When my wife became pregnant, a lot of people gave us advice, mostly the same advice: your life is going to change. To which we'd reply "No shit? Really?" This is similar to the platitudes people feel compelled to share at funerals and equally meaningless. Your life is going to change. My life changes when I have a good BM or a decent sandwich, so I'm going to go out on a limb and assume they were stumbling towards some kind of prophetic statement they were simply ill-equipped to express. Here's what I say to people who are having a child: it is the hardest fucking thing you will ever do. Then, when they laugh nervously, I reiterate: no, seriously, it is so fucking hard you don't even understand. You can't understand. Why do you think some animals eat their young? Then, when they're on the verge of tears, I add, but it will make your life worth living. 17 of my friends have had abortions in the last year. (I'm kidding.) Maybe that's why everyone else just says "Your life is going to change."
So some friends of mine are having a kid, and I thought I would share some practical advice I've learned in the last couple months in no particular order.
1. Buy large bottles of carpet & fabric stain remover. You’ll need them. We keep them in Ellie’s closet on a high shelf near her laundry basket so we can just treat the stains as they are produced. We also keep more in the laundry room, just in case. I also suggest having a little scrub brush nearby for removal of poo. There will be poo. We have an old toothbrush in the nearest bathroom for this purpose. So: guests, be warned. Don’t borrow a toothbrush from the Bledsoes. As soon as possible after a mess is created, we try to treat it/clean it. Neglect these things & you will have many stains on everything.
2. As I said, there will be poo. You’d better get used to bodily fluids because you will soon be wearing them. It’s okay; chicks dig baby vomit. Also, when a baby vomits on you, it’s not like you can just set her/him down and go change your shirt and take a shower, maybe come back in an hour or two after you’ve had a smoothie and some time to meditate while listening to Conway Twitty. This is a lesson I’ve had to learn. The first thing you have to do is make sure the baby isn’t inhaling whatever just came out. This is way more important than your comfort level. If s/he inhales this liquid, and it gets into her lungs, welcome to pneumonia! So clear out her nose. Then you clean the baby off. Then, you keep feeding him/her. Then you hold him/her upright for a good 15/20 minutes at least so s/he doesn’t vomit anymore. Then, if s/he goes to sleep, maybe you can clean the vomit off; we’re talking maybe an hour later. Deal with it. Maybe your partner can tag you out at some point, but don’t rely on it. There have been nights where I woke up smelling myself and realized I’d worn vomit to bed. What did I do? I took the shirt off and went back to sleep.
3. Buy things in bulk. Duh. Newborns go through something like 6-10 diapers a day. For each of those, you’ll go through at least two baby wipes, probably 3 or 4. I have, personally, changed Ellie no less than 4 times in one hour on more than one occasion. Of course, I’ve also not had to change her for the better part of a day. But that’s because I made Jillian do it. (kidding) But that’s obvious. You also need many, many burp cloths and pacifiers. (Jillian's note: But not Gerber Birds-Eye cloth diapers; they are too rough on babies’ skin.) You might think “Do we really need 20 of these?” Yes. Also, make this stuff easily accessible EVERYWHERE. We have a 3-story house because we’re better than you—I kid. It’s not like we pay for it, seriously. Anyway, we have diapers, wipes, spare clothes, bibs, pacifiers, etc. on every level. We have a backpack we take in the car. My wife has spares in her purse. I often shove a burp cloth and a pacifier in my pocket just because. My students all made fun of me when I brought the baby and a pink blankey to class, but hey, real mean carry pink blankeys.
4. Sleep when she sleeps. This is the one piece of practical advice we were given that actually makes sense. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to do, but maybe you’ll have more luck than we did. We mostly just don’t sleep. You get used to it. You really do.
5. Don’t take her to the emergency room every time she coughs. We pretty much did the first week or two. News flash: babies cry. Really, they do. They also throw up. Babies, especially newborns, appear to be the most delicate things—like little blobs of China. They’re not. They’re strong like bear. You will know this by their poo. Learn to trust your instincts. Stay calm and carry on. Call your pediatrician if you have questions. Ours answers them and sort of lets us know we’re being crazy, but in a nice way.
6. Find a good pediatrician ASAP. Right now, you’re focusing all your attention on your birth plan and whatnot (which, I’m telling you, could very easily go right out the window—don’t be surprised when the nurses laugh at you, btw). Try to channel some of that energy to finding a good pediatrician. This person will be your lifeline. Our doc. came highly recommended by several parents of multiple children—people we trust. (How to know who to ask for advice? Try to watch some parents in action and see if they are, in fact, good parents. Then ask who they use.) He came to the hospital and met Ellie right after she was born and even corrected some clerical errors on the hospital’s paperwork for her. He runs a small practice—some people prefer a large practice so there are ‘backups’. To each his own. We picked our guy because of his track record, his manner, and his location.
7. Dads: be there. This is the most necessary advice I can give to new dads: in the first few weeks after your baby is born until s/he starts sleeping nights, your wife will be going crazy. Cra-zy. She is a slave to the whims of this desperately needy newborn who has to be fed every two hours. She won’t be able to bathe. She won’t be able to eat. She won’t be able to do anything but SERVE THE BABY.
Your wife doesn’t know what she’s doing any more than you do; no matter how confident she appears, she’s just making this stuff up as she goes along. She’s exhausted. She’s terrified. She’s cut off from the world. Be there. When you come home from work, don’t think “hell, she’s been sitting around all day, I’m going to play X-Box.” Bullshit. She’s been working her ass off. You think you’ve had a hard day? It was nothing to what she’s been going through. You can’t even imagine. Seriously, you can’t. Time to grow the fuck up and kick in.
Here’s what you do: walk in the door, kiss your wife and compliment her in some way or just listen to her rave, and clean something. Clean the kitchen, clean a bathroom, whatever. Do it while she talks, if you can. Do it while holding the baby. Do it fast. But do it. She’s been trying to do it all day and probably hasn’t been able to. And it’s depressing the hell out of her. Then, take the baby. If you have to pull a gun on your wife, do that. Send her to bed, send her to a friend’s house, send her to a movie, whatever. Either put her to bed or get her the fuck out of the house. I’m sorry if your feet hurt or you’re stressed out. Be a man; take that baby and kick your wife out. The first time I actually got my wife out of the house (the first few times, she just slept) it took me nearly an hour to get her to leave “for an hour”. She didn’t come back for three hours. She walked around outside for the first half-hour, amazed that there was a world outside the house, and then got in the car and was gone. I was a little worried she wasn’t coming back.
8. Be prepared for the long haul. You’re going to be feeding this baby often (every two hours at first), holding the baby. Think of lullabies. Find books to read to her. Or to yourself. In the first three weeks after Ellie was born, I read like 5 novels because I had so much time just watching her, holding her to comfort her, etc. You won’t get a lot of important stuff done, but remember: this is the important stuff. Keeping her from crying so she can actually sleep is the most important thing you’ll do today. Keeping her quiet so your wife can sleep just means you’re awesome.
My proudest accomplishment was rigging up various chairs to be sleep-compatible so I can nap during 2 a.m. feedings. This is harder than it sounds because I have to be able to hold the baby without dropping her while dozing. You'll figure it out.
9. Never say no to a rocking chair. When you're having a baby, people will give you things. Take them. You’ll need them. Or give them to someone else. They need them. Babies are expensive. Also, don't think "oh, that's going to be too big" or "too small" or whatever: you won't know until you know. We thought our baby was going to be huge because, well, we grow them big, but she's tiny. We had to dress her in preemie clothes for the first few weeks. You never know.
10. Take everything with a grain of salt. This is hard. Listen, when Ellie was born, the doc. told us we were feeding her too much because she was throwing up a lot. (We were actually feeding her too fast, I think). So we effectively starved her and couldn’t figure out why she was crying all the time. We would feed her, and she would stop crying. "Huh," we said. Then we started feeding her as much as she wanted pretty much whenever she wanted. Ellie is in the 10th percentile of weights, which means she’s tiny. I’m not saying we’ll continue this diet plan indefinitely, but right now, if she’s hungry an hour after we just fed her, then we feed her again. Likewise, we've gotten all kinds of suggestions and advice from people who claim to know, and most of them have been bunk. The bottom line is: you're the parents. You know your kid. Trust that. And keep your pediatrician on speed-dial.