I’m not going to sugarcoat this: The first year of parenthood was tough for me. My daughter was not — how do you say — a laid back baby. I do not reminisce about my baby’s first year with a lot of nostalgia. For me, things just keep getting better.
I struggled the first few months of my daughter’s life, and even as some things got better, I continued to struggle because taking care of a newborn plus figuring out who I was as a mom plus learning how to operate as a co-parent was daunting. This is not to say every new mom experiences her baby’s first year the same way—some people may totally disagree with this list, others may only identify with a few, but that’s what makes these “I didn’t know” lists fun, right?
10 Things I Didn’t Expect from Baby’s First Year
1. The overwhelming sense that I had lost my independence.
This was by far the most intense and immediate reaction I had to bringing our baby home, and it blindsided me big time. This was not postpartum depression or a lack of bonding with the baby — for me, this was how the realization that my old life was gone manifested itself, and no matter how prepared I was with diapers and wipes and onesies or how many times I read/heard my life was about to change drastically and forever, I was unprepared for how this felt. I hilariously referred to home as ‘prison,’ (which I maybe picked up from a Sex and the City episode?), and I sprinted for the door whenever I had the opportunity to get out by myself — even if it was to buy more diapers.
2. Not getting enough sleep wasn’t too terrible — until I went back to work.
I’m not saying I felt 100 percent. But it was a doable scenario if (big IFs coming at ya) your baby gives you 1-2 longish stretches at night (say, five hours then three or so hours, and this does happen for a lot of people by about six weeks) plus some naps, and you are not getting up, getting ready, getting out of the house, and attempting to function among living, breathing human coworkers.
3. The crying was constant during baby’s first year.
Or at least it felt that way. Crying is how babies communicate, so crying is to be expected. Some babies cry less and are generally content to take in the world around them for stretches of time — like for 10 minutes or so. Some babies take two-plus hour naps. My baby did neither. While I’m sure she wasn’t colicky — she slept relatively well at night and was soothable — she was headstrong and only content when on the move.
4. We did not actually stay at home.
I have friends who have the total opposite experience. But with Emme, we had to leave the house. We would literally walk out the door after hours of crying, and she would pass out in her carseat, happy to be out in the world. She was a champ in the car and good in the stroller, so we went out a lot. As much as I wished she would hang out in her swing or bouncey seat, I do think that being out and about was good for my mental health and sanity.
5. Reluctant co-sleeping is a thing.
And I did it. Say what you will about co-sleeping — the fact is, when the only way you can get a newborn to sleep is to put her in bed next to you, there’s a good chance your desperate-for-sleep self will do it. While co-sleeping was not the plan, I was generally comfortable with this based on the research that moms who aren’t otherwise impaired rarely roll over onto their babies. My husband was terrified. Luckily, this was a short-lived period of our lives.
6. Breastfeeding was hard.
OK. I knew this. The Internet is lousy with information about how hard breastfeeding can be. But I think somewhere in my brain, I thought that it wouldn’t be hard for me. I have plenty of friends who more easily navigated the early days of breastfeeding, despite it a few minor trials and tribulations (which at the time, let me tell you, do not seem minor, but in hindsight, etc.) and went on to have long and fulfilling breastfeeding relationships with their babes. Emme and I though, we had a tough road. The first few weeks were extremely trying — I went through a whole breastfeed, pump, bottle routine that was extremely tedious and time consuming the first few weeks of her life. Then I had mastitis multiple times and toward the end of my breastfeeding adventure, I found it extremely painful and never really figured out the cause. At 12 months and one week, I called it quits.
7. Breastfeeding was hard, but pumping is literally the worst.
And I mean literally as literally. I can’t even go into this, as talking about how much I hated pumping still causes me anxiety. If you’re interested, you can read about my pumping misadventures.
8. I would have gladly made out with anyone who was willing to hold my baby long enough for me to eat a sandwich with both hands.
After I was done with the sandwich—obviously. Seriously, you want to make a new mom happy? Bring her sandwich, then hold her baby while she eats it.
9. There was no perfect work/life balance scenario.
I never really considered staying home full time. And while there were days when I made a break for the front door, excited to no longer hear screaming and eat a sandwich with two hands, working full time was tough. I wanted to experience all the new fun baby shit that exists in our modern world with Emme — playdates and music classes, stroller workouts and baby gyms. I wanted to make her baby food and breastfeed without having to pump in a vacant office that my boss refused to let me move into. I wouldn’t say I felt guilty — I felt like I was missing out on my baby’s first year.
10. The fog of new parenthood wouldn’t lift until we hit day 365.
But it did get better. Every milestone, every week, every month, we got a little more sleep, our routine became a little more familiar, and we settled into becoming a family of three. Acceptance is key… so is hanging on for dear life.
And then there’s life with a toddler.