If you’re just a teensy weensy bit type-A (ahem, me), your first pregnancy is a doozy. It starts with the anxieties of early pregnancy, morphs into the unsettling reality that a living thing is actually INSIDE YOUR BODY, and culminates in the terrifying idea that said living thing has to COME OUT SOMEHOW. For those who struggled with infertility, loss, complications for themselves or their babies...it just changes you at the core.
I remember the excitement of striding into Barnes & Noble to buy “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” when an early scare turned into relief that our first baby was gonna be okay. I was legit--I had a reason to buy this book. And I relished the weekly Babycenter emails detailing the size of our tiny person, in relation to a raisin, then an avocado, and finally, six watermelons. (Well, you know.) I gleefully signed my husband and I up for the 4-week Labor course, an “Infant Care” seminar, and a breastfeeding class. If there are any men reading this, please know that you CAN’T MAKE JOKES during the part where they describe how another human being is going to suck on your partner's...yeah. Before it actually happens, the idea is just WEIRD.
The “actually happening” part is what brings me to what I really need to talk about, and that’s SLEEP. (That’s why you’re here, after all). WHY DON’T THEY HAVE A CLASS ON HOW TO MAKE THE TINY DEMON SLEEP?!??!?! That’s what I was thinking, after a few days home with our precious first boy. Yes yes, your mother tells you to rest up when you’re pregnant, because “you’ll never sleep again,” and everybody laughs. The concept of not having a full night’s sleep is vaguely terrifying, but if you’ve never actually BEEN chronically sleep deprived, there’s very little tangibility to the idea. The same is true, of course, for every part of first-time parenting. My second and third children definitely have the benefit of not being the poor guinea pigs; confidence in this parenting business certainly goes a long way.
When I realized we needed a game plan to get our tiny human to sleep without being attached to me, I googled. And then I almost passed out, because there are literally HUNDREDS of books on baby sleep. WHY DIDN’T THEY TELL ME TO READ THESE WHEN MY BIGGEST PROBLEM WAS THE NURSERY COLORS?! I propped my eyes open and started with Weissbluth’s “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” because it seemed legit. But the first few chapters are all about the devastating, long-lasting consequences of inadequate sleep. The idea that you’re already failing your child at this early point? Nope, chucked that one across the room. (Sidenote: I’ve come back to this one recently, and it actually IS filled with great information; I may have been slightly sensitive the first time I tried to read it…)
I read a few others, and the conflicting information was downright overwhelming, not to mention anxiety-producing because it required me to answer, “WHAT IS YOUR PARENTING STYLE?” Umm, I had no clue--we just MET this tiny person!! Put him on a schedule or feed on demand, co-sleep or don’t co-sleep, “cry it out” or attachment parenting...on and on. And back then, there weren’t even as many blogs, facebook groups or websites to confuse me at 2AM. I just pieced together what sounded good from all those books (and I was so tired, it’s a miracle any of it stuck), and told my husband what to do. He was a trooper, and our son started sleeping pretty well around 7 months. We got through all the regressions, the nap transitions, the birth of new siblings, developmental leaps, moving houses, on and on. We did the “sleep training” that felt right for us with our second and third kids, and by then I had learned how to deal with the sleep deprivation that marks those first few months. (COFFEE. And TEARS.)
If the world of prenatal education hasn’t changed that much from 7.5 years ago, nobody is telling first-time expectant parents that helping their tiny human sleep isn’t all instinct. So I’ll end with a plea to you, my reader, to tell your pregnant friends to put “What to Expect…” down for a few nights. These are the two books I recommend to prepare for the first three months: “The Happiest Baby on the Block” by Dr. Harvey Karp, and “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer” by Tracey Hogg. Both are written in a way that even without the context of a real live baby in their arms, parents can begin to get a sense of what to do once the big day comes.
And hey, if they’re not big readers, these expectant couple friends of yours, I do offer a “Getting Ready for Baby” package. Would make a great baby shower gift. Just sayin’.