For Z--, on the occasion of her son's rapidly approaching birth:
Congratulations. The congratulations are for your son, by the way: congratulations on having the most gorgeous mother. A woman who, when faced with a 70 year old with a ruptured aortic aneurysm, blown intra-venous access, impossible arterial line, and an intolerable surgeon, will calmly pin back her bangs, and hand out instructions. Who, when faced with a histrionic co-resident plotting the demise of said surgeon's car wheels, shruggingly laughs and proffers a conciliatory Au Bon Pain cookie. (Probably best that the cookie won, since we later realized the surgeon didn't have a car, and he was our neighbor. Damn you, tiny Longwood campus.)
To Z: why anyone would ask me for advice is a mystery-- likely it was your politesse...
But here it is: what I wish I'd heard when when my son was born. The ideas I wish were drummed into me just as much as "suction/oxygen/airway/pharmacy." These are my hard-won findings, which I hope will help you, should you find yourself in a dark, vulnerable, sleep-deprived space. (Even for you, there may be a few of those, though I suspect you are better equipped than most to understand them.)
- You are doing a perfect job (including the imperfections). Every doubt in your mind, every google search in your hands, every lying-awake-list-making is not a sign of weakness or inability. It is a sign of a perfect love. A perfect love that is teaching you with every mistake: how to be better.
- These mistakes of early life won't affect him: they will affect you. They will either render you still and low, or they will be your greatest source of wisdom.
- The wisdom is this: you are a newborn too. You wouldn't blame your newborn child for crying. So: don't blame your newborn mother-self for errors. Crying is what babies do, mistakes are what moms do. Both of you are learning together.
- You will need your mommy. We've talked about it: my boo is always right. It takes a village. No one is meant to raise a child alone. That's akin to a hospital running with only 1 doctor, and no nurses or ancillary staff. Crazy. You are keeping someone alive, and you will want the close advice of your experienced mentor.
- That being said: you are always always always always right, even through the errors. You are the mysterious, all-knowing attending in this situation. You don't need to give anyone any explanations, because you are THAT GOOD.
- Get your hair done the week before birth, along with a facial and lash extensions. Trust.
- You have already "bounced back." Your body has made the impossible happen: it ushered forth life where there was once empty space. It is now a different body, which is obvious because you are now a different person. It should thus be rewarded with a different wardrobe: let's call it the postpartum capsule wardrobe, and cut it a break.
- The time to choose ass vs. face will come: choose face.
- Have a travel-sized makeup baggie near each nursing station, and in each diaper bag: face wipes, hairbrush, BB cream, concealer, chapstick, lipstick (which can double as blush), timed water bottle. You will already have your mascara done (see above).
- When your hair falls out, heavy 500-Days-of-Summer Zoey Deschanel bangs will cleverly disguise it.
- The easiest cure I know for losing your mind in a quiet house: strap the baby in a carrier and go outside. They'll fall asleep, you'll get ice cream. Win-win.
- Don't buy any crazy baby items. YOU are the baby item that your baby needs. (Also, God gave us Amazon prime for a reason. That reason was motherhood. So.... also don't feel bad about ordering thousands of crazy baby items!)
- Instead: buy a babysitter FOR YOU: housekeeper, baby nurse, pedicurist that comes to the house.
- It's just like any monumental change: if you are doing it right, IT IS DIFFICULT. If you hear someone say "my life didn't change at all, it was just so easy," they are either lying, or they are paying someone else to do the work. Imagine saying that about residency-- and we had the 80-hour workweek cap!
- Buy 5-7 pairs of gorgeous, expensive, nursing-specific nightgowns with matching undies and robes, and matching slippers.
- Put your lactation consultant (LC) on speed dial and make sure she takes texts. Buy a breastfeeding book (really BUY ONE), sign up for a breastfeeding class, and request everyone at home to support you in doing so. (Home support, i.e. not letting you quit, has been shown to be an independent marker for success.)
- BREASTFEEDING IS SO HARD. At first. According to my LC, ~90% of women can successfully breastfeed... if steered through the first 6-8 weeks. 100% of women try to quit in the first 2 weeks. Those first weeks will actually seem impossible. (I tried to quit daily.)
- BOYS BREASTFEED SO MUCH ITS INSANE. As in, it may drive you insane if you try to control it or regulate it: go with the flow and cut both of you a break. These bars are like candy rewards for the constant nursing.
- You live in the greatest city on earth: no one will blink if you breastfeed in public. And if they do: you are an inhabitant of that city, you know how to deal with jerks!
- If you read the flip side of #2, it is this: 10% of women, no matter how much effort/coaching/support/etc they have, just can't breastfeed. 10% of women probably have different sized feet, but culturally no one makes them feel bad about it-- breast ducts may be similar in variation for all I know. (The other 10% statistic I'll toss at you is that <10% of women can get into Harvard-- you've been in that 10% before, so don't be mad if you're in the breastfeeding 10%!!!!) Interestingly, we have a lifesaving intervention for those women: it's called formula. Yes, formula is lifesaving. In my mind, that makes it qualify for "crying with grateful tears" and not "crying with shame." But what the hell do I know about formula: nothing. You know who does know? Your LC and pedi.
- Check out the Harvey Karp book. I used Sweet Sleep also, but that is more for granola-hippie type of parenting, and who knows what kind of parent you will be.
- Use a stuffed animal to practice putting on and taking off the baby carrier.... before the baby arrives. This is the best way to be embrace naps: letting them sleep through your every day life, while you are transitioning into a new way of life.
- Sleep when the baby sleeps. Cook when the baby cooks. Do laundry when the baby does laundry. HA!!!!!! Do whatever you please: if you can sleep, go for it. If you want to online shop: do that. If you need to bake cookies, have at it. But again: INVEST IN OUTSIDE HELP. If you don't love doing dishes, then don't do them. Pay someone to do things for you: reap the rewards of decades of hardhardhard work.
- You won't sleep for at least a month. But you've been through worse (no you haven't-- but you've been training for this for years).
- Smell his little face while he sleeps, there is no truer delight.
And don't forget that texting works 24/7, even if, sometimes, it will take both of us days to reply....