By: Michael DePietro
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – Two years ago, I was sitting in my room cramming for midterms. It was late in the evening, 10 or 11:00 p.m. or so when my door creaked open. I looked up to see the head of my ‘special lady friend’ poking in with a surprised look on her face. “What?” I asked. She held up a little white plastic thing with a big red plus sign on it. She smiled nervously at me. After a few seconds the gravity of the situation sunk in: We were having a baby.
I’d like to say that afterwards we shared excited hugs and kisses while picking out car seats and baby names, but that would be a lie. You know in war movies when a grenade goes off and there’s a loud ringing sound and dust everywhere and then you see some guy looking around trying to find his arm? That’s pretty much how I remember it. I was mortified. I wasn’t even prepared for my philosophy exam in the morning, let alone a tiny human whose life I was to be in charge of.
Before my son Milo was born, I had very little experience with babies. Honestly, they always freaked me out. They’re just so tiny and fragile, like little Fabergé eggs that scream and poop all the time. As such, for the first six weeks I found myself being too anxious and nervous to even really enjoy having a son.
Now that the dust has settled and my ears have stopped ringing, I’ve put together a short list of things I hope might help someone who finds themselves in our position. Having recently gone through this all myself, there are a few tidbits of information that I think would’ve helped me early on. While I’m admittedly no parenting expert, my hope is that maybe I can assuage some fears a soon-to-be parent might have so they can enjoy those first few months a little better than I could.
#1: Not everyone is going to be happy about your news
While the late, great Bob Ross might refer to your little miracle as a “happy accident,” some people might not be so cheerful about the whole ordeal. Even though I hadn’t lived with my dad in almost two decades, his initial reaction was as if I told him I was dropping out of school to go to clown college. It’s really not the sort of reaction you want to hear at that point as it can make an already stressful situation worse.
Though it might seem selfish, it’s important to remember that this news can be scary for other people too, especially for those that feel like they have some sort of financial responsibility for you. The best you can do is show them you’re willing to work hard and do whatever is needed to take care of your family. Eventually, they should come around. Nowadays, my son is my dad’s favorite person on the planet. Once they get a look at your adorable little meatball and realize that you’ll make for a capable parent, they’ll calm down.
#2: Sleep now while you can
In the weeks leading up to the due date, do whatever it takes to get all the sleep that you can. It sounds easy but it can be really hard as the anticipation is quite palpable towards the end. In our case, we couldn’t sleep at all the night of our son’s due date. The next day came and went and nothing happened. The next few nights were also sleepless. Every little kick would rouse us awake, thinking the baby is coming. It would be another ten days before our son finally decided it was time to skidaddle on out of there and by then, we were exhausted. It might be difficult, but get some rest before they’re born. Trust me, they will let you know when they are coming and you’re not going to sleep through it.
#3: Sometimes babies just cry
Ask any parent and they’ll tell you, the worst part about babies is the crying … well that and the pooping. It’s not simply that its annoying, it’s that it can break you down psychologically. Half the time they don’t even know what’s wrong. You’ll find yourself trying everything you can think of literally for hours sometimes, and they’ll just keep crying harder. Eventually, you start worrying that maybe something’s wrong healthwise. Just as you’re getting ready to rush them to the emergency room, that thing you’ve tried a hundred times just magically works. The key takeaway here is that sometimes babies cry and you just have to soldier on until it stops. It can be rough, but you got this.
#4: Sleep when they sleep
During the first few weeks, it might be tempting to try and catch up on a show you like or play around on your phone when your little McNugget finally goes to bed. Seriously, don’t. Babies do not care about things like time or your schedule. You can’t really predict when they’ll fall asleep or for how long. Whenever they sleep, you sleep.
If you find yourself worrying about chores, one thing you can do to ease the dish-washing burden is to stock up on enough paper plates and cups to get you through the first couple of weeks. Sure, it’s not good for the environment, but if Mother Nature is any kind of mother at all, she’ll understand. Just think of it as your baby’s month-long birthday party.
#5: The first six weeks are the worst
If this is your first go-around, the first few weeks are going to be rough. You’re going to be exhausted and scared pretty much all the time. However, somewhere around the six week point, everything just starts getting easier. It’s a combination of your baby getting used to being a baby, and you getting used to caring for them. By then, you’ll have gotten to know your baby’s quirks and things just start becoming routine. Whenever things start feeling rough just remind yourself, the worst is almost over. Pretty soon you’ll feel more like you have a child in your life rather than just something in your house you have to keep from ‘getting dead.’
#6: Don’t shake your baby
Seriously, you’re probably going to want to. Just don’t do it.
Finally, take all advice with a grain of salt
Everywhere you go, people—friends, family, some guy at the school newspaper— are going to bombard you with their own helpful tips and tricks for raising your child. Invariably, someone is going to say to you “Well, when our kids were little we used to do X and they all turned out fine.” This gets really annoying really quickly. Look grandma, I know you’re trying to help but just because your kids survived lead paint and lawn darts doesn’t mean that the myriad of medical advances that have occurred over the last 30 or 40 years are all simply hogwash and poppycock. You guys just got lucky. Ultimately, the only advice a new parent should follow strictly will come from your doctors and pediatricians.
Being a new parent isn’t easy, especially if you weren’t planning on becoming one in the first place. Just keep reminding yourself that the beginning is always the toughest part but it will eventually get easier. If you find yourself feeling concerned or nervous right now, it just means you’re already on your way to being a great parent. It definitely won’t always be easy, but in the end it’s worth it.
So take some deep breaths, hug and kiss your spouse or partner and start picking out baby names, because you’re about to start the single greatest chapter of your entire life.
Feature image by Nina Grenga.