What would you tell yourself, if you could?
To: Alice Bradley, July 2002
From: Alice Bradley, July 2008
Subject: You, in a few months.
Hey there, hot pregnant lady! And I don’t mean temperature-wise. The oversized-belly look works for you, seriously. This will be the last time your midsection is ever this taut, by the way, so enjoy it while you can.
So. Look. I know (because I was you) that ever since you found out you were pregnant, you’ve read approximately 35 books on child-rearing. Because of all your book-learnin’, you now consider yourself to be something of an expert on the subject of babies. You truly believe that, armed with your freshly informed brain, you’ll be able to anticipate and tackle each motherhood challenge as it arises. You’re pretty sure you’re going to win at this baby-caretaking thing.
Excuse me while I laugh at you. I’ll stick my face in this pillow, to muffle the hooting.
Mmmmmmf! mmmmf mffffff! Hmmmmmmmffff!
Ah, but that was cleansing. I needed that.
Here’s what’s going to happen fairly soon: a few days after the baby is born, you will be so tired and sore and bereft, you won’t be able to see straight. And all those tips and techniques and procedures you learned, all those baby-facts you memorized, they will leave you as quickly as your pregnant-looking belly will not.
You think your sleep is fitful now that you’re hot and ungainly? You have no idea. You think you’ve got aches and pains, and that your hormones are making you feel a little nutty? What you’re going through now is a week at a spa compared to what you’ll feel like. You’re worried now about labor and delivery, but that ordeal will last for only a few hours. True, you might feel (ahem) a bit of discomfort, but compared to weeks of sleep deprivation and ceaseless screaming, you’ll soon wish you were back at the hospital, enjoying a nice, peaceful contraction.
You will have days when you’ve had less than one hour of sleep—an hour that was won in five-minute increments, usually while standing ov er the crib or while brushing your teeth. Everything, much less baby-raising, will seem like an insurmountable challenge. Trying to find your take-out menus will drive you to tears. You will let gum simply fall from your mouth as you pay a bill. You will talk to yourself on the street. You will answer the door with your shirt open and your bra undone. Not only will you not remember what you read, you won’t remember how to hold and operate a book, and if someone asked you to spell “book” you would whimper. You will know nothing.
And that’s okay.
The bottom line is, you will make mistakes like crazy, but none of it will make any difference down the road. You can put the diaper on backwards and inside out (and you will), lose your temper because he’s crying only to realize that there’s an errant staple stuck inside his onesie (check), watch him slip off your chest and onto the ground (double check) , turn your back for a second while he grabs a handful of diaper rash cream and stuffs it in his mouth (yep). You will misbehave and lose your temper and forget your phone number. And it will all be okay.
Now let’s talk about nursing. You won’t be able to. I’m sorry. I can tell you that now, but I know (because I’m you) that you’ll try for months anyway. Let it go. Nursing is lovely, nursing is wonderful, but if you need to supplement or even just give up, your baby will be fine. If your breasts aren’t supplying enough milk to sustain life, this does not make you a terrible mother.
And your husband isn’t a terrible father, no matter how incoherent he appears. He’s as much a victim of the baby’s apparent love of screaming and hatred of sleep. When you’re in the shit, so to speak, you must take nothing your partner says personally. Let your overloaded brain discard the memory of your spouse declaring his dislike of your baby. You don’t need to hold onto it, because it’s meaningless. No fighting over anything one of you said in the middle of the night.
(Of course, you’ll probably forget this piece of advice when it’s 3 a.m. and the baby just threw up in your bed and Scott is stomping around the room shouting about selling the baby or getting a better baby or whatever the hell he was going on about. Fortunately you won’t be able to recall the fight with any clarity the next day. Sleep deprivation can be your friend.)
Likewise, give yourself a break for whatever you happen to say to the baby in the middle of the night. Really, it’s okay. In fact, now is the time to express your feelings, no matter how inappropriate. The baby will neither remember nor comprehend what you’r e saying, so go to town. You may tell your beloved child that you hate his guts, and that’s fine. You won’t mean it. It might feel good for a minute. Let it feel good. You’re operating on very little sleep, you silly person. Get your happiness where you can. Besides, if you express your disgust and impatience in a low murmur, it’s like a lullaby for baby.
Soon this will all be a distant memory. It’ll change before you know it. As soon as you think you can’t take another day of mothering, it all changes. It will be maddening and stressful in new ways, sure, but once you’re able to sleep, you’re going to feel like a superhero. And soon enough you’re going to wish you could remember that time with greater clarity. That you had started a blog when your child was first born, so you could remember every awful, wonderful day.