I was talking to a pregnant mom the other day who was happily picking my brain about all things baby. Usually I try to keep my mouth shut, because even though I have four kids, I think parenting is one of those things you just have to do. As much as you can read books or talk to your "all-knowing" friends with kids, a lot of being a parent is diving in headfirst.
Well, after you've checked the water temperature and depth, of course.
But this time, as the mom pushed to hear what I had to say, I decided to share my wisdom. Not in the form of ranting about the wipes warmer or gushing over the best breast pump out there, but actually in my honest regrets, those nuggets you won't find in any baby book out there, and if you do, you probably gloss over them to find that section on "Do contractions hurt?"
These are all the things I really wish I had done but for some reason, even with four children, I never really did. And I'm pretty sure they would have changed much of my experience of early motherhood for the better. Even though I'll never actually know, there's something about saying them out loud and sharing them with someone else who is willing to listen.
1. Have Birth Photos Taken
Like many moms, I have the awful, "I just pushed a baby out and haven't slept in 40 hours" photo with my babies, but none of the actual birth. I do have a video of my oldest's birth, but it's just full of me yelling and my husband counting that I'm not sure it's even worth watching.
But I really wish I had photos, as in beautiful still photos by a professional photographer. Not just of the baby, but of me and my husband and my midwife and of the entire birthing process. I cannot tell you how many I've seen since I've had my kids and they make me weep from their beauty. I realize this isn't for everyone, but let me just say that they'll be 400 times better than anything your spouse or anyone else in the room will be able to take.
2. Keep a Journal
Like most moms, I kept a sort of daily baby book/journal for about the first six months of my first daughter's life and then I stopped, probably from lack of sleep and sheer exhaustion and never picked it up again for any of my other kids.
I realize that worrying is an inevitable part of parenting, but if only I had thought more about where to direct my worrying energy.
Thankfully, I wrote (and still write) a personal blog that chronicled all my kids' subsequent births and first years with photos and stories. However, I really missed out on the daily ins and outs, the funny anecdotes that I'd love to look back on and, even better, share with my kids. And not just about them but about my feelings and experiences being with them.
Whether it's a written notebook, an email address you send daily notes to, or an app like DayOne (which I've started using now and love), you will thank yourself a thousand times over later on if you do this.
3. Worry Less
I realize that worrying is an inevitable part of parenting, but if only I had thought more about where to direct my worrying energy. Most of what I chose to worry about was driven by fear, and quite frankly, most of it has no bearing on how my kids have turned out and how they will turn out as adults.
I spent too many hours obsessing over things like cloth vs. disposable diapers, breast-feeding vs. formula feeding, and plenty of other minute "versus" that seem so big and important at the time but are really so small and insignificant right now. It's hard to imagine that the brand of baby wipes you choose will have absolutely no influence on your child's ability to become a successful, awesome human, but take it from someone who worried about it for you.
Whether it's from your spouse, your own parents, your neighbor or, say, a random friendly-looking stranger, get help when you need it. In fact, I suggest getting help even when you think you don't need it. Somehow, we're so programmed to think we have to do this parenting thing all on our own, and we're reluctant to reach out when that's exactly what we need.
I had offers from people who would babysit, who would bring meals, who would do my dishes, all of which I refused or, worse, accepted and then felt terribly guilty about because apparently I should be able to do everything on my own—silly me! When someone offers to do something for you, take them up on it and don't look back. This doesn't make you weak or incompetent, but rather, pretty damn smart.
5. Take time for yourself. No guilt allowed.
If there's anything I wish for most, it's the permission for self-care that I somehow felt I didn't deserve. But there's laundry to do and babies to feed, and if I leave for too long and she has to take a bottle ... STOP. And the sad part is that so many people told me this in a variety of different ways, but it never really sank in, and regrettably I paid the price both emotionally and physically because of it.
You need to be healthy and strong for your kids, which in many cases means you need to do things for yourself that don't necessarily involve your kids—and not just fun things like a girl's night out, but going to the doctor. Remember the dentist? Your kids need you alive and well. The pretty pedicured toes are just gravy.
What advice would you have for a new mom, beyond the breast pump?