I have a couple of friends who are thinking about reproducing, and to them I say: STOP! TURN BACK! RUN FOR THE HILLS!
Having kids is this weird paradigm shift that you genuinely can’t comprehend until you’re already in too deep to turn back. And the weird thing is you go in knowing you don’t know what you don’t know, but you’re still somehow surprised by how surprised you are.
You can do all the internet research you want, have a million nephews and nieces, hell, you could even have been a kid once yourself, but there is really and truly no way to prepare yourself.
That being said, here’s some advice for how to prepare yourself!
(Disclaimer: my kid is super weird. Your results may vary.)
Crib, stroller, car seat
Obviously, you should have this stuff. I’ll go ahead and tell you right now that I don’t know anyone who used the crib for the first four months – minimum – after their kid was born, but when you finally do want a crib you’ll be way too tired to go out, get one, and put it together, so just do your future self a solid and get that shit set up pre-contractions (or adoption paper-signing, or however it is you get that tiny lovable dictator).
Ditto on the car seat, especially since you can’t leave the hospital without one, and ain’t nobody wants to install a car seat after going through labor. Trust me.
Wait a minute, if your kid doesn’t sleep in a crib, where does he sleep? The short answer is: on you. All. The. Time. Which sounds lovely, and sometimes it is, but sometimes you feel like if you can’t move freely for five god damned minutes you’re going to start throwing things, and you should really make sure the most convenient throwing-thing isn’t the baby. For those times, some genius made the Snugabunny. It folds. It’s light and portable. It’s cuddly and soft and a good height for sticking next to your bed/the couch/everywhere you go. Babies LOVE its warm embrace. It was a sad, sad day when we realized our goblin was too long to fit anymore.
Oh, and if you pull the short straw and your kid screams for hours on end because of acid reflux, the Snugabunny and its kin are apparently the only thing that will help. I mean, that’s the word on the streets. Our goblin never had any real physical troubles… they were all in his head… sigh…
THE STROLLER IS KEY. Do you have a real grownup who wants to buy you something nice? This is where to take advantage. Get thee to a baby store and try out all of them. Stick a backpack full of books inside to replicate the weight of a screaming toddler. Hell, the place we went to had creepy baby-shaped sandbags for just that purpose! Try to get through doors, over curbs, and dance the tango if that’s your plan. The point is, if there’s ever a time to do your homework, this is it. Then shamelessly ask a relation to spend hundreds of dollars on it for you. Upgrade for the hand break and run-flats like we did! Yes, that’s right, our stroller has run-flats. Feel no shame, for this is an investment you will treasure.
My kid hated this with a passion, so I don’t know… probably ask someone else.
Oh! One thing I do know! There are tiny little baby-wearing cults sprinkled all over the country (this is my local chapter), and they will let you try out every option under the sun. AND TELL YOU HOW TO USE IT, which is kind of important when you suddenly realize everything will kill your baby. And they’ll rent options to you till you and the grub decide on something together that you want to spend the moolah on. Or maybe you’ll just find out your kid is an asshole like mine who knows when Mommy’s hands are free and is having none of that noise.
Prepare yourself for genius. This is where I shine.
First off: ALL BABIES WANT TO BE SWADDLED. Remember how s/he was so tightly packed in your abdomen you felt like your stomach might just burst open, alien-style? So does your baby, only s/he thought it was the bomb. Even if your tiny beast tries to get out, fight back. Embrace the swaddle. Swaddle so tightly that you start to feel a little bad. I promise, your future self that doesn’t have to deal with a sobbing baby will thank me.
Secondly: Swaddles are crazy hard origami projects that can go wrong at a moment’s notice. Forget that shit. If it’s cold, you can swaddle-as-hard-as-possible with a blanket, then stuff the goblin like a burrito into something like this. There shall be no escape.
If your muffin’s hands are still escaping their confines, then grab yourself a rectangle of cloth (cut up an old tee shirt, and you’re good to go) or a blanket and pin that sucker’s arms this way. It’s the single most important innovation ever discovered by parents. I cannot emphasize how much better your life is when your kid has limited access to his limbs.
Thirdly: No, seriously. If you don’t feel bad you’re not doing it right.
Holy shit, you’re going to need a yoga ball. WHY DON’T THEY SEND YOU HOME FROM THE HOSPITAL WITH ONE? The world may never know.
Anyway, you probably want this one when you’re preggers anyway, because there are going to be times when it’s the only thing you want to sit on/lean on/look at.
But then the succubus inside you will claw its way out. And s/he will be cranky about this whole situation.
All of them.
What you will do is hold the monster and bounce on the yoga ball so hard and so high that you’re nearly flying off it. You’ll bounce for hours, until you can’t feel your legs. You’ll try to bounce across a room to get to your phone where you stupidly left it out of reach. You’ll compulsively bounce so much that you might forget what sitting on a regular chair feels like.
But your baby won’t cry.
And in that room where you’ll be trapped like some sort of purgatory for people who were very rude to their high school history teacher, bouncing eternally and wondering if you’ll ever not smell like yogurt again, you’ll want a white noise machine. It doesn’t much matter which one, as long as you don’t make the mistake of getting one of the cute stuffed animal ones. They turn off after 20 minutes, and that is unacceptable. You need something that will be loud and continuous. Imagine the sound of slowly losing your mind. Or being stuck in an old TV that only plays static. Or, apparently, what it’s like to grow for nine months in someone’s internal organs. That’s what your kid wants. I straight up got a headache from how loud ours was, but it was how he wanted it.
Bonus: if you somehow manage to put the sucker down and creep out of the room successfully, a white noise machine helps mask the sound of the Game of Thrones episode you’ve collapsed in front of.
Oh, and read this book before that sucker gets to the outside world. Or watch the matching movie (last I checked it was streaming on Netflix). You will repeat this man’s teachings like a secret mantra. It’s the only specifically recommended method or book I’ve ever heard from any nurses or doctors, and they ALL recommend it. Science!
Babies are actually pretty boring, and just want to
watch the world burn… er… absorb the world around them, so you don’t need all that much. We took these with us literally everywhere we went, and it was all we needed for a looooooooooong time. On the other hand, they made our lives so much easier we took them with us literally everywhere we went. I guess the lesson here is you don’t need much, but you do need something?
Freddie the Firefly is every baby’s favorite toy. Walk around and check out what the savvy parents are doing. They’ve all got one of these too. Because they are the shit.
Side note: there are a bunch of other creatures these guys make, so go with what you like, but we’ve also got the moose and nobody loves that the way they love that god damned firefly.
Mobiles are great, but you know what makes them so much better? When they attach to everything. Stop being a chump with that giant thing over the crib, and clip this on to the car seat, the stroller, hell, even a baseball hat would be easily adorned by one of these. When you can’t see very well, and you’re still unclear on the concept of “limbs,” this is high entertainment. Your first car ride without crying will thank me.
We called this the baby boom box, and I once kept our ball of terror from crying for a full hour long car ride with this thing on loop.
Warning: these will be the first of many mindless songs you memorize in your new life as entertainer-in-chief. Hey, at least they’re classics!
If you’re using formula good for you! Do what’s right for your family! I just can’t speak to it, since I had a critter hanging off my boob all day, every day. I’m sure there are all sorts of sneaky tricks and ideas for the formula set.
If you are feeding another human being using liquid that squirts out of your glands (seriously, why don’t more people notice how weird nursing is?), then you’re going to want a vibrator.
Pretty much everyone I know got clogged ducts at some point. Not only do they hurt like a mother (ha, see what I did there?), feeling like there’s an actual giant hard curdle stuck in your internal plumbing, but if you don’t take care of them you can get infected, and that leads to all sorts of bad stuff like visits to the ER.
So definitely take care of yourself!
With a vibrator! In the shower!
Let me back up: there are a lot of ideas about using cabbage leaves, or nursing your baby while hovering over him/her like Superman (the theory is you’re using the power of gravity to help get it out), and I’m sure there are plenty of hippies who want to sell you herbal remedies.
Those ideas are all bullshit. What you want to do is get a shower as hot as you can stand it, and let the girls get nice and warm (this might be the first shower you’ve taken in days, so enjoy yourself!). Once you’re all cozy and relaxed, turn that vibrator up to top speed, and use it to push those clogs out. Start at the base of your boob, and roll it all the way to the nipple, pushing/massaging/smashing as hard as you can stand it. Then do it again and again. If you’ve got an extra stubborn clog, just push the vibrator against it and leave it there to sort of vibrate the whole thing to pieces. Then massage/push/mash some more. If you wind up with milk spraying the walls of your shower then you’re doing it right. You won’t actually feel the moment when you’re free of that sucker, but in about half an hour you’ll be a much happier camper.
Whatever else you do with that vibrator is your own business, but don’t get too excited: between hormones and childbirth you’re probably not going to be even remotely interested in anything other than boob-massages for a while.
Which reminds me…
Want to get Baby Daddy (or Baby Mommy) involved in the nursing process? Here’s what you do: he sits down. You sit down, leaning against him. You clamp the wee one onto your nipple. Then, while s/he nurses, Daddy massages to boob the baby’s on. To make sure the milk all comes out? To stimulate flow? I’m honestly not sure if there’s a real reason for this, but our nurse told us about it, and all I know is that it was the most relaxing part of my day. Pretty sure the theory was to help supply, but all I know is that he felt involved, and I felt like falling asleep.
Note: this is a BAD idea if you’ve got the above clogged duct situation (okay, it’s actually a good idea, using the baby as a natural suction to help dislodge it, but it hurts so you should probably do the squishing on your own). Or if you’re super engorged, unless you want to waterboard your little bundle of sunshine.
In theory, babies love car rides. Who hasn’t heard of the exhausted parent resorting to driving in circles in a parking lot, just to get their grub to sleep? Babies + cars = success, right?
You know where this is going, especially if you’ve ever met our contrarian nemesis. He hated the car, and would cry as if he was in physical pain if he had to go anywhere. I learned to drive with one hand on the wheel, and one hand twisted all the way around behind me to hold his binkie in place, because he hadn’t developed the motor skills to get it when it fell out. It hurt my shoulder, and was probably super dangerous, so I don’t recommend that particular strategy.
Eventually all the tiny tyrants I know grew out of that stage, even – gasp! – my own. It helps to have the distractions I mentioned before, especially the little mobile that can clip on to the handle of your car seat, giving the monster something to do besides slowly drive you insane.
But babies do cry a lot, probably even the ones that like car rides, and sometimes you’re on the freeway and can’t pull over to check that his arms haven’t suddenly fallen off. That sounds like an overstatement, but once you’ve got a newborn and realize the entire world is out to destroy them, well, the idea of missing limbs suddenly doesn’t sound far-fetched.
That’s when you need a special rear view mirror. They’re safe in the even of a crash, but more importantly will hopefully prevent that crash, because you’ll be able to look in your rear view mirror, see that your beautiful bundle of joy isn’t actually dying or possessed by Satan (hopefully), and drive on safely.
First off, babies don’t need baths all that often, so if you’re too tired, or your little bundle of problems hates the water, or you just would rather watch more RuPaul’s Drag Race, well, now you’ve got the perfect excuse! It’s not great for their delicate skin! Alternatively, if your tiny bundle of goblins enjoys water, go nuts. It’s good for their sensory development!
Basically, there’s no right or wrong way to schedule these things. Live your life guilt-free.
The one exception to this rule is cradle cap. CRADLE CAP. A new mother’s nemesis! It’s a condition that isn’t normally medically worrisome, but makes your sweet-smelling grub look like s/he’s developing leprosy, or at least strange lizard-skin.
Like I said, for most kids it’s harmless, but the second you have a child there’s a deep, dark monkey part of your brain that Must. Groom. Now. that gets activated. And guess what really drives that instinct crazy? Scaly flakes on your baby’s head. And since we’re the most advanced monkeys on the planet, we’ve invented special grooming tools for this exact situation! Huzzah! Isn’t technology great?
My trick was to keep the wailing wonder swaddled, and prepare a pitcher of nice warm water right next to the sink. Then, after a thorough brushing, which he hated, he’d get a head massage with shampoo and soothing warm water poured over his head. The combo of still feeling secure and getting his head warm and massaged was pure bliss for him, and it was effective treatment for the gross crust on his head. Your mileage may vary.
So, now that you’ve got your kid’s head looking like, well, a head, let’s take a look at the rest of him/her/it (I’m not here to judge).
When you do feel like bathing your spawn, you’ll quickly discover that wet babies are hella slippery. And you only have two hands. And you’re putting your progeny in water, which is apparently really, really not good for breathing in.
What I’m saying here is that you need a baby tub. It doesn’t even matter much which one, from what I can tell, as long as it keeps that sucker in place. We had a fancy tub that I thought looked cool, and it was slippery and awful and it gave every mom I’ve known with it gray hairs. So don’t do that. I dunno, this one looks pretty good?
BUT!!! Once sitting up independently is happening I’ve got the only tub you will ever need again! Cheap? Check! Adorable? Check! Protects that precariously-balanced noggin’ from randomly tipping over because babies are dumb? Check! This thing travels (it’s inflatable) and will give you no end of cute baby pictures. Our benevolent overlord was so attached to it that when he outgrew it we had to let it slowly deflate over the course of several days, till eventually – I kid you not – he was taking baths sitting on a fully deflated ducky.
Finally, you’ve got your tiny monster bathed, and hopefully not covered in too much head gunk, so you’ve just got one more thing that you need to worry about. Okay, one more trick I’ve got to tell you about. There are a million things you’ll be worrying about, for the rest of your life. Welcome to parenting, when even trimming nails becomes a major, terrifying life event.
Confession: the first time I trimmed my piglet’s nails, I also trimmed off the tip of his finger.
Let me repeat that: I CLIPPED OFF THE VERY TIP OF MY BABY’S FINGER.
It was just skin, and he was fine after five minutes, and newborns are like Wolverine, and have freaky healing powers, so by the next day you literally couldn’t tell anything was wrong, but still. I will have nightmares till my dying day.
After that fiasco, I finally listened to my mom and got nail scissors. They’re blunt, so you literally cannot injure anyone (I tested on myself first), and work like a charm. You’re not thanking me now, but when your gremlin grows tiny kitten claws and begins to scratch everything in sight, you’ll be glad you’ve got a system that doesn’t feel like high stakes surgery.
Most creatures that didn’t evolve to live in a cave enjoy sunlight and fresh air. Most parents complain about how the only thing to stop the constant wailing is to go on long walks outside.
There was a time when I hated those people.
You see, my little burrito hated sunlight, fresh air, and happiness. Okay, maybe not that last one, but when he screamed bloody murder every time we stepped foot outside it certainly felt that way. So not only were we not sleeping, we also hadn’t seen the outside world in weeks. Maybe months. It had to stop. So we got him these hella cool shades. And then he rocked them every time we went out of the house. It didn’t magically solve everything, but it meant that we could go for 20 minute walks and get a little sanity back (as long as we stayed on the shady side of the street).
Also, since he was, well, willing to go outside I’ve been using this sunscreen on him, and I love it. It smells good, is safe for the littles, and goes on smoothly enough that I just lie to him and tell him I’m giving him a massage.
No seriously, lie your Kraken down, declare it’s massage time, and get that sunscreen everywhere. And then feel smug when you’re at the park and all the other toddlers are running away screaming from sun protection, while yours happily plops down and enjoys it. Being a mom at the park: it’s secretly all about being smug whenever possible.
Okay, that basically all I can brain-dump out about those first
hellish magical months. Stay strong, take showers whenever you can, and remember that eating is important. And, if you possibly can, try to keep a sense of humor about things. It’s the only way to survive.