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.
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