Having a newborn has been a very eye-opening experience, despite being the most exhausting time of a parent's life. When I was pregnant, I had a lot of parenting decisions already mapped out. I knew the things I would and would not do, and felt confident enough to navigate the things that still seemed unclear to me when I approached them. Once I left the hospital, however, I quickly realized that I was fundamentally full of shit. I quickly clued into the reality of parenthood's unpredictability and have finally come to terms with a few things.
You will sleep again - just not right now. I always laughed and, after hearing it more times than I can count, rolled my eyes at people telling me I would never sleep again. Intellectually, I knew that newborns rarely sleep long stretches and that I was going to be exhausted, but I had no comprehension of just how tired I would be until I was thrown into the trenches. Newborns feed every 1-3 hours, around the clock, no breaks. This includes during your bedtime. It involves a diaper change (not every time, but most), feeding, and getting her to relax to sleep. This entire process can either last a blessed half hour or over an hour. The good news is that people are wrong when they tell you that you will never sleep again. I have yet to find out when I will have a full night again, but I hear that the magic week is twelve. You will sleep again - just not for awhile.
Baby clothes are cute, but just give me something easy to put her in. Preferably something that can handle a lot of spit up and will only make me endure ten seconds of screaming. Those little going-out clothes that I have for her? I have no idea when she will ever get to wear them, because more layers means more fussing. I hate onesies that need to be put on over her head. Snap clothing that can be put on like a jacket make me happy. Tights are tres chic if your baby never has to poop or pee, ever. One changing session with clothing that isn't as easy to remove as slip-on shoes is enough to deter me from ever wanting to use it again.
The house will be messy and your hair will go at least a day without being brushed. Yes, babies nap a lot in the very beginning. In theory, you should have ample time to straighten up the house and maybe try out your hairbrush now and then. However, when the baby sleeps, that is the best time to either sleep, eat, or just sit and visit your mental happy place for awhile until she wakes. Being completely sleep-deprived, it is hard to find any energy to take on extra tasks like cleaning or washing your hair, because you might fall asleep in the shower or eat the dish soap because you've begun hallucinating from hunger. It is way too easy, especially in the first week, to neglect yourself. To forget to eat or even brush your teeth because you are so bone-deep exhausted. This is especially true if you are recovering from a c-section or episiotomy, or just the extreme weariness from regular birth. Try doing things in small segments, rather than one big chore at a time. It helps me.
I pump into bottles and I am not ashamed. I suffer from a problem I know many mothers would love to have - oversupply of milk. However grateful I am to be able to nourish my child abundantly, it makes for very stressful feedings sometimes. She struggles to latch because my letdown is too strong, no matter how much I hand-express first. She will often spend fifteen minutes trying to manage my milk until it gets slow enough for her, and will only spend five minutes eating, which results in another feeding shortly after. At the advice of two doctors (hers and mine), we decided to pump once a day and build a supply. She can now handle my milk better, she has yet to suffer from nipple confusion, and I can get some rest when my husband takes over feeding her. Last night was the first night in two weeks that either of us slept longer than two hours. It works for us.
I am not changing that diaper until she poops. I always thought it was terrible when parents left their kids in soiled diapers, but until you've held a baby by her ankles with her bare ass wiggling in the air with feces flying out of it, don't judge. She poops often enough that if I see a wet diaper with nothing else in it, I am waiting. I rarely have to wait long, and she rarely minds hanging out until she produces. She has now defecated on the changing pad, on my hands, and even nearly hit the dog because of waiting until mid-change to do it. Also: this is generally just applicable to wet diapers, not poopy diapers. The loophole: if she is sleeping and poops, I am not waking her up to change it. Unless the house is on fire, I will never wake a sleeping baby. The moment she wakes up, I will take care of it.
The baby does not always come first. This is something that took me a few days to come to terms with, because every time she cries, my first instinct is to fix it. But guess what? Sometimes, I can't. Babies cry and scream for no reason at all sometimes, and it is normal. After she has been fed, burped, changed, and subjected to multiple forms of vocal entertainment for peace, and she is still crying, it is time to put her down and walk away. Even if it is just for a few minutes of peace. Once I am satisfied that I have taken care of her needs, I eat. Or shower. Or go to the damn bathroom and cry on the toilet. She picks up on my stress and it stresses her out even more. You can't take care of a baby if you can't take care of yourself first. In a way, putting yourself first is putting her first because of this.
There will always be someone to make you feel like shit about your decisions. There are things we do that we didn't think we would until presented with the issue. We spent the first week of Mina's life looking at so many articles and forums for advice, that we probably covered every corner of the parenthood nook of the internet. Finally, we just stopped and decided to do what was best for the three of us. The guilt stemming from reading various opinions from various sources was overwhelming, and on top of everything else, guilt is the last thing you need as a new parent. It is a useless emotion. We also discovered, after reading multiple sources, that there is no one-big-agreement on any issue. Each issue is a giant field with a fat fence and an even distribution of people on both sides and in the middle. Very rarely do you find enough people that agree with you to outweigh those who don't, so it's best to just filter out what you can and go with your instincts. Unless your instinct tells you to shake your baby, in which case you should talk to someone.
I am still learning. I know I will have more to add to this list the longer my life with her goes on, but I look forward to discovering it all as it comes. Life with a newborn is stressful, but it isn't insurmountable.