Now that I’m a veteran mom, I love to watch women who are pregnant with their first child. You can always pick them out of a crowd. They are the ones smiling blissfully, dragging their husbands through Babies R Us and registering for every item that has a bar code on it. Of course we need those scratch mittens! I remember being that woman. The world was full of possibilities and I looked forward to embracing all the rainbows and butterflies that accompanied motherhood. At least that’s what I was assured in every ubiquitous advertisement and commercial for diapers or baby lotion.
Most of my friends who have children would say that their first pregnancy was their easiest. Never mind the fact that they vomited every day for the first trimester, or that they were plagued with edema making their ankles virtually undetectable to the naked eye. I think it’s because we knew no differently. The first pregnancy sets the standard for what is normal in a woman’s mind about how it should go the next time around. There is something blissful about that ignorance. The perceived normalcy; the promise of that heavenly epidural; the anticipation of holding your sleepy, quiet newborn. Of course having no other children to look after who wake you up at 6 AM every morning to turn on Noggin helps.
Labor comes and goes and exhausted, you are wheeled out to your car with your new bundle of joy, dreamily admiring your husband as he fumbles around with the car seat installation. Everything is rose-colored and you think the hard part is over. After all, you just felt like you were going to pop like an engorged tick those last few weeks before delivery, and you had to push a whole hour and you can’t believe you did it! And well your little genius is a pro at breastfeeding already and what was everyone talking about when they said you would be sore for a couple of weeks? You feel great!
Then you get home. Home becomes a very strange, surreal place with a newborn human plopped down in her car seat on the living room floor for the first time. The space literally changes around you and you must adjust to this new addition. Oh yeah, and the space that all the baby gear occupies. Could “they” make strollers, swings, car seats, or exersaucers any bigger or obnoxiously colored? Thank goodness we all think to brilliantly tuck these contraptions behind the ottoman…no one will see them there!
The first night home with a newborn is like being taught how to swim by being pushed into the deep end by your Uncle Dave. Remember when you were still pregnant and all those parents out there told you to “sleep while you can” and you just rolled your eyes at them? Yeah, they were being serious when they said that and a four-word sentence was all the advice they could muster after decades of sleeplessness. You may have planned to go to bed after watching Letterman like you always have, but your sweet baby has no desire to fall in line with your schedule. Like a maniacal dictator, Junior has other plans for you and you shall now serve him!
The first few weeks of this new arrangement is the hardest part of being a first-time mom. I’m convinced. Lack of sleep can make anything seem ten times worse than it actually is. Breastfeeding may be going terribly, your kid could be soiling ten outfits a day with blowouts, your husband may be going on with his life as normal, but lack of sleep can do you in. Of course you will experience this with each subsequent newborn, but the difference is you will expect it which makes it a lot easier to handle.
The adjustment to being a first-time mom is so surprising and gradual, that you often hope that time travel was a possibility. If you could just go back to the blissful days of pregnancy; or fast-forward a year when you would be confident in your mothering abilities. You are flooded with new feelings you don’t understand towards your childless friends who want to drop by anytime to hold your cute kid regardless of the fact that you haven’t showered in three days and your smelly shirt is encrusted with spit-up. Or towards the grandmas who you just know are going to drop the baby or sneak them a peanut while you’re not looking. And your husband! He simply has no idea what you go through all day while he’s relaxing in his air-conditioned office having coffee and donuts with his co-workers. If only you knew there were millions of other first-time moms out there living an identical existence to yours.
Eventually you and the baby emerge from your cocoon. One day you boldly feel like you can brave a trip to the mall or a stroll in the park. Yes, it takes you an hour to groggily go through the mental checklist of the essentials you need to bring with you. Three pacifiers in case she drops two on the ground. A sling in case he fusses too much in the stroller. A nasal aspirator in case she spontaneously gets a cold. And of course the scratch mittens! Once you get to your destination you hope and pray that no one clutches your baby’s hands, infecting them with malaria or the plague! And of course you timed it just right so you wouldn’t have to breastfeed in public, a crime worse than murder in our society.
Time rolls along and you either get more sleep or you get used to not having any, but either way, life gets easier. Your baby develops a personality and makes you laugh at the funny things he does. You feel confident enough to let grandma watch Junior while you go out to dinner with your husband to chat about, of all things, Junior. Your baby hits milestones so fast your head is spinning and you even think about trying to conceive a little sibling for Number One. Yes, when it comes to being a first-time mom, the saying goes that “the days are long but the years are short” and when you look back, all you can see are the rainbows and butterflies.