In honor of a dear old friend becoming a new parent (of twins!) this week, I thought I would compile some of the unsolicited parenting advice I threw at him, plus some other stuff I remembered afterward.
1. "Neh" is the hungry cry. There are other cries that all newborns share - the tired cry, the gassy cry - but that was the most useful one for me. Go to YouTube for examples.
2. ShamWow, my firends. ShamWow.
3. If someone's parenting advice feels wrong, it probably is. For you, anyway.
4. While it is true that every pregnancy/newborn is different, knowing that doesn't really help you when you're new to all this. Just ask at what temperature/symptom/frequency-or-consistency-of-poop do you call the doctor.
5. Write it down. Your memory will be bad even when it's working, so jot down anything and everything somewhere handy.
6. WebMD will be your greatest frenemy.
7. Have no ambition beyond sleep-eat-poop. If you think you can get something done, you almost certainly won't, and this will only depress you. Give up on trying for as long as you need to.
8. You are not ready for this level of tired. You might think you know sleep dep - I sure do! But you really don't understand the dangerous level of fatigue you will be slogging through for the next several weeks to months. After my second child, I actually went to the dollar store and bought a pair of readers because I thought my eyesight was starting to go. I was just that tired.
9. Walk away when you need to. Sometimes you will never understand why the baby is crying - or why you're crying - and the best thing to do is put the child somewhere safe while you go outside and contemplate your mailbox.
10. Remember that what you're doing is absurd. We live in a bizarre society where we are not immersed in extended family and lifelong friends, living with us or within shouting distance. In a more "primitive" situation, we would never be parenting alone. There would be a host of loved ones stepping in to help you raise the child. They would be there to watch the child, entertain it, while you got some extra sleep or had a bath or deigned to pick up something. We would never be left for half the day or more alone with a little person who needed so very much. Even having two parents with only one working is biologically ridiculous to accomplish the task at hand. So keep that in mind, and look to ways to diffuse the stress throughout the day. Make a phone tree of friends and family to call every day, throughout the day, just to help you laugh. It really is medicine to the mind and body. And, hopefully, they will stop by sometimes, too, to bring you coffee and do the dishes.
One more special note about breastfeeding. All the recent medical information available nowadays is vindicating those dirty, savage hippies who thought "breast is best." Turns out, it really is. Babies who've been breastfed have better health outcomes, physically and mentally, throughout their lives. It's beneficial for the mother, too, physically and mentally. (It did wonders for dropping my dress size, too - bonus!). In America, the recommendation is to breastfeed for at least one year - this is why WIC will provide vouchers for breastfeeding moms through the child's first year. And the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends two years of breastfeeding, if possible. Advocates encourage even longer, if you can. (We're not talking Game of Thrones longer - but to a couple of years old seems to be just fine).
That being said, if a mom chooses not to breastfeed, we need to support her just as much as we need to support moms who decide to breastfeed. There are a number of reasons a woman might choose not to or be unable to breastfeed, and no one should judge or shame her because of that. Plus, formula has come a long way and is a better substitute than it was 50 or 60 years ago, when breastfeeding was stigmatized. Part of the push behind the breastfeeding movement today is to overcome that old stigma, as well as the continuing sexualization of breasts to the point where moms are prevented from nursing in public, or - more distressingly - women feel uncomfortable nursing their newborns. When women are made to feel like doing the most natural and important things for themselves and their baby is wrong - that's a big, damn problem.
So, this is why we need to be culturally accepting of a mother's choice, and personally helpful wherever we can. Just making mom a sandwich, keeping her hydrated, rubbing her back, can make a world of difference. We can also do a lot socially. Oregon is one of the more progressive states when it comes to supporting moms, including protecting public nursing, having employers provide breaks for a working breastfeeding mom to pump, as well as a sanitary and private location to do it. No, bathrooms are not acceptable.
And let's just take a moment to love on the dads. Dads can share all the tasks and emotions that moms get, though the execution of some things might have to be modified.
And let's also give some love and respect to all those who don't have kids, and maybe won't. You are loved, too, and there's no need to feel left out if you want to come in. There's a place for everyone in a child's or parent's life.
Okay, there are books and books of advice out there, and my brain still has not recovered from the sleep dep even though my youngest is almost three. But I will leave you all with one last thought...
11. Come graduation, they won't remember any of this.
Oh, look at that!
The boys just got home and Henry just threw up... on a ShamWow. Laundry time!
(Did I mention...? 12. Something's always wet.)