1) Prepare to stink. Your armpits are a maelstrom of hormonal activity, ramped up by your boobs which will swell to watermelon proportions and will feel about as hard. Breastfeeding makes you want to eat like a horse and your pits are working double time to clear out toxins. You will shower and within seconds you will smell like a rubbish collector with a bad hotdog habit. Dribbles of milk will appear in random places – thighs of jeans, down your stomach into your pants, sleeves – and will add a top note of cheese counter to your aromatic bouquet.
2) Whereas before it was your thighs and butt that were doing all the work, now it is your arms. Hours spent on the sofa immobile because your baby is asleep in your arms and too cute to take your eyes off will give you stiff arms and shoulders. It’s good: they will eventually transform into muscles capable of carrying three bags of shopping with one hand and pulling a 14-kilo toddler out of a tree with the other.
3) The bit about your baby being too cute to take your eyes off…don’t expect it to happen straight away. Your baby will come out with a squashed-up face, possibly a disgruntled frown, perhaps red splodges on her face or nape, and hands white and wrinkly as though she’s been in a bath too long (10 lunar months to be precise). He’ll also be purplish-grey, maybe even blue, with white waxy vernix on his skin, and possibly some general mucousy gunk too. And her head will be moulded into something like a torpedo. In short, it ain’t a pretty sight. Fortunately, the first time he looks into your eyes – the first eyes he has ever looked into – you will be so blown away as not to notice.
4) At a certain point, you will be overwhelmed by the frustration of not being able to ‘get stuff done’. Give in; you will never be able to get anything done to your original level of satisfaction. Your clothes will all get sicked and pooed on, half your cooking with be done one-handed, your brain will be scrambled (especially if you’re breastfeeding) so every deadline, every important errand will seem like scaling K5 in stilettos and will mostly be forgotten. The great news is that you have the best excuse ever.
5) Sleeping 8 hours: it’s not going to happen. If you’re blessed with a baby who only wakes you up once or twice a night, for God’s sake don’t go crowing about it to all your friends from your pregnancy yoga group. Minimise the annoyance if she is waking you up more often by training yourself to sleep in whatever strange contortions who fall into while/after giving her the boob. Get rid of the clock by your bed; it’ll only tempt you to check the time and worrying about whether your newborn is falling into a good pattern or not. Don’t even count the number of night wakings. Just let it all melt into a sleepy, ecstatic blur.
6) Don’t bother trying to keep the house quiet while baby’s asleep. Inside the womb he was listening to a constant narrative of your digestive tract in stereo surround sound; gurgles, squirts, rumbles and what I’ve been told sounds like a vaccuum cleaner were his daily and nightly soundtrack. If you or I tried sleeping through the equivalent of a gastric hoover every night we’d go bananas; witness the resilience of the newborn’s sanity. (So there’s still hope for the rest of us!)
7) People of a bossy, paranoid, or scaremongering disposition with use this opportunity to bombard you with antiquated directives, such as to let them cry ‘because it’s good for their lungs’, not to cuddle them too much, to leave them outside in the snow to toughen them up, or to put laudanum in their bottles. They imply that if you don’t do as they tell you your baby will grow up to be needy, weak, an insomniac, psychotic, insecure, a social outcast, thick, a werewolf, etc. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO THEM. Simply nod your head mechanically at their terrifying anecdotes of children ‘still sleeping in their parents’ bed at 25!’ and offer the occasional tut or faint gasp, then politely change the subject and erase all that they’ve said from your mind. Which, if you’re breastfeeding, as alluded to above, will not be hard to do.
8) Try turning the upset into a laugh. Of course everything will get on top of you sometimes (just avoid watching a tearjerker on day three when your milk’s coming in) but if you talk to women with older kids you’ll find that motherhood is fertile ground for hilarity. Apparently you can’t think when you’re laughing, and there is certainly no better way of venting your stress, your fears, and your worries than a good old guffaw – look up ‘laughing yoga’ on YouTube if you need visual proof.
9) Savour every blissful moment with this brand-new person. As the otherwise deranged old wives’ club would say, it goes so fast. You will one day find yourself staring in amazement at your baby ‘all grown up’, and kick yourself for letting the small (though undeniably infuriating) annoyances cloud your appreciation, your joy, during their babyhood. This is surely the greatest challenge of being a parent, not to fall into the tisking, scolding, forbidding, condemning tyrant you always swore you’d never become, but who lurks in a corner of your conditioning, waiting for a suitable moment of built-up irritation to explode out and take control. It doesn’t have to; you can look it in the eye and make it cower, outwit it with ingenuity, kill it with kindness, outstare it with your patience. Remember that this is a miracle that will soon be outgrowing your arms; catch the wonder before it’s gone.
10) Give yourself a pat on the back. You’re doing awesome.
Coming soon: An account of the birth of Rosa Nour, born 29/04/10, and of our 6 day hospital stint…