You’ve prepared for the arrival of your baby with care and intelligence. You’ve consulted books, other parents, and your own common sense. But then the baby bursts onto the scene, and between delivering all the care your newborn baby needs and meeting your own needs, you’re swamped.
Eventually, however, the trials of the first few months ease up and the chaos settles down. That’s when you realize there are some important facts none of your friends or family members ever mentioned. And why not? Because they never thought to bring up the subjects—or thought it wise not to.
Here you’ll find some of the deep, dark secrets about babies and young baby care that you wish you’d known ahead of time.
Ack! Your baby can’t talk! Well, OK, that’s no big surprise, but it hits you like a two-ton rattle the first night at home as you watch him sleeping in his bassinet. Your baby can’t even run around and avoid falling objects like a puppy could. He can’t control his arms at will or roll over anytime he wants or even in some circumstances cry out for help. Without you, he’s in trouble. Of course, he has ways of making sure you help him. But to be in charge of somebody so helpless…what a frightening and awesome responsibility that is.
Babies start from scratch.
From rolling over to pooping, you find your baby practicing the oddest skills—skills you take for granted.
With the dedication of an artist, she practices sucking her thumb, suffering many self-inflicted wounds as her flailing fist hits her skull, eyes and ears instead of her mouth. You wince as you watch her, hoping she survives and praying she applies such focus and perseverance to cleaning her room when she gets older.
Similarly, the first time you see baby turn purple trying to fill her diaper, you panic. Then you learn that some babies go through a stage where they gain conscious control of their bowels and have to re-learn what they used to be able to do by instinct. Soon you start to encourage her. That’s fine—just be sure you break yourself of the habit of saying, “Pooping? Nice work!” by the time she reaches junior high.
Exhausted. Must. Get. Sleep.
All right, it’s true; they warned you about sleep deprivation. Everyone warns you about sleep deprivation—the books, the Internet, your family and friends, strangers on the street. You’d been told to arrange for a grandmother or somebody to help you with meals and shopping once the baby is born. You’ve done that.
But you weren’t really stressed about the idea of losing sleep. After all, you’d pulled all-nighters before, hadn’t you? How bad can a little sleep deprivation be?
What you didn’t know—and what no merciful parent will reveal before you have the baby—was what all those weeks, or maybe even months, of sleep deprivation are really like.
Other parents won’t tell you to banish any hope of doing chores, meeting social engagements, or working on personal projects. They won’t warn you that to have to drag yourself out of bed and change the baby’s diaper in the middle of the night will use up your last reserve…and your second-to-last, plus every bit of reserve you’ve got stored in your little toe. They naturally don’t want to scare you.
Just remember, you’re not alone. And your baby isn’t trying to drive you insane with lack of sleep. He simply never got the memo telling him to eat and sleep on cue ….
Burping isn’t just an encore to a meal of breast milk or formula; it’s the main event.
Yes, for your baby, burping is a regular opening-night theater performance—and she’s the star who must be encouraged to perform. You hold her up, turn her about, pat her on the back, and egg her on—and when she finally emits a belch to rival the mightiest bear’s, you cry, “Excellent burp!” and applaud.
For remember, if the performance is delayed or never happens, then you’ll be up all night regretting it. (Think colic. Think stomach upset. Think baby crying for hours.)
Living day to day? More like hour to hour.
Your baby’s moods seem to go one way, then the other. Your baby is happy and content one minute, crying the next. His physical needs come upon him more suddenly than a sprinkler system at a lawn party; he’s content, then in pain, then happy, then hungry, then asleep. Now you understand why parents of newborns are always late. Planned events become unplannable when a baby enters the scene.
Not a non-person. A character from the start.
From the moment your baby leaves Placenta World with a shattering cry that does not admit to her size, your baby has a personality. She might do all the typical baby things. Yet each baby comes with her own virtual personals ad: “Good communicator, squirmy when held, ravenous for life, moody, prefers thumb to pacifier, is a confirmed chewer.”
You expected to learn to distinguish your baby’s cries. But did anyone tell you how mobile your baby’s face would be, and that you’d learn her expressions by heart? In one afternoon you count 32 separate facial expressions, including “Trying to Poop,” “Cry is Imminent,” and “Out Cold.” But your favorite is “Blast You, Give Me the Milk!”
And each day, her personality evolves and you notice something new, so you feel like you’re at a circus. Step right up! Watch a personality form as you wait! It’s the show of a lifetime!
Hard work? You’re not the only one.
No matter how much work you were prepared to do in caring for your baby, you didn’t consider that maybe the really hard work would be done by the baby, himself.
Poor baby has to stay where he’s put, grow faster than you can say “we’re out of laundry detergent again,” stew in dirty diapers until someone happens to sniff him, and wonder why, when he sobs, “Hey, my elbow is itching like nobody’s business!” everybody just looks at him helplessly.
Plus he’s not altogether sure what he’s doing here, where “here” even is, what that scary thing rushing past him is, what those scary sounds are, and where he’s going next.
To put it frankly, you’ve now discovered that a good eighty percent of your conversations about the baby centers on the subject of…well…poop. Poop is, quite simply, fascinating stuff to new parents. Where it would once have yucked you out, now few things engross you more than describing your little darling’s fecal texture, consistency, color, odor, and frequency…which is why you find it a breath of fresh air to visit the pediatrician, who is about the only other person on earth who talks about the taboo subject with equal relish.
A baby’s way of assuring he gets help is simple. He cries. And he cries. And if that doesn’t work…he cries. It’s actually a very powerful and effective mode of communication, considering it consists of one word, bwah.
thing about the baby’s cry is that it must be obeyed. That is all.
Once you have a baby, you learn that most powerful force on earth, besides a baby’s cry, is a baby’s laugh. No matter how much you swore you wouldn’t “iggle-wiggle” with your baby or make funny faces or do silly dances like all those undignified parents, all that changes when she learns to laugh. Now you’ll do anything to hear that hiccupping heh-heh-heh again – juggle pie plates, make rude noises with your mouth, and “oopsie-poopsie-woopsie” till you’re hoarse.
Is that what’s under my diaper?
At first, your baby seemed not to realize that there was anything more of himself underneath his diaper. Suddenly, around the time he gains control of his arms and hands, his little hands go wandering and discover…all of himself.
You panic. Then you realize the whole thing is entirely natural. Feeling proud of yourself for recognizing your baby’s innocent need for self-discovery, you decide to let him go ahead and explore this part of himself, too. After all, how can it hurt?
It’s about then that you notice that you haven’t yet wiped him up and that his wandering hand has gotten full of the same stuff soiling his diaper. At which time, self-discovery takes on a whole new meaning. Luckily, from here on in you’re prepared…until the first time he pees on you.
You feel so…unwashed.
And finally, the deepest, darkest secret of parenthood . You’re so busy and tired, so swamped and frantic, so overworked and overwhelmed, you just haven’t managed to take a shower in….well…some things are better left unsaid, right?