Last week we discussed remembering to take care of yourself after baby arrives. Today, Meagan Church--mom of two, blogger at Unexpectant and author--talks about thinking beyond pregnancy and birth to prepare for taking care of baby outside the womb.
When our firstborn decided to arrive 10 days past his due date, I enjoyed having some extra time to prepare for his arrival. Honestly, I hoped he'd stay in utero for a long time. Why? Because I knew how to care for him there. I didn't have to worry about changing diapers, getting the hang of breastfeeding or soothing his cries. He was compact, portable and quiet. When he did arrive, I was happy to meet him, but I was still anxious about what to do with him. His doctor asked us in the hospital, Do you have any questions? I said, Yeah. Are we really supposed to take him home with us? Everyone laughed, but on the inside, I meant it. What did I know about babies? I'd only ever held a few in my entire life and I had never changed a diaper.
The realization that I had no clue set in the morning after my son was born when my husband left the hospital to tend to our animals at home. There I was, alone with a tiny stranger who was looking to me for survival. Of course he chose that moment to fill his diaper. There I was, less than 24 hours post-partum, tenderly negotiating my way out of bed, while holding a screaming newborn. I placed him in the bassinet and attempted to change his diaper for the first time. During the process, he stuck his sock in the mess. I began to search for a clean one, as he continued to wail. I came up empty-handed. Then my midwife walked in. How's it going? she began to ask. I turned and said through tears, I need a sock! She hurried away and came back moments later with a handful of socks. She helped me get him dressed, swaddled and situated. And then she hugged me.
While pregnant, I did plenty of research on pregnancy, labor and delivery. I knew what to eat and what to avoid, while growing a little person. I developed my birth philosophy and knew how I felt about different forms of pain management during labor. But thankfully I didn't stop there. Too often women view babies as such a natural event that surely they can wing it and figure things out. A friend of mine once said, I was obsessed with labor and delivery, but I never thought about bringing the baby home. Oh, my gosh! What do you do with this baby? She cries all the time!
The reality of life with baby hits many moms harder than expected. While having a baby is a natural event, many in our culture are removed from the process until we experience it for ourselves, making the learning curve quite sharp. Since I had yet to change a diaper before that stressful hospital scene, I knew the transition would not be easy for me. To lesson that curve, I read not just about labor, but also about breastfeeding and baby care, and I took classes on both topics at my local hospital. Sure I still found myself standing in the hospital room crying over a sock, but imagine how much more lost I would've been without even doing that much. So here are a few tips for parents-to-be when it comes to preparing for life when the labor pains stop:
Observe. Watch friends, family and even complete strangers who have babies. I learned a lot by watching others and how they cared for their children. I made plenty of mental notes on things that surprised, encouraged or completely scared me.
Read & listen. Books, magazines, websites and podcasts on this topic abound. It's not necessary to take an obsessive approach and read every parenting manual out there. Explore different authors and different perspectives so you can understand what you do and what you don't like. Also check to see if your local hospital, birthing center or area doulas offer informational classes.
Practice. I rarely babysat as a teen or an adult. No wonder I had no clue! Get involved with the kids you know. Their parents will be grateful for your help. If you're not certain about going it alone, offer to lend a helping hand, while the parent is still in the house. Even offering to tackle a diaper change is a blessing to a tired parent.
Volunteer. Get hands-on practice by giving your time to a local church, homeless shelter, women's center or the like. They can always use the help and you will receive great rewards in return. Plus, once your little one arrives, free time will become a thing of the past, so enjoy these opportunities while you can.
Breathe. In all you see and learn, remember to stay flexible. It is easy to develop a parenting philosophy before your house is filled with an inconsolable newborn. Years before having kids, I rolled my eyes at my sister-in-law who co-slept with her child. Then I had a baby who decided he'd rather not sleep for the first year of his life. Let's just say rules are easily changed in the wee hours of the night. But at least by witnessing her example, I had a solution to turn to in those wee hours.
So don't spend those nine months preparing for just one day. Also consider the lifetime to come and how you'll make it through those early days, weeks and months. And be sure to pack extra socks.
Meagan Church is a writer, a reader, a black coffee drinker; a runner, a golfer and a lover of nature; a wife, a mother and a wanna be world changer. Her blog, www.DefiningMotherhood.com, explores her role as a mother of two toddlers, outside of clichés and inside the reality of it all. She is currently working on a project that explores the realities of birth, babies and beyond. Visit www.Unexpectant.com or @unexpectant on Twitter for more information or to join in the conversation. She is also the author of the children's book Unique as Pete: How Autism Does Not Mean Different, along with various freelance articles on parenting, midwives, water birth and more that can be found at www.MeaganChurch.com.