The first time I was pregnant I made one big mistake. Amid taking vitamins, swimming laps in the seminary pool, and reading pregnancy books, I learned absolutely NOTHING about what to do when the baby actually arrived. It’s like I never realized that the pretty glow and stretchy clothes weren’t the final destination. I was the happiest, (largest), most naïve pregnant lady alive.
And then she came.
Good-bye happy glowing pregnant lady. Hello zombie-mommy—as terrified, exhausted, and clueless as the wiggling infant in my arms. I was overwhelmed by a desperate, protective love for this little person, yet I’d never felt more incompetent in my whole life. It’s like I had the most important job in the universe with the intelligence of a third grader. I shoved my stash of pregnancy books into the closet, and became a voracious reader of baby-raising manuals. Unfortunately, reading in the middle of the night while nursing and simultaneously sobbing into a handkerchief is not exactly the opportune time for learning how to raise a baby. To make matters worse, I quickly discovered that no two baby-raising “experts” on the face of the planet have ever agreed about a single thing.
In His great compassion, God walked with me, taught me, and sustained me. I have been passionate to encourage new moms ever since, which brings me to the purpose for this article. I am writing especially for women expecting their first baby. I want to share, as candidly as possible, a glimpse into the realities of life with a newborn, in hopes that you may be more prepared than I was.
Stage 1: The Twilight Zone
The initial weeks following baby’s birth can feel a little like entry into a parallel universe. There were two changes in particular that threw me the most. For starters, if your baby is biological, it’s possible to feel like a stranger in your own body. Simultaneously, you experience physical recovery from the delivery, a surge of new hormones, lactation, and a post-partum figure you may find disappointing. Secondly, baby is born with zero regard for your current schedule. Her life is a continuous cycle of eating and sleeping, which means you enter an eerie new world where you don’t think in terms of night and day. You think in terms of 2-3 hour cycles that include feeding, burping, crying and sleeping over and over again all through the day and night. (Do you remember that scene in Men in Black when Tommy Lee Jones tells Will Smith that they work on Centaurian time and he’ll either get used to it or have a psychotic breakdown? It’s a little like that.)
So how do you prepare for this? Make a deal with yourself now that during the Twilight Zone Stage, you are excused from guilt—no need to fit into your skinny jeans, clean the whole house, or smile all the time. Feeling sad or overwhelmed doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom—it means you’re human, and you’re adjusting. Just giving yourself this sort of grace can free you immensely to enjoy baby without all the pressure. Secondly, ENLIST HELP! The Twilight Zone Stage is no time to be a hero. Accept every casserole that comes your way, even if it means you have to answer the door in your pajamas. It will be worth it. Especially if they packed dessert. Invite your mom, or mother-in-law to move in for a few weeks. It doesn’t matter if she gets on your nerves a little—if she’s willing to clean a toilet, cook dinner, and hold the baby at 2am, she will be worth her weight in gold! Finally, begin to pray now for patience, perspective, and gratitude. For all its challenges, the Twilight Zone Stage can be one of the most precious seasons of your life–a season in which God sanctifies you, amazes you with His grace, and blesses you more richly than you could ever imagine.
Stage 2: The Philosophy Crisis
Once the initial blur of “newness” begins to wear off, you will find yourself contemplating numerous daily decisions—do you want to put baby on a schedule? How soon will you implement the schedule? Will you let baby cry? What will you do if baby won’t sleep? Do you want to co-sleep? Do you want to train baby to sleep independently?
In short, there are two major approaches when it comes to raising an infant. There is the “parent-directed” philosophy (popularized by Gary Ezzo of Baby Wise) which relies heavily on establishing a schedule, and the “attachment” philosophy (coined by Dr. William Sears) which advocates following baby’s cues and natural instincts for closeness. Here’s the tricky thing: these two approaches are not isolated options—they are opposite ends of a spectrum of options. Most people don’t fall entirely into one camp, but land somewhere between the two, which is why it feels like experts never agree with each other. For instance, I couldn’t peg James Dobson as a “scheduling” advocate or an “attachment” advocate because he accepts and rejects different components of both approaches. And it’s likely you will, too, the more you grow with your baby.
So how do you prepare? Think of two or three moms who meet the following criteria: you admire them as a woman and mother, they have young children, and their personality is similar to yours. This is your best bet for an “advice-giver.” Ask these moms for their very best “new baby” advice, and don’t just put them on the spot. Let them think about it and get back to you later—this way you’ll really get their best thoughts. Ask them which books were the most helpful, and read them. (Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Marc Weissbluth was the most helpful book I read, although I think it’s wise to read more than one book so you get multiple perspectives). Talk to your husband about what you’re learning and get his feedback. Finally, resolve to hold your newfound opinions tentatively. Becoming dogmatic (especially before baby even arrives) can make you highly critical of yourself and of others.
Stage 3: The Grace-Filled Rhythm
With both my daughters, between 4-6 months, it felt as though normalcy returned. Of course every day still held a degree of unpredictability, but by and large life fell back into a steady rhythm. I knew what to expect and how to respond. It may happen sooner for you, or take a little longer, but know this—as surely as The Twilight Zone is coming, normalcy will make a return.
You’ve seen me reading my baby books and sobbing in my rocking chair. Now fast forward three years. Do you see the toddler dancing in her underwear? The baby learning how to walk? The Daddy monster bursting through the door every afternoon to tickle all the bellybuttons in sight? I do. I live in a world where a can of glitter can make you a hero for the day, and two little braids dancing in the wind is enough to make you wish time would stand still forever. My point is, when they tell you “this too shall pass,” no matter how much you want to slap them, it really is true. Virtually every challenge you face with a baby will eventually pass. This is not true for older children. There’s no guarantee that every child will submit to Christ, marry a godly spouse, or live out her full potential. But every child will eventually sleep through the night. As my doctor likes to remind me, nobody breastfeeds in elementary school or takes a pacifier to college. The trials are momentary. The rewards are eternal.
The beautiful woman in the photograph is Katey (Cannington) Mishler, a wise and godly mom of 4 married to a talented musician. Thanks for letting me use the photo, Katey! Check out some of her husband’s music here.
You May Also Like:
19 thoughts on “How a Baby Changes Your Life”
This is sure to be helpful to some expectant mothers. Good advice. You have such discernment for how to address the problems you face. And you write engagingly about resources for others too.
Lol… “nobody breastfeeds in elementary school or takes a pacifier to college.” How true that “The trials are momentary. The rewards are eternal.” Love your insights.
Thanks a lot-especially to you for having a front seat view and loving me through it both times!!
Really liked it after all this period is really so misunderstood thanks
you should honestly publish a book. please! then let me know where i can buy it. i so appreciate your writing and advice.
have you read ann ortlund’s work? she wrote about wifehood and motherhood back in the 70s but i find it still relevant. your writing is equally fortified with God’s grace and wisdom.
O man, that is the kindest most encouraging thing to say! I will treasure this comment–seriously! And if I ever work up the courage to write a book, I will always remember it.
Such a great post! I wish I had known about “Stage 2” a lot earlier…
Me too :). Glad you liked it!
Wow, this is exactly what I needed 🙂 I’ve just started the third trimester of my first pregnancy and I need all of the encouragement I can get. Thank you for the honesty and the suggestions. This has already helped immensely!
Thanks for the post, my first baby is 7 weeks old and this is me! Except I read all the books before he was born, but I was re-reading them while crying in the middle of the night because he wasn’t doing what the books said he was supposed to do 🙂 I am in the philosophy crisis hard core right now, trying to believe I know my baby better than anyone even though he seems like a mystery most of the time! Thanks for the encouragement that it will all be okay in the end. I tell myself he won’t sleep in his swing forever, and if he wants to I can always buy a hammock :). Thanks for your post, always encouraging to be reminded that I am not alone and that God’s grace is big enough to cover my mistakes!
Lol–you sound like you have a great outlook–light-hearted & positive. You’re already way ahead of where I was! You will figure out where you stand on the philosophy crisis…and then it might all change with your next baby! The last thing you said about God’s grace being big enough to cover our mistakes is the biggest joy & peace & comfort for me still.
I am sure you have already seen this, it was all over, but just in case you missed it. I think you would enjoy it 🙂
Hilarious! I could even pinpoint some of the books she was referencing because I, too, read SO many only to end up more confused than ever! Thanks for sharing–I’d never read that before! I’m going to share it with my sis-in-law who just had her first baby.
I sure needed this. After 12 years of marriage, my husband and I are having our first baby sometime in the next couple of months. Out of all I have been reading and hearing, this is what I needed to hear the most. Thank you SO much for writing your thoughts and experiences down. I will refer back to this post often I’m sure!
To anyone exausted, my grandson was born last week and died a few hours later. His mom would be happy to be exausted with messy house if she could hold him a few more hours.
O I am so sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine the pain. I will lift your family up in prayer today.
Love this! Feels like you were writing about me. Needless to say I’m 10 months into my Mothering journey and only just finding my feet. You made me feel so normal. Thankyou. And thanks for the reminding me to look heavenward.
Excellent article! I am a Grammy…4 married kids, 8 grandkids…the youngest a month old. In some ways, the more educated a woman is, the more she feels the new baby thing can be mastered more readily. “How hard can this be? I am an intelligent, balanced, healthy young woman. I can manage a business or a classroom, I can surely manage a baby, a house, and a husband!” Sleep deprivation, fatigue, diaper rash, spitting up, colic, stretch marks, no clothes that fit right, and possibly most of all dashed expectations, make it a challenging time! But it is relatively short. Enjoy all the moments you can…it ends too quickly!
Thank you for writing this. I have two friends who will be having their first baby soon. This is what I wanted to tell them! I will pass on this post to them and include my own footnotes. I have had 5 babies, so I know a thing or two about them, and yes, the things that seem like such big issues at the time eventually go away.