Leading up to the birth of my little one, I read some parenting blogs, a book called “Dude, You’re Gonna Be a Dad“, and took the parenting classes (talked about in “The Birth” post). However, nothing, and I mean nothing, can truly prepare you for the utter (for the lack of a better word) hell that is the first four weeks as a new parent.
“But Runner Dad, how can you say that? You’ve got this beautiful new bundle of joy that you get to spend your time with and give your love to! Certainly it couldn’t be that bad?” Oh, how naive you are. The first four weeks are terrible, horrible, sleep deprived weeks that one must suffer through as some sort of sick right of passage to becoming a parent. Get used to seeing your child like the above.
So I decided to put together this list of things every first parent should know, but that most books and classes either don’t explain correctly or glaze over completely.
- You will not sleep. “There’s no sleeping in child care!” (<– Thank you Tom Hanks!) Your child will be up every 2 hours, or hour, or 3 hours, or whenever he seems to feel like it. Then, he’ll have a great night sleep. In the clear? No way! He’ll then be up ALL day the next day crying and fussing no matter what you do. Sleep shall not come, so just accept it and nap whenever you can.
- There’s no more me time. It’s baby time, all the time. Forget about going to see a movie. Forget about watching your favorite shows. Forget about having a quiet meal…or sometimes even having a meal. Newborns require ALL of your attention, ALL of the time. It will drain you and push you to the edge of sanity. Which brings me to my next point.
- Your mind will go dark places. It’s 3:00 am and you haven’t slept for days…and your baby is up and crying and nothing will soothe him. Your mind starts to drift to thoughts of “why did I have this kid?” and “what if I just put him down and walk away and out the door and never to return?” Look, it’s normal to get stressed, it’s normal to have these thoughts. We all do. However, if you continue to have these thoughts or they are more, let’s say, less than benevolent in nature, talk to somebody. You might have postpartum depression, which is also normal but does require some help from a health care professional.
- Breastfeeding is hard. My wife asked me to include this one, and having seen it first hand I’ll have to agree. You might think you have it down well in the hospital, but then you get home and your baby won’t latch, or won’t latch correctly, or will only latch onto one breast. Dads, be very supportive during this time as it’s emotionally draining of moms. And moms, don’t give up. Stay in touch with the lactation consultant at your hospital or reach out to someone at La Leche League. It took my wife and our son probably about two weeks before he was breastfeeding without issue. Just stay dedicated, try different holds, and remember that in the end it’s worth it for your baby.
- You’ll get mad at your kid, and then feel like you are a bad parent because of it. Without a doubt your child is going to squirm and throw his arms or feet or head and they’ll hit you in the face…or they’ll whip out their razor sharp claws and cut you. And you’ll get mad because, let’s face it, you’re extremely tired and it hurt…a lot. Then that anger will be followed by remorse for feeling this way about a newborn child, who has NO control over what they are doing. This, again, is normal…so long as you don’t act on the anger. Breathe and count to 10, or place the baby gently down in the crib and walk away for a few minutes.
- You will get pooped on. And peed on. And spit up on. Your kid will have stuff coming out of all ends, so just accept it as life as move on. I even got pooped on while wearing a white polo shirt while doing a newborn photo shoot. Just change the angle of the photo and keep on going. In fact, I have an entire post dedicated to the subject of poop.
- The laundry never ends. Your child will go through multiple outfits a day. You will go through multiple outfits a day. Just get ready and make sure you have a baby safe detergent like All Free, Tide Free and Clear, or Dreft (though that’s really expensive).
- It’s always Ground Hog’s Day. Wake up, change baby, feed baby, soothe baby, try to sleep, wake up, feed baby, change baby, soothe baby, try to eat, change baby, bathe baby, feed baby, soothe baby…. It just keeps happening. Every day, all day. Morning blends into afternoon blends into evening blends into overnight…and day blends into next day and so on. For us the “reset” moment each day was bath time. Every time we gave our son a bath it felt like we were just there and the same cycle was starting all over again…because it was.
- Despite it all, you’ll look at your child and feel a love you never knew was possible. Having a child and being a parent is the most amazing experience ever. Until you have your own child, it’s really hard to understand how you can love someone else so much, so unconditionally. They’ll frustrate you and make you so tired you can’t function, but then they’ll have those brief moments where they are sleeping peacefully in your arms and everything else just melts into the background.
The good news, readers, is that it does eventually get better. Our son is now two months old, and he’s got much more predictable, much more calm, and sleeps a whole lot better. And when he smiles, nothing else in the world seems to matter.
P.S. Buy the book and/or DVD Happiest Baby on the Block. You’ll thank me later.