, postpartum depression, failure to thrive, GERD, mother-in-laws, sleep deprivation, growth spurts, pumping, isolation, child care, identity crisis, colic, returning to work, car rides, diaper rash, marital strife, and never having a single moment to pee or shower without bouncing the baby on the damn exercise ball.
You’ll call the midwife, the lactation consultant, your mother, your BFF and the nurse hotline. You’ll ask for help, and you’ll receive it (with meals). And you’ll cry alone in your room (and no one will know to help). You’ll read books, and ask google and chat rooms. You’ll fight with your partner. You’ll beg your partner to just tell you what to do, or to stop telling you what to do, or to just take the baby for five freaking minutes even if she’s screaming.
You’ll wonder why it’s so hard, and what to do to fix it.
Here’s the thing. We’ll listen to you. We’ll help when we can. We’ll offer solutions from our own experience (when we can). We’ll bring you meals. We’ll tell you “Yes. It was this hard for us too.” We’ll loan you our books, and suggest calling the midwife. We’ll share websites that helped us. We’ll tell you to call any time, even though we know you probably won’t know how to ask for help when you really really need it. But we can’t fix it.
For the better part of the next year (or two), it will stay hard. You will solve some problems and gain more confidence. And then there will be new challenges. New arguments with your partner. New surprises with the baby. You’ll sort those out. You’ll figure out how to eat a meal while holding a baby. You’ll get used to doing the things you love in 10 minute intervals. You’ll stop having to think about the million items you have to bring with you when you leave the house. It will get better. But the truth is: it probably won’t get easier.
It just is this way. This is some of the most important work that you’ll ever do in your life. You’re being remade from the inside out. You’re learning who you are (partly by losing who you were) and what’s important to you, not to mention facilitating the learning, growth and survival of another human who is totally dependent on you for everything right now. Learning of this magnitude just doesn’t get handed to you on a platter. You have to work for it.
You’re going to sweat this year. And cry. Maybe even fight and scream. Don’t worry—you’ll laugh too. And you’ll find the depth of your heart is bottomless and you’ll be shaken to the core. You’ll be bewildered and in love. You’ll be utterly amazed at how tired a person can be, or how painfully cute another person can be.
Right now, I hear the desperation in your voice. You want to believe that this is a temporary rough spot (and in some ways, it is). I know it’s probably going to take longer than you think, and I know that right now, you can’t bear to hear that. So I’m not going to tell you that.
This is what I say to you out loud: You will get through it. You will be amazing. You’ll take it one day, one moment at a time, and you’ll come out the other side. You’ll be astounded at how hard it really was, and you’ll be so happy that you made it. You’ll have a huge overdone party for your baby’s first birthday, and you won’t even realize at the time that the party was really for you, for the milestone that you reached, for living to tell the tale of how you became a parent.