20 lessons from life with a newborn

Just when you think you know everything as a mother, things change around and you realize that you don’t know nearly as much as you thought you did to begin with.  Having a second baby has reminded me of this.  My son is 12 weeks old on Wednesday.  He’s not much like his big sister who is 3-1/2.  I’ve learned a few lessons in having him.  I’ve also relearned or been reminded of some lessons I learned last time around. I decided to compile a list.  It’s far from comprehensive, but it’s a few things that have been floating around in my mind and my life these last almost 12 weeks.

1. Not all babies are the same.  I mentioned this before, but I can’t say it enough.  Lexiana loved the bouncy seat.  Drake doesn’t like it.  Lexiana didn’t like the swing so much.  Drake loves it.  Lexiana couldn’t sleep when someone was holding her.  Sometimes Drake will only sleep when someone is holding him.

2. Just when you think you couldn’t possible be any more exhausted, you realize you can.  I’ve had plenty of times when I thought if I were any more exhausted I’d be dead.  And then Drake spent the night crying and I got only two hours of sleep before Lexiana was up and ready for the day to start.

3. Dealing with reflux in a baby stinks.  My daughter had other issues.  My son has mild reflux and it stinks.  I feel a huge compassion for parents who have babies with more severe reflux.

4. Babies require patience.  Lots and lots and lots of patience.  I try to remind myself of this when I want to scream things like, “Stop crying and nurse already!”  Or “Go to sleep!”  So instead I do things like make shushing noises and sing lullabies.  And when I can’t manage that, I just shut my trap.

5. Going anywhere takes a lot of effort.  Going anywhere on time feels like a major undertaking.  I travel with lots of stuff in tow, even with a second baby.  While I’d like to say I’ve downsized from the first time around, the truth is I haven’t.  In fact, my diaper bag now includes items for my 3-year-old as well.  When she was a baby, I didn’t carry coloring books and portable toilet seats with us.  Getting all of us ready to get out the door to go anywhere is a major undertaking and major accomplishment.  If we get there on time, I’m pretty sure I deserve some sort of award.

This is how my son has slept the most and the best. After 11-1/2 weeks, we're finally getting him happy in his crib, but it's still a work in progress.

6. Not sleeping in your bed for three months can really wear on you.  While my daughter had her own issues in figuring out how to use her tongue to suck, she was a good sleeper.  She slept first in her pack-and-play in our room and then in her crib in her room starting at 3 months.  My son, thanks first to extra congestion after his delivery and then to his reflux, is not a good sleeper.  He just starting sleeping in his crib over the weekend and he’s not sleeping in there nearly as long as he was sleeping in the Boppy on the couch beside me.  We’ll get there, I hope, because sleeping in a recliner is far from as comfortable as my bed.

7. Baby cuddles are sweet and should be enjoyed for no other reason than just to cuddle.  I had trouble getting cuddle time with my daughter.  Like I said she wouldn’t fall asleep in our arms.  I also had to put her down quite a bit so I could pump milk for her.  This time around, I get lots more cuddles because our little dude is cuddly and because I’m nursing him.  I really enjoy them.  I just have to remember to cuddle sometimes just because baby cuddles are good for the soul and not just because I’m trying to get him to sleep or feed him.

8. Babies create lots of laundry.  This is not different this time around.  I had lots of laundry last time; I have lots of laundry this time.  Before I had kids I always figured the laundry was for the baby.  I’ve since realized that my laundry also increases when I get covered in spit-up and diaper blowouts.  Fun stuff…  (And let’s not pretend that I change my shirt every single time I get a teeny bit of spit-up on me, especially if I’m not leaving the house any time soon.)

9. Showers taken when other responsible adults are around are like mini spa days.  I love my Saturday morning hot shower when my husband is home and making sure that the kiddos are fine.  For 20 glorious minutes, I enjoy warm water cascading over me and nobody talking to me, crying for me or needing me to do something.  It’s divine.

10. Trips anywhere alone are like mini vacations.  This includes grocery shopping and doctor’s visits.  I’ve been disappointed before when my doctor or dentist gets me in fast enough that I don’t have time to sit in the waiting room and read my book.  Times have changed.

11. Toothless baby smiles make your heart melt — even when it’s 2 a.m. and you’ve not been asleep since 7 a.m. the day before. It’s hard to stay mad, upset or any other negative emotion when you’re getting a toothless baby smile.

12. You can come up with all sorts of systems for how things work best.  For example, we learned pretty quickly that this little dude needs to be held more to go to sleep.  My husband tests when Drake is ready to be laid down by lifting his arm and seeing if it stays completely limp when he gently drops it.  My test in the middle of the night has sometimes been when the sniffing from my exhausted tear-fest no longer makes him jump.  Whatever works.

13. You are desperate to hear from other mothers of newborns.  I have a small network of moms I enjoy talking with who have kiddos the same age as mine.  We talk about shots, exhaustion, bottle size, diaper brands and more.  It helps me to know I’m not alone in my worries and frustrations.

14. On the flip side, unwanted advice from non-parents or those who haven’t had a baby for decades does not go over well.  It’s a great way to annoy a new mom.  And, honestly, we get tired of hearing how much we should enjoy these days because they go so fast.  Having a 3-1/2-year-old, I’ve already learned this lesson a bit.  However, there are most definitely parts of having a newborn that I don’t enjoy and won’t miss. There are way more parts I do enjoy and will miss, but I don’t enjoy every single moment and can get tired of the suggestion that I should.

15. Hormones and exhaustion can combine in negative ways.  I don’t mean to be grumpy, weepy or irritable.  It just happens.  And for that I’m sorry.

16. Mommy brain is real.  We fully intend to remember what we were talking about or supposed to be doing and then we just don’t. This happens from being exhausted and from being interrupted so frequently.

17. Babies smell good.  I feel like I knew this before, but I almost forget it.  I think of Frank Barone, the grandpa on the old TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond.”  He’d come in and smell his grandchildren’s heads and claim to be taking in their youth.  I get that.  Sometimes I smell Drake’s head and just try to suck in that smell.  He won’t smell like a new baby forever.  It’s a special smell.

My two babies together. I struggle with mommy guilt often and want only the best for both of them. (Photo by Catherine Hatton)

18. Mommy guilt is real.  This isn’t something I had to learn anew.  It’s something I’ve had from the moment I became a mom and I continue to struggle with it.  I worry that I’m not doing enough for either child at any given time.  I worry that I’m not making Drake do tummy time enough or playing enough games with Lexiana.  I worry if I leave them with their grandparents for a few hours to do something like see a movie with my husband that I shouldn’t be leaving them at all.  I am good at mommy guilt.

19. Diaper changing time is sometimes the highlight of my day.  I remember with my daughter that our times when she was on the changing table were some of my favorite. She’d baby talk to me.  She’d smile at me and look into my eyes.  My son is the same way.  Sometimes, in fact, we’ve been in the middle of really rough nights when his reflux is acting up and I’ll go to change his diaper and he’ll settle down and “talk” to me and smile at me. The changing table is sort of a magical place with my babies.

20. The rewards are worth it.  Just when I think I can’t possibly have the energy to go on another moment or just when I am so incredibly ready to give up, then I look down at Drake’s precious little face and remember that he depends on me so very completely for everything right now.  He needs me.  I’m irreplaceable to him (and to his big sister).  And I love them both so completely.  That love gives me the extra energy I need to press on and take care of their needs.  (Some prayer for strength goes a long way, too!)  Getting rewarded with baby smiles and coos makes my heart swoon and re-energizes me enough to keep going.  It’s motherhood: long hours, crummy pay and tremendous rewards.

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